Top Ten Things Lit Lessons I’ve Learned from Students by Arika Dickens
As an elementary teacher-librarian, I instruct many students over the course of the year. More important, though, may be the lit-lessons I’ve learned from students. Over the last 10+ years, here are ten that stand out:
- Series are King
“Where are the My Weird School books?” “Do you have Piggie and Elephant?” “Is the new Wimpy Kid here?” Of all the questions asked by students, a disproportionate number relate to series. It drives readers to stories. Mention to students that a new book is the first in a series and interest skyrockets. Some kids will even research when the next book releases! In the library, I’ve learned that labeling series books with shelf-markers helps all students keep track of where to find their favorites as well as locate potential new favorites.
- Passion is contagious
All it takes is one kid. Just one kid who has read a book, loved it, and loudly proclaims “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!” when it’s featured during class. Boom: instant sale. This passion for books can’t be contained, and I love it. Last week, when book talking Hachiko Waits, an assortment of students joined in with rave reviews. Result: instant holds list. During the same class, a student showed her classmate The Shadows after reading and loving it. Giving kids a place to be passionate about books is important because those readers seek out and cultivate new readers.
- Wanted: stories with soul
“I’m looking for a book like Out of My Mind,” says a 4th grader. “I really like sad stories,” remarks a 5th grader. “Where are the scary books?” asks a 3rd grader. Kids seek out stories that move them – stories that cause their hearts to swell with empathy, to constrict with fear, to hope for happiness. I’ve learned it’s the stories with soul that kids come back to time and again and reminisce on years later as being all-time favorites.
- There is no “one book”
Years ago, Skippyjon Jones was a state award nominee. I’d shared it with students to rave reviews. Our three copies were always circulating. I knew it would be the top vote-getter of the year, and it was. But like most elections, no single nominee receives all votes. There is no one book that will fit every student. By continually incorporating many types and styles of books into lessons and book talks, I have a better chance to reach all readers.
- …but if there was “one book,” it’d be a graphic novel
The most loved area in our library is the graphic novel section. They’re strewn across the shelves, piled on the floor, and haphazardly reshelved by helpful students. And these books circulate: kindergarteners love Benny & Penny, 2nd graders are crazy for Lunch Lady, and no Amulet book stays on the shelf for more than one day. Regardless of a student’s reading level, interests, language or background, I’ve learned that there is usually a suitable graphic novel for the reader.
- The four funniest words
A different category, but just as important, are the humorous books. And nothing is funnier to an elementary-aged kid than these four words: Poop. Fart. Underpants. Butt. Include any (or all!) of these in a book – fiction or nonfiction – and I’ve learned it will circulate until it falls apart.
- Book specs matter
Years ago, I had a 3rd grade student who asked for a book each week but never check one out. Frustrated and curious, I finally asked what was wrong with the books I had recommended. “The lines are too crowded in this one”, she said, “and I like pictures, too.” For her – and for many readers – the book specs matter. There is the kindergartener who loses hand-sized books and the 5th grader who wants thick books with loads of white space. I’ve learned that showcasing the look of the inside – the font size, margins, illustrations and spacing – can be just as important as the words on the inside.
- Covers > Spines
There’s a famous saying regarding books and covers. And I’ve learned that no matter what I do, I can’t fight it. So, I’ve embraced it. This year, I’ve undertaken a huge fiction weeding project to free up shelf space so books can be displayed face-out. Why? Because it has promoted circulation. It seems counter-intuitive: removing books increases circulation?! But when students view crowded shelves and nothing pops, they walk right past. And I don’t blame them because no one has ever judged a book by its spine.
- A picture is worth 1,000 words…
…especially when it comes to book advertisement. Our library has a display of book lists, brochures and bookmarks created for students and teachers. I’ve noticed that items including images of books or databases are picked up and used with more frequency than text-only items. This year, I’ve incorporated Vine videos as a way to share what books are circulating among classes or are featured during booktalks. These picture-focused videos have become a top request among students!
- First AND New? Win!
There’s something about new books that excites kids. Who doesn’t love something new? With fresh pages and shiny covers, new materials are always a hit. I’ve learned that showcasing the newest in kidlit keeps the library relevant. Through blog posts, lessons, and displays our readers know that the library has the latest and greatest. Perhaps the only thing more exciting than a new book is getting an advanced readers copy. I’ll pick up what I can carry at library conferences, knowing I have eager readers who cherish being among a book’s first readers. And at the end of the day, that’s my goal: to get students to cherish reading.
So, there you have it: ten lit-lessons over 10+ years of teaching. Rereading these makes me curious about what’s to come in the next 10 years. Bring on the teaching and learning!
Arika Dickens is an elementary teacher-librarian living and working in the suburbs of Seattle. You can follow her on Twitter @LibrarianArika or online at www.librarianarika.wordpress.com.