June 03


Have I Got a Book For You! Leaving No Reader Behind by Susan Knell

Finding the right book for the right child at the right time is probably one of the most life-changing things teachers can do for their students. For those of us who have always been readers and lovers of books, we may not be able to recollect exactly the one book that made us a reader. But for some students, current and former, for whom reading wasn’t easy, enjoyable, or relatable, if they were fortunate enough to have a teacher who never gave up searching for just the right book…well, I bet they could tell you!

miss malarky

I love the picture book, Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind, by Judy Finchler & Kevin O’Malley. Kevin also illustrated the book.

You can also watch and listen to the book at:

In this story, Miss Malarkey will not give up finding just the right book for one of her students if it takes her all year, and it does! But by learning all about him and what he likes and doesn’t like, she finally finds the right book that turns him into a reader.

At this time of year when school is winding down, I think about all the kids and  whether or not they’ve found books they love. Will they spend their summers riding their bikes to the library to stock up on summer reading? Will they pack up books to take with them on family trips? Will they content themselves to spend warm afternoons under a shade tree with a favorite book? Will they participate in summer reading programs at the public library? I’m hoping they will, but we know that doesn’t happen for many students who just haven’t met the right book. I know there are lots of teachers still trying to hook their students into book that will turn them into lifelong readers and wondering if it will ever happen. But they never give up, even if it does take all year.

In my early years of teaching children’s literature at my university, one student talked to me privately after class. He was what has been termed a “nontraditional” student. He was married with kids, had worked at other jobs, and had made the decision to become a teacher. He told me that as a student he had many negative experiences with books and reading. No one read to him at home, and he was in remedial reading classes in school. He never connected to any book during his K-12 school years.  But, he told me, he knew that to become a good teacher, he needed to read and learn about quality literature for kids. But he was just letting me know that he personally did not like to read and hadn’t read a complete book from cover to cover.  Ever.

However, during the semester as he was required to read books from all genres, made to listen to me read aloud every day and booktalk my favorite books, something happened. He “met” author Gary Paulsen through the book, Hatchet, and that’s when things changed. He was converted from a nonreader to someone who couldn’t get enough of Paulsen’s books. From then on, he had the reading bug. It took a few decades, but he finally became a reader.

Fast forward to the fall, 2015 semester. One of my graduate students wrote this in one of her online discussion posts:

“I finally found ‘the right book at the right time’ for one of my students. He hasn’t enjoyed reading although he is 2 grade levels above his peers. Today during guided reading, we were sharing what we were currently reading with one another. He brought up a book I had recommended and said, ‘This book is hilarious and it’s a comic book; it’s pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted in a book!’  My teacher heart is so happy! Luckily it’s a series book so I’m going to order the rest of the series for him and I recommended the books to his mom as well.”

The book was Big Nate: Genius Mode, from the Big Nate series. She also said that, “It was such a treasure to see a kid who once told me, ‘I hate reading’ light up and share this book with a giant smile on his face.”

Another graduate student shared, “I had a student this year who really had a hard time finding books that she enjoyed. She would continuously say that there were not any books that she was interested in. It was breaking my heart because she was a fabulous reader but she had a hard time finding things she enjoyed. We finally found a few reading series that she enjoyed and her mother and I bought them all. She has read every single book in this series. I have been so fortunate to be a part of this moment in her life because I feel like it is an incredibly important milestone in someone’s life when they are trying to discover what books they are interested in.”

These stories warm my soul and give testimony to the fact that we must keep trying to find the right book for the right student no matter how long it takes. My teacher friend tells me that there are no bad readers. I believe that, and we need to keep introducing books to students until they meet “the right one.” For some students, it’s love at first read. For others the attraction is gradual. Teachers should think of themselves as “matchmakers” for books and the readers who will fall in love with them.  Hmm, this is sounding a bit like love….


Susan Knell is a professor at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas, She teaches graduate courses in literacy education, and taught children’s literature to pre-service teachers for 19 years.  Her main interests are children’s literature and reading motivation. But she also is an avid reader of adult books.   She’s an active member of ILA of which she is now member emeritus, NCTE, Kansas Reading Association, and serves on her local library friends board.