Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reading Machine

Today is one of those days when I want to snuggle up with a blanket and a good book. If I was still teaching reading in junior high, my lesson plans would change. Today would be a free reading day!  Most kids loved those times.  But, there were always a few.

I always made a promise to kids at the start of the year. Even if they had "never read a book", or never found one they liked, I would find at least one they could say, "Yea, that was pretty good."  This was a tall order for some, but I did usually find one.

Josh was one of those boys. He didn't want to read and didn't like to read. He called me on the promise.  I don't remember if we went through a few books or if "Tears of a Tiger" by Sharon Draper was the first one I pulled, but it was a keeper. Josh moved on to "Forged by Fire", also by Draper, and liked it almost as well.  In fact, he liked these books so well that he didn't really read anything else for a long time! Every year he would come back to my room to borrow one of them to read again.

Last year, Josh was a senior and in my Creative Writing class. He was also taking Individualized Reading and needed more than two books to read for the semester.  Once he had finished Draper's books, he was at a loss.

I pulled "Looking for Alaska" by John Green. He loved it. Josh devoured every John Green book on our shelves.

Stationed in Afghanistan, Josh updates me on Facebook what he is reading in his "free time". His girlfriend messaged me one day asking for book suggestions. And then one day, I received a message that said, "Could you get me copies of the John Green books? I need more to read over here. I have turned into a reading machine! I'll pay you and pick them up when I am home on leave."

It was so good to see him in person when he stopped in my classroom. No longer the kid who sat in my room many mornings serving detention, he was a man now and grateful for the gift of books. How life changes in the course of a few months.

It's funny how this post took on a life of its own. I started to write about my love of reading on rainy days and ended by writing about one of my "Hall of Fame" favorite students. But I'm a little worried. Generally we chat on Facebook about once a week or so and I haven't heard from Josh in a few weeks. Has me a little concerned. I better message him on Facebook...


  1. Beautiful story! I'm only three years in, but I hope to someday have such a connection with a former student.

    I also love, love, love your bookshelf organization. I've thought about it many times, but never took the time/energy to make it happen. I spy some shopping and sorting in my future!

  2. Thanks Megan--I've been using baskets for a very long time. It really helps kids find books in a genre they like. And, on the plus side, they can take the baskets to their desks and really look at the books! Dollar Stores usually have four packs of baskets at a very cheap price. Garages sales also are a great place to find them.

  3. I'm so glad you followed where this post led--it was wonderful. Bringing a kid like this together with books that hook him is a gift. Your story shows that once given, this gift lasts for life.
    Hope you hear from Josh soon.

  4. I love this post. Wonderful success story and pictures of a great classroom library. Love it.

  5. Wow-I would love to come visit your office! I loved the way you meandered into the 'real' story. I imagine that if you took one of those books, you could tell us another one. What a wonderful gift you've given Josh. You'll be sharing books for a long time, I bet.

  6. I had to complete reading this piece. You held my attention and at this point it is hard to hold it after a long day and I am tired. Well written. Sometimes when you start writing from your heart it will take you somewhere you had not planned. I'm so glad you shared. I'm praying for your friend and past student, Josh. Hopefully you'll hear from him soon. Nice writing. Happy slicing! :)

  7. This wall of books is actually in my classroom. I share with a wonderful teacher who shares my love of books and getting them into the hands of students. Right now, we have almost 1000 books in our room. Even students who don't have us for class come in to check out books.

  8. This was a lovely story--one that is close to my heart. I had a Josh last semester, who finished his first book EVER, or so he bragged to me. While I did find that appalling, I was thrilled that he'd finally found one that had engaged him, just like your excitement for Josh.

    My daughter didn't really pick up reading until last year. She's 30. Better late than never; can I just say I'm thrilled? She's always looking for a good book to read now, heading out to the library to see what's new on their shelves.

    Thanks for a lovely story--please update us about Josh when you hear news.

    Elizabeth E.