May 19


Hot Air Balloon Moments by Susan Knell

I’ve never taken a ride in a hot air balloon and never will because I’m scared of heights. I do love love to watch them gliding through the sky with all the bright colors floating by and I would love to see the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque sometime. My best friend’s father was given a hot air balloon ride for his 80th birthday and he was totally thrilled. I imagine anyone who has taken a ride has similar thoughts and will never forget the experience.

One of my graduate students reflected on a video about classroom libraries that was an assignment in one of my literacy classes. Her thoughts astounded me and I thought they were worth sharing with teachers and librarians. I wish I remembered her name to give her credit, so if she’s reading this, I thank her for her wise words. Here is what she had to say:

“Something that stuck out to me during the video was the discussion of making our libraries accessible, even for low level readers. I paused the video for a moment, because I began thinking about one of my elementary school friends and our different feelings toward reading.  I remember reaching the highest point club during my fourth grade year, and getting to take a ride in a hot air balloon. I was so excited to be able to ride in the hot air balloon and celebrate my reading. I had a friend who did not like reading, because it was difficult for them. She also struggled finding something that she liked to read.  Looking back now, I wonder if our classroom library had all the things the video suggested. Were there culturally responsive texts?  Were our books labeled easily for understanding? Did our teacher leave my friend on the back burner because she was a low-level reader? It’s interesting how your perspective changes as you get older and look back. I often think of her when I am working with a struggling reader, or when I have a student who just doesn’t care to read.”

As I was reading her reflection I kept thinking, “Wow! Someone must have had quite a bit of money to provide hot air balloon rides. But if not balloon rides, I know that schools have provided limousine rides, elaborate parties, prizes, special trips and other extrinsic awards for those kids who are at the top of their literacy game. But what about kids like my student’s friend, who did not like reading because it was difficult for her? Would the allure of a hot air balloon ride have been the incentive she needed to read better and therefore like it? Unfortunately, it’s not that simplistic. If it was, we wouldn’t need teachers getting their graduate degrees in reading. They could just provide prizes and all would be perfect.

I’m currently reading an”adult” book (I always snicker when I say that!) called The Bookshop On the Corner, by Jenny Colgan. The protagonist, Nina, loses her job as a librarian and is trying to decide what she wants to do next. The one desire she has always had is to find the right book for the right person. I’m learning as I read this book that she ends up doing that very thing in a most charming way. I highly recommend the book.

I also recommend the following professional books to help teachers and librarians seek ways to reach all readers, without the gimmicks that have been proven to be ineffective.

My hope is that we have the goal of finding the right book for the right child and that we meet the reading needs of all students.  My student ended her reflection with this statement: “All children deserve to have their own ‘hot air balloon moment’.”

Don’t they, though?


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 a member emeritus of ILA , writes book reviews for the ILA Literacy Blog, and serves as President of her local library friends board.