The Top Ten Books I Never Wanted to Read (But I’m Glad I Did) by Emily Miller
I am a reader. (Obviously.) And like most people, I like to read what I want to read. However, there have been many times in my life when I’ve had to read things I didn’t really want to. Sometimes it was because of peer pressure. Sometimes it was because a teacher made me. Sometimes it was because I wanted to prove to someone that I wouldn’t like his or her book recommendation. Several of the books I read “against my will” were, indeed, not books I enjoyed. But sometimes, I ended up being pleasantly surprised by stepping out of my reading comfort zone. Some of these books drastically changed and shaped my identity as a reader and as a teacher. In no particular order, these are the top ten books I never wanted to read (but I’m glad I did).
10. The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen
When I was in second or third grade, my class got the lecture about not judging a book by its cover. While I’m sure my teacher was referring to how we treat other people, I actually took this advice very literally. I DID judge the books I chose by their covers. Maybe I was missing out on some great stories because I only read books with bright, graphic covers. So, when we went to the library the next time, I purposefully chose the book with the least appealing cover I could find. I carried The Fir Tree out of the library practically squirming with delight at the hidden gem I had just discovered. And then I started reading it. Well…let’s just say that I was less than impressed with this particular book. I struggled for weeks to finish it. However, like the title of this post says, I AM glad I read it. When I became a teacher many years later, this experience helped me understand the power that lies in allowing students to choose what they read rather than forcing them to labor through books that don’t interest them.
9. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
For some reason, I was not interested in this book when everyone else was reading it in grade school. I avoided it until the 2005 movie was about to premiere. My students were so excited to see the movie, and I had no idea what the story was even about. So, I gave in and read it. As soon as Lucy walks through the wardrobe, I was hooked. Typically, I don’t read fantasy books, but this book’s deep allegorical content made me see a side of this genre that I didn’t know existed. Now, I’m much more likely to read a fantasy book and really enjoy it!
8. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I was given The Secret Garden as a gift when I was eight or nine years old. It was a beautiful book, but it didn’t really appeal to me. I started it several times, but could never quite get into the story. Finally, over a summer or winter break, when I had no other unread books left at my house, I decided I was actually going to finish the book. As I read further and further, Mary, Colin, the budding garden, and the rest of the characters entranced me. Since then, I have used this book as a read-aloud to students as young as kindergarten. Every time I read it to a new class, I watched as the students went from slightly bored to completely enthralled as the story progressed. They became as emotionally attached to the characters as I did, and for some of them, it was the first time they had experienced this kind of connection to a book.
7. The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
When I was student teaching in a fourth grade classroom, the boys were all reading the Captain Underpants series. I’d hear them snickering over the humor and see them showing each other the silly illustrations. I didn’t mind their fascination with the books, but I definitely wasn’t interested in reading them myself. After much coaxing from the boys, I finally read The Adventures of Captain Underpants, and I was pleasantly surprised by what happened with those students. We started to have entire conversations about the stories. We could talk and talk about them, and, most importantly, the boys wanted to talk to me about them. At that point, I became more than just a teacher to those boys; I became a reading friend, and that has been my goal with every student I’ve had since then.
6. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
This book was one of the monthly titles from the family book club at our oldest child’s school. Despite its beautiful illustrations and Newbery Honor Book status, I was not thrilled by this selection. I thought it would be too long and a bit uninspiring for my six-year-old son. We were used to reading chapter books with high interest levels and a lot of action. But I was delighted to find that my first impressions of this book were completely wrong. From the very first story that Ba tells Minli, my entire family absolutely fell in love with the book. We could not wait to find out what would happen next. Minli’s adventures were both high interest and full of action! By being asked to read a book that we wouldn’t have picked on our own, my family was able to experience an amazing tale that had us talking for weeks.
5. Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
As I mentioned before, I prefer brightly colored illustrations in the books I read. So, despite the shiny Caldecott Medal proudly displayed on the cover of Make Way for Ducklings, I just wasn’t interested in reading this book as a child. It wasn’t until I was a teacher that I noticed this book again. I specifically noticed two things. First, I noticed the Caldecott award. Second, I noticed that my students never picked up this book. Even though I had never read the book, it really bothered me that my students weren’t reading either. So, I read it. Of course, I immediately understood why this book had received such a high honor. From then on, this book became a staple read-aloud in my classroom where my students and I all enjoyed the beautiful pictures together.
4. The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
Growing up, our library always had an awesome summer reading program. I loved reading as many books as I possibly could, but the summer I graduated from reading picture books and an occasional chapter book to ONLY chapter books had me worried. I was fretting about the change so much that on our first trip to the library, I couldn’t find any book that interested me. Finally, my mom suggested The Incredible Journey. It wasn’t the type of book I usually chose to read. I’m not an outdoorsy girl, and I don’t normally like animal stories. I didn’t want to read it, but I didn’t want to read anything at that point. So, I grudgingly took it home and started reading it. I was swiftly caught up in the animals’ adventure, and I ended up enjoying the book. Now, as I find myself recommending this title to many reluctant readers, particularly boys, I’m glad that nothing else caught my attention that day.
3. Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy by R. L. Stine
I went through a phase in high school when I loved to read scary books. Stephen King was one of my favorite authors of the time. However, as I got older, I liked the fright factor less and less. In my last year of teaching, several boys in my class were enamored with the Goosebumps series. Judging by the illustrations on the front covers, I was skeptical about their appropriateness for third grade students. I didn’t want to interfere with the boys’ choice though, so I decided to read one to find out for myself. Under the tutelage of our most knowledgeable Goosebumps reader, I chose to read the first book of the series. I was pleased to discover that they were, in fact, great books for the students to read. With my doubts relieved, I felt very confident recommending this series to other students. At any given time that year, you could find at least four or five kids (and maybe even a teacher!) reading Goosebumps books in my classroom.
2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
I’ve never been one to follow the crowd just because it’s the popular thing to do. So, when everyone was reading Harry Potter, I didn’t even consider picking up the book. As I mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of fantasy books, and I just didn’t believe that this one could be as good as everyone claimed it was. Finally, I got sick of listening to people talk about it. I decided to read it to show that not every person would like the story. In the beginning, my thoughts were confirmed: I was bored, and I continued to be bored until Harry began his life at Hogwarts. At that point, my opinion drastically changed. It was just as everyone had told me: this book was amazing! My normally stubborn self fell in love with this book so much that I didn’t even have time to be resentful of the fact that I had been wrong. I am now a devoted Harry Potter fan!
1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
I’m cheating on this one because I haven’t actually read this story. (Or any of Mark Twain’s book, for that matter.) My best friend scolds me every time I remind her that I haven’t read this book. Mark Twain is her favorite author, and she’s absolutely appalled that I haven’t read this classic story. I know I should read it; I’ve started it several times, but I never get very far. So, I decided to add it to my list and “confess” my transgression to the entire Nerdy Book Club as motivation to finally read this book. Sometimes peer pressure isn’t a bad thing.
What books have you read that you didn’t want to read — and then were glad that you had?
Emily Miller started her teaching career at a small, private school teaching grades K-3rd all in one classroom. When she got married, she moved and began teaching in a public school where she taught kindergarten for 4 years and third grade for 2 years. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to three sons ages 6, 3, and 1. While she absolutely loves being at home, she looks forward to returning to the classroom in a couple years. Teaching reading is her passion. You can follow her on Twitter at @emilypmiller3.