I very much enjoy reading, and am passionate about encouraging a love of reading in my students. The interesting thing though is that I only really developed my love for books after I had left school. It wasn’t until then that I began to acquire my own book collection and got to choose the books I read. Before that, I was limited to either the books we were reading in class or whatever was available in our little school library. That being said, I did often enjoy the books we read in class thoroughly, and can honestly say that they set the foundation for my current appreciation of the written word.
Unfortunately, I’ve found though that some of the books that I value so much just don’t seem to appeal to my students. While I think it might be a different story when parents pass down favourite books to their children, it can be quite difficult at times to encourage the readers in your class to try out some of the books you recommend. When I look at some of the books they choose to read instead, I can’t help the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. There are some questionable books out there!
So does it matter what students read? Should we just be glad that they’re reading something? I know that we all have different preferences, but do the good books last for generations?
I don’t know the answers to these questions yet. I have, however, thought about some of the most memorable books I read in school and compared my experiences with how the students I teach today seem to receive them.
1) Winnie the Pooh – A. A. Milne
When I was in Year 1, our teacher had this beautiful, illustrated edition of Winnie the Pooh and would read it to us after we came in from our lunch break. I was familiar with the Disney cartoon at the time and remember thinking how cool it was that there was a book about the movie! Later, when I was in high school, I actually bought my own hard cover, illustrated copy just so I could have it sitting on my bookshelf for safekeeping.
I’m sad to say though that I’ve only really had one student in my time that appreciated these books. The old cartoon isn’t popular anymore, and many other animal characters have overtaken our dear friends from the Hundred Acre Wood.
2) The Cat in the Hat – Dr. Seuss
Dear old Dr. Seuss! I’m sure we read a lot of his books when I was in school but The Cat in the Hat was a memorable one. With such a crazy character and lots of funny rhyming words, reading this book was always a lot of fun.
Today, there is some controversy around Dr. Seuss books, yet they continue to be a favourite for many children.
3) The Eleventh Hour – Graeme Base
This book fascinated me when I was first introduced to it. I was about 9 or 10 at the time. It’s a picture book for older readers, but it is a mystery story and on every page there are clues hidden in the pictures, in the border, by the time on the clocks etc. This is another one I bought years later and I have used it in my classroom on many occasions. I’m glad to say that it has always successfully enticed my students from the moment it is presented. There are many other wonderful picture books by Graeme Base that are great to use in the classroom too.
4) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
I loved Roald Dahl books growing up, and this was the first one I read. We read it as a class in Year 4 and then once we’d finished the book, we got to throw a chocolate party!
There still seems to be a number of students who enjoy Roald Dahl books. While his name does not seem to come up as frequently as I recall it being mentioned when I was in school, his books are certainly still around.
5) The Magician’s Nephew – C. S. Lewis
We started reading The Magician’s Nephew the same year we read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was in awe with this book when we first started it. It turned out that for my birthday that year I got given a big, hard copy version of The Chronicles of Narnia by my aunty and uncle, and slowly worked my way through it during the following years. Fast-forward 10+ years later and C. S. Lewis remains my all time favourite author. In fact, I’m still reading some of his books today.
I promote C. S. Lewis’s books wholeheartedly, and they do still seem to appeal to many of my students. Those who enjoy adventure series will usually appreciate The Chronicles of Narnia.
6) Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbit
Tuck Everlasting is a gorgeous book! I read it when I was about 12. It is about a young girl who gets to know a family that drank from a ‘spring of life’ and can no longer age. The prose is very poetic and it gets you thinking about the cycle of life and the reason we’re here. This one has definitely stuck with me.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard any other students or teachers talk about this book though, and so many students will probably never read this one.
My students are a little too young for these last three books, so I’d be interested to know whether they still appeal to young readers today.
7) Holes – Louis Sachar
I think a lot of people would be familiar with the movie adaptation of this book, featuring the young Shia LaBeouf as the main character. This was such an entertaining read and is great for those preteen years where fast-paced books with some comedy in them keep the reader engaged.
8) To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
This book is one of my favourites to date and is sitting happily on my bookshelf at home. I love the characters, the setting, the era, the deeper messages and the ambience of this book. This is one I could reread over and over.
9) The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
I read this as a teenager and its beautiful extravagance and Gatsby’s unique character drew me in from beginning to end. I still enjoy F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works and am glad I got a taste of his writing during my school years.
Whether timeless or not, I am thankful for these beautiful books that have shaped my interest in reading and influenced my preferences today. I’ll still try to keep them alive by using them in the classroom though, and my hope is that the books our students read in school will shape them into well-read adults with a love of learning.
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