The Importance of Choice by Paige Ysteboe
“Let your students read whatever they want.”
“Yes, graphic novels count as reading.”
“It’s ok that so-and-so chose a book below his/her grade level. Students choose books that interest them, and they don’t really care about the grade level. (And, by the way, you’d might be surprised at the Lexile level of the Wimpy Kid books!)”
“It doesn’t matter that all they want to read is fantasy (or nonfiction, or science fiction, or any other genre) – what matters is that they are reading.”
I find myself preaching on these topics all the time. Students rebel when we don’t value their choices and insist that they read on a certain level or within a certain genre or from a certain list. I believe in student choice and the only time I question their choices of books from the library is when I watch them go to the shelves, randomly pick up books and bring them to the checkout counter without even bothering to read the inside flap to find out what the book is about.
If only I followed the same advice for myself! Lately I’ve been finding myself pulled between what I ought to read versus what I really want to read. As a school librarian, I need to read as many books in my library as possible so that I can share them with my students. I also need to read all of the books on my state’s Battle of the Books list and our Young Adult Book Award list. Once the ALA awards are announced each year, I need to catch up on many of the honored titles. I could read eight hours a day and still not get it all done.
And here’s my dilemma: I love middle school books, but they are not the only books that I love. I adore young adult books that are a little too mature for my middle school, and I love to read the occasional adult fiction and nonfiction book. This past year, I’ve rediscovered how wonderful picture books are. When I look at all I have to read and all I want to read, sometimes I’m in despair because I feel like I’m drowning.
So this year I’ve given myself permission to follow the advice I’ve given my teachers and students – I’m reading what I want to read. I’m still reading a lot of fiction that will go in my library (I just finished The One by Kiera Cass and loved it) but right now I’m reading an adult nonfiction book called Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans. I have no idea what will be next, but it will be my choice as opposed to my obligation. And that’s just the way it should be.
Paige Ysteboe is a middle school librarian in Elon, North Carolina. She cannot remember a time when she didn’t belong to the Nerdy Book Club. She is most proud of having raised two Nerdy Book Club daughters, the youngest of whom is busy trying to figure out how many books she can squeeze into her college dorm room.