Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Two Pleasures Struggling Readers Miss Out On

Before school began, I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Suzanne Collins at Oblong Books and Music in Millerton, NY. Oblong is an amazing little indie store, but it is off the beaten path, so I was surprised a celebrity like Ms. Collins was coming to our small town! The event was exciting with a huge line snaking around the store before the event, gift bags from Scholastic, and the anticipation of seeing the beloved author of the Hunger Games series.

When we all packed into the top floor (as many people as it could hold!), we were treated with an incredible reading. First was an excerpt from Catching Fire so we could "get used to the Futuristic Appalachian accent" Collins uses to portray Katniss Everdeen. (It was a pretty cool accent!). Then she read from the first chapter of Mockingjay. Before she started reading I was thinking about a) how uncomfortable I was squished in a lump on the hardwood floor and b) how gosh darn cool it was that Suzanne Collins has the same shoes I do! Then the book reading began and the story of Katniss, District 12, and Panem washed over me like seeing an old friend. I was sitting not 4 feet from the same woman whose books I have read multiple times (the most recent rereading was of the first two books right before the third was released)!

This was not the first time I had the opportunity to meet an author. Working in bookstores throughout college and having attended a number of author functions, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of wonderful authors- some famous, some not. But there is always something exhilarating about the experience- even when the author is nothing like what you expected form their book! This got me thinking. My students are struggling readers. They are dyslexic, and reading has always been elusive for them- this chore adults keep telling them they should like and be good at. My students struggle to get through a single book, let alone to reread it. And they seem so relieved to finish a book that meeting the author is the furthest thing from their minds. It almost seems, both comically and sadly, that they see the author as purposely torturing them with those pages.

Rereading can be such an incredible experience. The first book I reread was Ann M. Martin's 10 Kids no Pets when I was in elementary school. I LOVED this book! Since then, rereading has been comforting for me- like a visit from an old friend or a favorite aunt or uncle- something that doesn't happen often, but when you see them again, it is as though no time has passed. With Suzanne Collins' books, rereading was just as exciting as the first time I plowed through those pages. For my students, however, they are just happy to finish any book. Rarely do they have the opportunity to love a book enough to pick it up again. This realization made me so sad!

How do we get children to revisit stories they have already read? How do we get them excited to meet an author, especially to hear the author read from a book they loved? I think the most crucial part in making book lovers out of struggling readers is finding the perfect book for that student. Yesterday was my first day of classes for the school year. I discovered one of my students has the same love for dystopian and post-apocalyptic literature as I do. We barely got his homework down because we talked about doomsday stories for almost the entire period! It was beautiful! Making a connection with a student like that is the very reason I became a teacher. And throw the books into the mix and you have just made my year! Enthusiasm is contagious. When we are excited about books, our students become excited. If we know our students, know the books, and are excited about them, cultivated a love for reading just might happen, struggling reader or not!

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