It’s back-to-school time, which means I’m looking out over four classes of seventh graders whose reading tastes, ability levels, and interests are as different as the snowflakes that will fly in a few months. Meeting all of their needs means keeping a wide variety of books on the shelves of both my classroom library and our school library. That includes many YA titles, and I take special care to make sure parents understand how book selection works — that all of my students have the right to choose books that interest them, that all of their families have the right to help their own kids make decisions about what’s appropriate to read, and that no one has the right to make that decision for someone else’s child. Here’s the talk I give to parents on our open house night:
Our school librarian does a phenomenal job making sure that there are books of interest to every student in our building. That’s a lot of students. A lot of different students.
This middle school serves sixth graders as young as ten years old and eighth graders as old as fifteen. Five years is a big gap, and those are no ordinary five years. The difference between ten and fifteen is the difference between Legos and iPods, the difference between trick-or-treating and Homecoming Dances. The difference between child and young adult.
Our kids are not only different ages; they arrive at school with different reading levels, different backgrounds, and different experiences that have shaped their lives in both positive and negative ways. They have different needs when it comes to reading.
The book that is perfect for your wide-eyed sixth grade girl isn’t likely to be a good fit for a fifteen-year-old boy repeating eighth grade. The book that eighth grader will read and love is probably not one that would be right for your sixth grader right now. But as teachers and librarians, we have a responsibility to serve all of the kids who come to us. We have a responsibility to offer literature choices that speak to all of them and meet all of their diverse needs.
Kids, in general, do a fantastic job self-selecting books, and when they find they’ve picked up something they’re not ready for, they’re usually quick to put it down and ask for help choosing something else. As teachers and librarians, we’ll offer recommendations and steer kids toward books that are age-appropriate, and we encourage you to talk about books with your kids. We have multiple copies of many titles in our library. Let us know if you’d like to check out two copies of a book so you can read together. And if you find that your student has chosen a book that you think might not be the right book for him or her right now, talk about that, too.
We respect your right to help your own child choose reading material, and we ask that you respect the rights of other parents to do the same. If you object to your child reading a particular book, send it back to the library, and we’ll help your student find another selection. We’ll put the first book back on the shelf because even though you don’t feel it’s the right book for your child right now, it may be the perfect book for someone else’s.
Our library will continue to have a wide range of choices for kids – to meet all of their varied needs and help them all develop a love of reading. If we can ever be of help to you in recommending titles for your family, please don’t hesitate to ask.
It’s been effective. Book challenges at my school are few and far between and usually resolved with a respectful conversation and the book back on the shelf. And best of all? Our kids read…and read…and read…
[EKA's note: since Kate Messner didn't do any bragging about her own books, I just wanted to say that THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. comes out in paperback TOMORROW! Congrats, Kate! It also won the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award in the Older Readers category last year! Kate's forthcoming novel, SUGAR AND ICE, also looks absolutely freaking awesome, and I can't wait to read it! Both titles are from Walker Books for Young Readers. Thanks for sharing with us today, Kate!]