Books Worth Reading With Students

Welcome to the 5th installment in the guest blog posts! This time it comes from a teacher friend of mine from over the big pond, Gen!

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I’ve taught sixth-graders in America for 14 of my 16 years of teaching. Although I teach six subjects daily in my current position, Reading is my true passion. Over the years, a late grade partner and I built up our grade level’s collection of chapter books to read with our students. Three books from the collection stand out to me, and it is these three texts that I consider to be Books Worth Reading With Students.

Let’s first take a look at a book called Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz-Ryan. In this text, a young girl (Esperanza) faces life-changing tragedies and is forced to let go of her old life in order to grow up and thrive in a new one. What my students enjoy about this book is how relatable Esperanza is. She’s smart, she’s stubbornly determined, and yet, she’s fallible. Since Esperanza is roughly the same age as my students, they rally behind her and cheer her on all the way to the last page of the book.

What I enjoy about the book are the historical tie-ins and the themes. The plot begins in post-revolution Mexico and ends in post-Depression America, in California specifically. Reading Esperanza Rising gives us a chance to study the facts behind the fiction. We also get to explore rich themes like family, loss, growth, and rebirth. My students and I have deep discussions and make strong text-to-self connections.

A second worthwhile read from our shelf is a book called The Cay, written by Theodore Taylor. In this text, a young boy and an old man battle blindness, prejudice, and nature as they establish a friendship and try to survive being shipwrecked and stranded. My students honestly find this book to be shocking during the first several chapters. The plot’s WWII backdrop and the author’s character development creates tension from the get-go. As the main characters, Phillip and Timothy, become more 3-dimensional and their circumstances more desperate, my students join in their plight, celebrate their victories, and mourn their losses.

What I find most of value in the text is Phillip’s transformation. It allows my students to examine their own prejudices and to reflect on the power of true friendship. The a-ha moments that sprout from our conversations as we explore The Cay make this book a truly worthy read.

The third text that I recommend reading with students is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. In this text, a captive gorilla named Ivan makes a promise to a friend and finds himself (and freedom) in the process of keeping his promise. What hooks my students is how “human” Ivan comes across as a character. My students empathize with Ivan’s captivity and patiently wait to see how he will keep his promise, given his circumstances. Ivan’s loyalty and courage are inspirational to witness as readers.

What I appreciate about the text is the undercurrent of topics that can be explored with students if scaffolded carefully. For instance, the topics of animals in captivity and the training of animals in captive settings has really peaked my current class’s curiosity. Using appropriate online resources, my students would be able to take a stance regarding the treatment of animals and argue their claims intelligently. When a text offers these kinds of experiences for a teacher to present to her students, that text is indeed a worthwhile read.

Books like these not only introduce award-winning literature and literary devices to students, but also they challenge readers to think beyond the text. They encourage deep discussions about universal themes. They inspire readers to connect with characters and events on a personal level. And to a teacher like me, such experiences with good literature are priceless.

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It’s amazing to find out the texts that have an impact in different schools, to different teachers and in different countries. It’s funny how stories are universal but stories they use in America aren’t stories they use over here in the UK. It’s always good to share the good practice we all use every day. I found this guest post fascinating and I looked up these books and bought them to check them out for myself.

Thank you Gen for sharing your views on reading and sharing the books you use in your classroom! Certainly opened by eyes to some new books and I can’t wait to read them. 

If you want to follow Gen, you’ll find her here on Twitter and her wonderful blog here.

S x

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