Creating a Lifelong Reader with the Right-Fit Books

By Barbara Masley, Scholastic Book Fairs Principal Partner / Instructional Coach

I still remember my first trip to the public library. I was 5 years old, and I couldn’t wait to pick out my own books. My mother had made me practice writing my name on small lines, something that was very hard for me to do, so that I could sign out the books myself. I practiced and practiced, and when I got to the librarian’s desk, I was so afraid she wouldn’t let me have my precious books if I didn’t stay within those lines!

Though I didn’t know it at the time, Mrs. Mercier – the librarian, whose soft English accent enthralled me – would become one of those significant adults in my life by helping me and my four siblings develop a lifelong love of reading.

Sensing I was overwhelmed by the possibilities surrounding me in the children’s room, Mrs. Mercier appeared at my side and began showing me picture books – large and small, with and without book jackets – and giving me summaries of each book. She made each book she talked about sound so exciting that I could have chosen all of them. I ended up walking home proudly with my first book, a picture story of Robinson Crusoe.

This wonderful woman went through the same ritual every time my family visited the library. She assessed our interests and then piqued our curiosity by offering us books that would be snapped up and enjoyed by everyone in the family.

Since we could take out five books at a time, sometimes we had more than 25 selections in our home. She opened our world with Mary Poppins, Little Women, Charlotte’s Web, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Treasure Island, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and so many other wonderful choices!

Our mom and aunts read some of them aloud to us every night and slowly but surely, we each developed our own taste for reading. We didn’t think of it as booktalking then, but that’s exactly what we ended up doing: We talked about the books we were reading with one another.

We had a weekly ritual every Thursday evening. That’s the day mom would go grocery shopping and Aunt Mary would come over. We would plan what she would read to us that evening. Then all five of us would sit together listening to the story we had agreed on. Eskimo Pies topped off a wonderful evening!

Mrs. Mercier, our mother and our aunts modeled how we help each child find the books that are the right fit for them. We need to start early by reading aloud to and with our kids. We serve as reading mentors selecting those books that were and still are well-loved classics for children.

We need to exhibit excitement and passion about the selections we choose. Then, as a child begins to read, we need to offer choice just like Mrs. Mercier, our town’s librarian, did for my family. As we watch and listen to our children’s reactions, we begin to learn what they love and that will also help us refine and suggest future choices as well.

What can teachers and parents do to help students get started? Scholastic has a great search engine called Book Wizard. You can access Book Wizard by going www.scholastic.com/tbwwidget/, and you can even use the Book Wizard widget on your school’s website.

Book Wizard gives teachers and parents a plethora of information about books. For example, it lists a book’s lexile level that often is found on standardized test results. It will also give the developmental reading level and grade-level equivalent of a book. When I entered Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, I could read a book summary, a short summary of the author and many other interesting facts about the book.

The site also has an icon that you can use to find similar books. For instance, it listed more than 200 books that were similar to the genre and theme of Sendak’s book. It’s a great tool to use as you learn about the kinds of books kids are interested in reading.

You can also use the search engine on the The National Education Association’s website, www.nea.org to obtain various book lists generated by both kids and teachers. The NEA offers a listing of the Top 100 favorite books of teachers and kids through 2007 and a Teacher’s Choice list for 2011 as well. Another interesting site – www.odl.state.ok.us/kids/century/century.htm – lists the best books of the 20th century in 10-year intervals.

Many of the books listed there are available free online. Books are categorized as easy readers, tween, juvenile and young adult fiction and non-fiction reads. Short summaries are provided for each book. Use the Book Wizard search engine to see if the reading level is appropriate for a child’s independent reading.

In upcoming months, we’ll focus on how can we use read-alouds, read-togethers and read-alones to develop lifelong readers, and we’ll also explore ideas for promoting reading at home.
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