The March Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers .
There are still a few reluctant readers in my classroom, kids for whom the habitual love of reading is still something their teacher hopes and prays for, but Josh is not one of these. Ever since the beginning of the year, he has managed a book a week, diligently taking down new titles during my book talks, and checking them out of our classroom library. His reading responses were further evidence of his happy reading life, and we had wonderful conferences about the book he’d read. Josh was happy, I was happy.
And then, he returned from winter break with a new book. Actually, this was a old/new book – it was new to him, but had belonged to his dad when he was Josh’s age. It was one of those beautiful. “old fashioned” , this-a-literary-classic series of books – gilt edged, filled with N.C. Wyeth’s gorgeous , and weighing a ton: Treasure Island. It was even inscribed to Josh’s dad by his grandfather : “Grandson, I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.”
We had a brief conference about it, and Josh said he was looking forward to the book because it was an adventure story, and he loved books like that. I knew this was true, because his reading life until then had included Kate Messner’s Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek, and the last book he’d devoured (read in three days!) before winter break was Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. We talked about how Treasure Island might be a different reading experience in terms of vocabulary and structure, and Josh seemed ready to enjoy his old/new book.
Whenever we read in class, Josh would haul out his book and find his preferred place to read – a nest of cushions stuffed behind our mini lessons easel. He might have been in his usual reading spot, but he didn’t seem to be his usual reading self. I could see that his attention wandered,that he didn’t seem engaged, and he barely turned the pages. He readily admitted that he “couldn’t get into” the book during our reading conferences. but was reluctant to abandon it because “my dad really, really wants me to read it.” By February, Josh was only 20 pages into the book, and I was concerned – so I suggested that Treasure Island should be set aside for the moment, and perhaps returned to later on when Josh felt more like tackling the book. He agreed (with great enthusiasm, I might add) and soon was happily into Ophelia and The Marvelous Boy.
The very next day, however, there was Josh, trekking to his reading spot with Treasure Island tucked under his arm.
“Josh, what happened?” I asked, gesturing at the book, “where’s Ophelia?”
“Well, my dad wants me to finish Treasure Island first,…soooo…” and he shrugged. Soon he was back in his spot, back to his distracted reading.
At the end of the period, I called Josh over and we had a repeat of the conversation we’d had just a few days ago – he wasn’t into the book, but dad really wanted him to read it, but he couldn’t focus when he tried to read it,so….yeah, he shrugged.
Thinking quickly, I wrote a note to Josh’s dad: Treasure Island is a wonderful book. When Josh is ready to read it, he will love this tale of adventure. But, right now, Josh needs to read a different type of book – one that will continue to grow and nurture his reading life. One that will engage his attention and his imagination. I hope he understood.
He didn’t understand. Treasure Island is just the type of book Josh should be reading, he wrote back, it will develop Josh’s vocabulary and his reading ability…just as it did for him, back when he was in sixth grade. Unless there was required reading, he wrote, he would prefer for Josh to stick with this book – it was good for him.
I read the note and looked at Josh. He shrugged. Then he went back to his reading spot.
Next week, we will begin our historical fiction book clubs – I am in the midst of putting together selections that include The Watson’s Go To Birmingham, and Across Five Aprils, and The Mostly True Adventures Of Homer P. Figg … Josh will love one of these books, and it will be required reading.