8131485 March 11


Share the Love, Grasshopper by Michael Guevara

These are the kind of days you live for as a parent.

Walking through the door after school, the first words out of my seventh grade son’s mouth were, “Dad, there’s a book I want. My friend got me hooked on it.”

And, if he took a breath from that point on, I missed it.

“He said if you read the first chapter, you won’t put it down all weekend. So he let me read the first chapter, and the first line of the book is ‘If I stopped running I was dead.’  And I thought, Whoa, that’s a really good line. So I read the first chapter and the main character is like a criminal but not like a really bad criminal. He breaks into houses, which I mean is bad, but he’s not like killing people or anything, but he thinks he and his friend get set up by the police in a house they are robbing, but these guys come out of the walls in black suits and kill his friend, so he knows it not the police. And that’s why he’s running before he collapses. And so that’s how he ends up in The Furnace, which is this really terrible maximum security prison for juvenile offenders, and at the end chapter one he says, ‘I remember when my life went to hell.’ So, can we get it?”

The process began there. I had him call several book stores before we finally found one that had a copy of Lockdown: Escape From Furnace, by Alexander Gordon Smith. It’s on the opposite side of town, but my wife and I added a trip to Half Price Books to our Saturday to-do list.

So, yes, I’m really happy that he’s reading, but I’m ecstatic that he’s hanging out with other kids who are reading. Last year, as a sixth grader, he ended up going to a local book festival because one of his friends noticed the book he was reading and told him the author of the book was going to be at the festival. Really, could we be any luckier?

A few years ago, I read an article in Time magazine about peers having even more influence in the lives of kids than their parents. The worn-only-once pair of jeans that I bought this same seventh grader seem to anecdotally support this assertion.

Still, it makes me wonder. Are we giving kids, students enough choice over what they read? Are we equipping them with the tools, the confidence that it takes to recommend a book to someone else? Are we valuing what they read so that they take it as their duty to pass it on to others?

A few months ago, a former student sent me a message on Facebook asking for a few book recommendations. Initially, I was thrilled, but doubt soon settled in. What if she didn’t like the books I recommended? What if my recommendations turned her off from reading? If someone doesn’t like a book you recommend, does that reflect on your value as a person? (You may have figured out by this point that I tend to dwell on things too much.)

Earlier this year, I was telling a colleague about my P.G. Wodehouse phase and how I couldn’t get enough of his Jeeves series. She asked to borrow one of books only to tell me later that they did nothing for her, that she just couldn’t get into it. I didn’t know if I could take that kind of book rejection again.

Still, I got back on the book-recommending horse and sent a list as varied, though not nearly as expansive, as my wife’s shoe collection. I told this former student that I was a bit nervous about recommending books to her, to which she replied, “Why? You never steered my wrong when you were my teacher.”

And the pebbles were snatched from my hand, Grasshopper.

Books are about our individual experience with them. If you love a book, share that with someone, even if it others never love it the way you do. If we can post inane cat videos like we’re being paid by the whisker, then we have permission to share everything we’re reading with—well, everyone. Maybe we should get shirts that say, “Ask me about what I’m reading.”

Most book lovers see someone else with a book and have no qualms about engaging a complete stranger in a discussion about that book. Maybe, especially with our students, with our young readers, we should add a question to our book-talk repertoire: “Who else are you going to tell about this book?”

You can see what happens when they do.

Michael M. Guevara is a former English and journalism teacher. He is working on his first novel and conducts professional development workshops for English/language arts teachers. Married to a kindergarten teacher and the father of three sons, Michael spends most of the money he makes as a consultant for The Texas Association of School Boards on books, tuition, and Diet Coke. You can find out more about Michael at wonk-ink.com.