Questions & Authors: The excitement of selecting a book

Do you feel a bit giddy when you go through your stack of books, trying to decide what to read next? If you do, Terry Thompson shares that feeling. In this installment of Questions & Authors, the author of Adventures in Graphica shares his ritual for “Choosing Day,” and wonders how he could instill the same excitement about choosing a book in his students.

Today is Choosing Day.

I’ve been looking forward to this all day. I’ve cleared my evening and carefully organized a comfortable spot on the sofa.

I rushed straight home from work (no tutoring or after school meetings!), picked up a light dinner on the way (Chicken la Madeleine!), walked the dog, and silenced my phone.

I’ve taken care of everything.

My pile of books waits patiently. It always does.

Last night, I finally finished Edward Rutherfurd’s New York, and I’m ready to pick my next book. I relax into my spot and turn my attention to the stack that’s been gathering on my night stand for some time. Today is Choosing Day. Today I pick a new friend.

My professional book club is reading one of Richard Allington’s books next, but I figure that can wait. A book I want to study for church calls to me, but I’m going to hold off on that one a bit longer.

I decide that I’m in the mood for something historical (no surprise there, it’s my favorite!), so with that, I move on to several, more specific options. A recent trip to Illinois landed Devil and the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America in my stack, and that same trip prompted an interest in an Abraham Lincoln book, Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse. My editor recommended Year of Wonders and Dissolution, but both seem a bit heavy for my mood right now. And – even though I’m dying to – I’m hesitant to start Ken Follett’s new book, Fall of Giants, because his work is such a rare treat and I don’t want to use it up too quickly.

I revisit each title, remembering what originally drew me to them, and reread the jacket flap summaries. I shuffle through the stack several times. Deliberating. I take my time here. This is an important decision for me, and I don’t want to rush it. I finally settle on Devil in the White City. It’s a lightweight paperback making it a perfect choice for all the poolside reading I’ll be doing on my upcoming three day weekend.

I put the leftover books back in the stack on my night stand (until next time) and get ready to spend the rest of the evening immersed in a true crime historical murder mystery. I’m pleased and content. It doesn’t get any better than this.

I’m not sure when Choosing Day became such a big deal to me, where it began, or even how it got its name. But, it’s been a constant ritual in my life for years. Although not as childlike and giddy as it may seem, I really do get a boost of excitement from the thrill of deciding which book I’ll read next.

I often wonder, though: how many of our students feel this way? Certainly, it might seem unreasonable to expect every student we work with to gush with excitement for their next book, but what are their practices when they go to choose their next independent reading selection? Are their choices purposeful? Haphazard? Nonexistent?

Come to that, what are our practices that help promote an eager anticipation around book selection? I want my young readers to know this feeling. Granted, some of our learners will cultivate a similar type of choosing day for themselves, but just as many won’t. What conditions can we put in place that can promote an excitement for book selection in our students?

Culture

When teachers share their own excitement and process about book selection (and encourage students to do the same) they promote a classroom culture of enthusiasm for choosing texts. In a classroom that supports book selection, you’re likely to see students who are encouraged to share out about their selections and teachers that share favorite titles with the entire class or individual students who would take to them. Hearing trusted adults and peers share their reasoning for choosing particular texts lets students in on this valuable part of what it means to be a reader.

Recommendations

I get my best reading choices through recommendations from friends who know me well and know what I like to read. I bet you do, too. Offering a variety of recommendation options is a great way to get students interested in their next book. Whether you schedule time for readers to share their favorites out loud, have them use a classroom chart with sticky notes, or let them use a private note passing system for sharing books, making recommendations to friends – just like real readers do – can go a long way to foster enthusiasm for choosing that next read.

Keeping a Stack

Most readers don’t wait to finish their current book before considering their next one, preferring instead to keep a physical or mental stack of titles ready to pick from. For some, it’s a stack on their nightstand. Others keep a running list on their cell phone. In classrooms where there are enough books and space, readers could collect titles in their book boxes for later. If this seems difficult logistically (think: space and number of books available), students could easily keep a list of books they’d like to read next in their journals.

Knowing Yourself

Real readers know what they like. They know themselves as readers. They have favorite titles, series, subjects, and genres. They can talk about them and justify what makes them personally important. When they go to choose their next read, they do so in tune with their interests and their mood. They consider which titles they’re willing to commit to and pass on the others. Teachers who model, push for, and encourage this type of self-reflection help foster excitement about book choice.

Time

Book choice in many of our classrooms is a hurried afterthought. We tell students they have five minutes to get to the library and back or we relegate independent reading book choice time to that space between attendance and announcements. But, when we set aside unrushed time for it, young readers come to learn that book selection is premeditated, thoughtful, and intentional. Classrooms that honor and celebrate book selection, allow students the contemplative time they need to get excited and give them permission to celebrate that excitement with others.

7 comments September 12th, 2011


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