November 29


Celebrating Reading by Heather Jensen

I am a reader. It defines who I am. I need books as much as I need food and oxygen. I carry characters in my heart and learn how to be a better person from them. I shout and sing the praises of my favorite books. I celebrate reading with family, friends, and people all over the world via social media. I long to be the audience for new authors and new books. I am willing to open my heart to new characters who will soon become old friends.

Just as writers need an audience to read what they create, readers need a community to discuss the books they have read. I know I look to the Nerdy Book Club and my teaching partners for that community. This community, or “tribe” as Donalyn Miller often calls it, is where we celebrate our love of books, get book recommendations, and learn from each other. It is this tribe that fuels our passion and gives us a sense of belonging with other lifelong learners.

In the same fashion, belonging to a community of readers is what I want for my students. I think back to Nick, who was new to our school. He was guarded with his thoughts and feelings. He was not willing to take a risk. He told me on day one, “I do not like to read anything but Magic Tree House books.” I knew this is where I had to meet him. I know there is one book that will turn a person into a reader. My goal each year is to find that one book and start my students on their path to lifelong reading. I had a few Magic Tree House books in my room. He read through them pretty quickly. I then did a book commercial for Amulet. I did not have to sell it too hard to the class; most of the class was in love with the series. Nick shrugged at me during the commercial.  A few days later after I finished working with a small group, I heard Nick behind me say, “Okay, I’ll try Amulet.” “Great,” I told him without turning around, “Let me know what you think.”  In a day or two, he was asking the other kids for the next book in the series. After he had read the third book in the series, he asked me to have a conference during independent reading time. We ended up talking for most of read to self that day about how much he was loving these books. He wondered if I had any other books I might recommend for him. Needless to say, I had goosebumps and tears as we talked. Nick made it through most of the graphic novels in the room, then he turned to novels about World War II. Our community of readers helped him become a wild reader of books. He became more confident in all areas and was willing to take risks.

Our fifth grade team starts the book celebration before school even starts. We host a Back to School Book Celebration two weeks before school starts. The fifth grade team sends out a postcard invitation highlighting our theme to incoming and outgoing fifth graders. We like to have our former students come and talk about books as well.

This year, our theme, friendship, was based on Cynthia Lord’s middle grade novel A Handful of Stars. First, the families enjoy a treat of cupcakes or ice cream. Each teacher shares our old favorites and book we have read recently. may read a part of the book or show a book trailer to help build the excitement. Our love of books comes through loud and clear. We create a space where it is safe to geek out over books. We open the floor to our students to share books they have read over the summer or just books they feel people should know about. Students leave with books they cannot wait to read. We set the tone that reading is cool and something we expect from all of our students.

As the year progresses, we read and discuss new middle grade and picture books that have a chance at winning the Newbery and Caldecott awards. We live stream the awards ceremony each year. We cheer for our favorites and cry when they do not win.

My students know that Tuesdays are the day new books will arrive on my front porch and wait patiently for me to read the books and get them into their hands. This year, we could not wait to get our hands on Amulet 7 Firelight, The Great Pet Escape, Pax, the color versions of The Babysitters Club, Unicorns vs. Goblins, or A Night Divided. We celebrate the number of books each child reads at the end of the year. We know each other as readers, including our likes and our reading gaps, genres we struggle to love. They know which book to recommend to a friend and are willing to share books from home with each other. New books fly around the room until they have touched the hearts of every fifth grader, then do another lap just to say I love you even more. I create a community of readers within my classroom, but that is not enough. I want them to see that there is a reading community outside of our room as well.

One way we do this is through author visits. Bringing authors to our school or Skyping with authors brings the writing process to life. Students form a connection with the authors and the books that they write. The excitement for reading after an author visit, even a virtual one, is palpable.

Forming a connection with authors can also be done through Twitter. I send pictures of my students with the books they love to the authors. We ask questions about books and just spread our love of books. I am amazed at how gracious and kind the authors are in responding to my students. What a great way to build that community outside of my four walls.

We connect with other readers by participating in Global Read Aloud, Read Aloud Day, Read Across America, and March Book Madness. We are also able to work with teachers and students around the world through Twitter.

Of course, we also get involved in our state book awards through the Michigan Reading Association: the Great Lakes Great Books Award. We read the novels for our grade level, but we often read others books recommended for other grade levels. Our entire school participates by reading the books. We vote for our favorites in the statewide competition, but we also give out The Golden Hornet Book Award to our favorites in our building. Students create posters for each of the books and we hang them around the building. Once the votes have been tallied, our school holds a “Star-Studded, Red Carpet Event” where we announce the Golden Hornet winners in each of the categories. We hold it like the Oscars or the Emmys. We have a host for the event and teachers are handed an envelope with the winners inside. We cheer and applaud as the winners are announced. This helps our students connect as readers.

I want my students to feel the way I feel when I connect with my community of readers online and in person. I celebrate reading with my students for many reasons. Here are my top ten reasons for celebrating books:

  1. Connection with others who share the same passions as you
  2. Ownership of their choices, likes, and dislikes
  3. Mindfulness of others that reminds us to look out for one another
  4. Making new friends who share our favorites and open our eyes to new ideas
  5. Understanding and caring for those who are different. Books teach our students empathy and help us understand the world we live in.
  6. Nourishment of  their soul. Students learn who they are and who they want to be.
  7. Identity as a reader gives my students a better chance of success.
  8. Tribe of people with common interests coming together!
  9. Yahoo! Students are on their way to becoming wild readers!
  10. A Community of readers sustains a reading life beyond their one year with me.

My students, friends, and family know of my passion for reading. Many of my students come to me as what Donalyn Miller defines as wild readers. Others proudly proclaim they are not readers and drop the gauntlet to see what I will say. It often takes several attempts before finding that just right book for each of my students. I will not give up. Even after a student has moved on to the middle school, I may come across a book that makes me think of that student. When Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales Alamo All Stars arrived in the mail this week, I instantly thought of Nick and knew he would love this book. I am not ashamed of some of the books I have purchased in my attempts to find that book for each child. One year I ordered the entire DK Readers series of WWE biographies to encourage a group of boys to read.  I celebrate any and all books my students read. Sharing my passion and love for books has an infectious effect with my students. Won’t you join us in this celebration?

Heather Jensen is a fifth grade teacher in Harrison, Michigan. Her classroom is filled with books that at one time were the perfect book for that student who needed a little help becoming a wild reader. She is a member of the Chippewa River Writing Project. She loves snuggling with her two dogs, Coach and Indigo, while reading. Follow her on Twitter @hmjensen31.