Thursday, December 13, 2012


All year, every year I read and read and read books. I pick up books to read and donate to my little library. I read books that I like, books I don't like and books that are just plain weird (werewolves on the titanic anyone?). I read so I can talk to kids about books and know what I'm saying. Simple librarian math: books + reading = knowing what you're saying.

Due to the fact that my English department is full of rock stars who agree with me that choice is everything, approximately 2/3 of my 700+ student school get to choose one of the books they get credit for in the English curriculum. That's a lot of kids and a lot of book talks - but a lot of kids reading books they want to read, not just books we've told them are good for them. Reading the recent YALSA Blog A Defense of Weak YA Fiction reminded me of the importance of this program. There are people who question this - if they're not reading the classics, is it worth it? YES. YES. YES.

For some kids, having the right to choose gives them a connection to their curriculum. They feel as if they are part of what's happening around them and in their school. They have a sense of participation in their academic destiny and feel that they are willingly participating simply because they can read a book they want to read instead of a book that they have been told to read. And you know what they do? They read it. They participate in the curriculum successfully.

For other kids, having the right to choose means that they get to read something in which they are interested. It means that for once, quite often, they get to read something in their sphere of interest and often, at their reading level. One student could be reading 'The Night Circus', which another is reading 'Cirque du Freak'. One could read 'Twilight' while another could read 'Interview with the Vampire'. It's at their level and it's their choice. Students are, in my opinion, more likely to participate by reading the works if they had a part in choosing the works they're reading.

Doing this program at a high school level presents some difficulties - our Grade Twelve students can't participate because they need to read the same books as the rest of the province. Past that, having enough good books sometimes was hard - I did have to run out and pick up more part way through. The biggest worry was evaluation - how do you run an evaluation when everyone is reading something different? However, the rock stars found a way and the kids did the assignments - some for the first time that year. The assignments received were strong - as we weren't doing the standard curriculum, the kids had to rely on themselves and not spark notes. But they did it! And they prospered. This program was true, student centered 21st century learning and it showed.

This program and giving kids choice had two other benefits - kids fostered a relationship with the library and general circulation went up. They also fostered a relationship with the teachers involved; if they can trust that the teachers are looking out for them and are interested in their interests, they will form a relationship with them when it comes to other curricular issues.

So, choice in literature? Letting "weak" YA lit flourish? It works. The right of choice is one that has so many other benefits that it outweighs any of the detriments someone might suggest. So, next time someone says 'it's only YA lit - when are you going to read something good?', stare them down. Or realize that they obviously don't know what they're talking about and give them your favourite book to read. Reading+books=knowing what you're saying. Those who have read know this.


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