To acquire a habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all miseries of life.
-W. Somerset Maugham
I have clung to that refuge built from words in books so many times in my life. I can reread the words from books that carried me through life's sludge and feel their familiar comfort. I can not remember all the books my high school reading teachers assigned me (I can remember the ones I actually read however), but I do remember every book I read in high school that I chose for myself. When I was being assigned The Last of the Mohicans and wishing it was Dean Koontz, I would reward myself a chapter of Koontz after stumbling through a chapter of Mohicans. I felt like I was a giant clumsy bear running through rabbit holes, chasing Natty Bumppo himself. It was exhausting. That book did not fit me, and it did certainly did not make me want to read more, it only made me into an underground reader.
Ah well. I've "outed" myself now I suppose. :) Enough about me, let's talk about the classroom! In The Book Whisperer the author talks about how she begins each school year with a "book frenzy". She describes it as "the floor of a bizarre stock exchange, students excitedly waving cards and shouting out book titles". Just the word "frenzy" gives most teachers the heebie jeebies. The idea of a "book frenzy" gives me goosebumps! I love the idea. I want to see that level of excitement and passion in my students. I want to see that level of excitement about reading in adults too! My biggest fear about a book frenzy is not the mess, not the noise...it's that no child will be brave enough to be the first to show their excitement, or that they will all be so overwhelmed with confusion over a teacher letting them rifle through "her stuff" that they will not give into the passion of the frenzy. What about the student who thinks "I have the books I like at home, why do I have to read her "school" books?" Lastly, the student who says "I hate reading. I don't want a book." All very real, very legitimate statements...and every student who says them is already a reader....a reader in progress.
Miller sets the goal of each student reading 40 books a year. I like setting standards high, and if children are matched with books that are appropriate for their reading level and their interests, I think 40 is a great goal. Making every child read the same book their grade level equivalent of The Last of the Mohicans is reading suicide! Empower them with choice, and watch them READ.