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Just One Book Is Not Enough

by Julie Scullen
 | Aug 19, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-184808270_x300Want to stop a room in its tracks?

When the conversation slows, say this: “When I was in middle school, I read one entire wall of our library. The fiction wall. A to Z.”

Mouths will drop open. Faces will register both suspicion and respectful awe. Skeptical voices will ask, “But how big was the library?”

I always think, “Does it matter?”

There were eight fiction bookcases, floor to ceiling. I remember the exact position of the green bindings of the Nancy Drew books—about halfway across the wall, filling the bottom three shelves. Beverly Cleary’s books were near the door; one entire shelf was devoted to her work, and sometimes it spilled over onto the next. I remember convincing our librarian that I needed to check out more than my allotted three books at a time on the weekends. (She agreed to bend the rules.)

I brought a book with me everywhere. Family gatherings, car rides, dinners out. My parents were alternately annoyed and proud.

Yet, inexplicably, when my seventh-grade English teacher asked us to write a book report each quarter, I was annoyed. One lousy book report? Only one? My biggest problem was how to choose my favorite. It was like trying to choose between my children. How could I possible pick just one?

So, unable to choose, I did what I knew was the right thing to do. I invented a book. I wrote two pages in response to my imaginary book, front and back, entirely in the required and proper format. Title. Author. Plot summary. Main character descriptions. Theme.

When the day came to turn them in, I passed my work—neatly stapled, with the fuzzy notebook edges cut off —forward in the stack with the others. I held my breath.

Then I waited.

I dreamed of two scenarios:

One, the teacher wouldn’t notice at all, proving I was a genius at writing fiction. She would ask me to bring her this book so she could read it herself, without even knowing she had been duped. When I explained, she would gasp, clutch her heart and tell me I needed to write this book. I owed it to readers everywhere.

Two, she would immediately recognize the book as a fake, but encourage me to take my place among the great fiction writers of the day. Surely this book, once finished, belonged on the shelf next to Blume and Cleary.

Ah, but my work went unnoticed. I’m sure it was placed in the “completed and formatted correctly” pile, graded accordingly, and passed back with a scratch-and-sniff sticker attached.

Meanwhile, we completed grammar workbook pages and diagrammed sentences. We memorized the list of prepositions.

But never once did we talk in class about what we read. Reading was a quiet, isolated activity.

That was then, this is now. (Yes, that reference is intentional.)

I’m so thankful that my own middle-schooler now lives in the world of real reading. The authentic reading world we learn of from the likes of Donalyn Miller, Kelly Gallagher, Doug Fisher, and Teri Lesesne. Talking about what we read is expected, especially during class. Nonfiction reading is encouraged and celebrated. Reading is meant to inspire. 

Although my students and my own children may not ever read an entire wall of a library, I know they read widely and voraciously. They compare and contrast book characters and genres. They debate authors’ plot choices.

Authors have become their heroes—and rightly so.

Julie Scullen is a former president of the Minnesota Reading Association and Minnesota Secondary Reading Interest Council and is a current member of the International Literacy Association Board of Directors. She taught most of her career in Secondary Reading Intervention classrooms and now serves as Teaching and Learning Specialist for Secondary Reading in Anoka-Hennepin schools in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, as well as reading assessment and evaluation.


1 comment

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  1. aob | Sep 24, 2015
    I wish there was more time for self-selected reading, class read-alouds, and book clubs so that there could be class discussions about books.  However the reality is that we have to keep in step with a pacing curriculum, teach our programs with fidelity, adhere to state standards, and comply with district assessments. This allows very little time for any opportunity for educators to teach with the books we love or even allow the students ample time for to read their own selections. 

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