Heading off Book Challenges

There have been some excellent discussions online lately about student choice in school reading programs and how schools and parents should work together to provide those choices.  I keep a huge variety of books — both MG and YA titles — in my 7th grade classroom library.  I give book talks, and every day, I make the teachers’ version of hand sales to my student customers, recommending new titles based on the last thing a student read and loved.  Our school library, which has seen a huge increase in circulation in the past few years, operates on much the same philosophy.

Occasionally, the broad range of book choices leads a parent to question a particular title that’s in our school library or in my classroom library.  Last year, I decided I’d try to be more proactive about book challenges and choices, so at Open House, I spent some time talking with parents about how we can all work together to make sure the kids have great book choices that meet all of their needs.  I shared this talk on my blog during Banned Books Week, but with school starting again, I thought it might be worth an encore. Here’s the book-talk I’ll be giving on for parents on Back-to-School night:

Our school librarian does a phenomenal job making sure that there are books of interest to every student in our building.  That’s a lot of students.  A lot of different students.

This middle school serves sixth graders as young as ten years old and eighth graders as old as fifteen.  Five years is a big gap, and those are no ordinary five years.  The difference between ten and fifteen is the difference between Legos and iPods, the difference between trick-or-treating and Homecoming Dances. The difference between child and young adult.

Our kids are not only different ages; they arrive at school with different reading levels, different backgrounds, and different experiences that have shaped their lives in both positive and negative ways. They have different needs when it comes to reading.

The book that is perfect for your wide-eyed sixth grade girl isn’t likely to be a good fit for a fifteen-year-old boy repeating eighth grade.   The book that eighth grader will read and love is probably not one that would be right for your sixth grader right now.  But as teachers and librarians, we have a responsibility to serve all of the kids who come to us. We have a responsibility to offer literature choices that speak to all of them and meet all of their diverse needs.

Kids, in general, do a fantastic job self-selecting books, and when they find they’ve picked up something they’re not ready for, they’re usually quick to put it down and ask for help choosing something else. As teachers and librarians, we’ll offer recommendations and steer kids toward books that are age-appropriate, and we encourage you to talk about books with your kids. We have multiple copies of many titles in our library.  Let us know if you’d like to check out two copies of a book so you can read together.  And if you find that your student has chosen a book that you think might not be the right book for him or her right now, talk about that, too. 

We respect your right to help your own child choose reading material, and we ask that you respect the rights of other parents to do the same.  If you object to your child reading a particular book, send it back to the library, and we’ll help your student find another selection.  We’ll put the first book back on the shelf because even though you don’t feel it’s the right book for your child right now, it may be the perfect book for someone else’s.

Our library will continue to have a wide range of choices for kids – to meet all of their varied needs and help them all develop a love of reading.  If we can ever be of help to you in recommending titles for your family, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 25, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I teach sixth grade language arts. I have a huge (1000+) class library. I give a similar talk at the beginning of the year. I let parents know that if a child is requesting a book with topic or theme that may be a bit mature for them where they can find more information on those books. If they want to let their child read the book after finding more information on it then they may send me a note to that effect. I have students who are very mature readers. Usually their parents tell me that they started reading at an early age and often read what the parents are reading. I’ve had some students that can barely handle topics most middle graders handle and therefore they need books with younger content. I keep those as well. At no time should we try to fit all kids into the same notch. This will in effect turn them off to reading. And that is my opinion.

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