May 02


We Are in Charge of Reading Celebrations by Tammy Mulligan

“Tell me about the books in your book bag.” I ask a third grader during a recent conference.


She reached into her book bag, pulled out a book and declared, “This is my dessert book.  I read it just-for-fun.”


“What does it mean to read “just-for-fun?”


“Well, it’s fun because I don’t have to do any thinking.”  


After this student spoke, I was at a loss for words.  A few days later, as I reflected on this conference, I remembered the words from Byrd Baylor’s classic tale, I’m in Charge of Celebrations.  


“You can tell what’s worth a celebration because your heart will pound, and you’ll feel like you are standing on top of a mountain and you’ll catch your breath like you were breathing some new kind of air.”


As educators, we are in charge of helping children find their own reading celebrations.  What we deem as “dessert” or “fun” ripples out into our students’ hearts and minds. If our mission is to promote life-long passionate readers, do we accomplish this goal when students choose “dessert books?”


What messages do “dessert books” send about the types of reading experiences we value?  Do our students view learning something new, or coming up with a unique interpretation as something that a reader does only when it is assigned? Do our students see thinking as a chore or as intellectually engaging and joyful?


If some books are “dessert books”, what does that say about the other texts students read?  Are we saying that graphic novels, books about beloved characters, or wordless books aren’t intellectual?  Are we saying that readers don’t think when they read these texts?


If we are in charge of reading celebrations, what are the many ways we want our students to experience “fun” as readers?   Perhaps “fun” could be…


  • reading a book and getting swept up in the lives of the characters


  • reading a text and thinking about a topic or idea in a new way


  • having a notebook to collect their thoughts


  • sharing ideas with a book club or reading partner


  • reading a book with a first-grade book buddy


  • falling in a love with a text and giving a book talk


  • using social media to talk about a text with a student in a different part of the world


  • visiting the library


  • sending a Tweet to or Skyping with an author


  • sharing their thoughts about a book with the school nurse, librarian, principal, or custodian


As educators, we are in charge of reading celebrations; and since we have this honor, we also have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to help each and every child discover ways to celebrate the many joys of reading and build a rewarding reading life.  


Tammy Mulligan co-authored It’s All About the Books and Assessment in Perspective with Clare Landrigan. At work, you can find her teaching and thinking alongside elementary teachers and kids. On other days, she is in her garden, hiking in the woods, or hiding behind a pile of children’s books. Connect with Tammy on Twitter @TammyBMulligan.