Confident readers know how to choose books. Which is not to say that we are immune to error. Every avid reader has experienced book droughts where nothing you pick up has what you are looking for (not that you can articulate what you are looking for, but whatever it is, this isn’t it).
Students can fall into the same kind of reading funk, discarding dozens of books after only a few pages, rejecting every one of your surefire suggestions. When this happens, try asking students to write a note describing the books they have rejected and explaining why they were disappointed.
Choosing books also requires a certain courage. We want students to have the confidence to follow their instincts and to take risks with books. Never discourage a student from a title because you think it may be too difficult; if it is, the reader will discover this soon enough. There are plenty of history books on our shelves at home—Charles Moore’s multivolume biography of Margaret Thatcher and Robert Caro’s four-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, for example—that are too difficult or maybe just too long and detailed. An important step toward becoming a habitual reader is exploring the boundaries of your reading tastes.
Carol Jago has taught English in middle and high school for 32 years and is associate director of the California Reading and Literature Project at UCLA. She served as president of NCTE and editor of California English.
Carol has published many books with Heinemann including With Rigor for All: Meeting Standards for Reading Literature; Papers, Papers, Papers; Classics in the Classroom; and Cohesive Writing: Why Concept Is Not Enough.
In 2015 Carol was awarded the International Literacy Association’s Adolescent Literacy Thought Leader Award and in 2016 the CEL Exemplary Leadership Award. She has been named by the U.S. Department of Education to serve on the National Assessment Governing Board overseeing the NAEP assessments.
Follow Carol on Twitter @CarolJago