books change lives button

It’s been 3 weeks since I’ve last posted, and a few things have happened since then: Going to Minneapolis for a few days, attending a few concerts, buying a new car and bike, and going back to school.

The “school” part forms today’s focus. While working on my Reading Teacher License coursework, I came across something that speaks to the power of literature and how it can change our lives.

I read an article in Reading Research Quarterly about a few 8th grade English classrooms that had ditched the regular reading curriculum in favor of letting the students read independently from a portable library of over a hundred edgy and challenging YA books. One section focused on a girl who read books like Jennifer Brown’s Hate List, in which characters were bullied. She spoke of how she came across a girl being bullied on Facebook and stepped in to stop the bullying. She did so because her reading had “changed [her] way of seeing things.” [Emphasis mine]

Talk about heartening. This girl connected her reading to real life. Not only that, but she actually acted on those newfound connections. She spoke up to the bullies because of something she read. If she hadn’t read those books, then maybe she wouldn’t have thought as deeply about bullying or about speaking out against the bullies. As a teacher, I doubt I can ask for much more from students–or anyone, really.

Bullying’s a horrible blight on youth and schools around the world and the sooner it’s eradicated, the better.

  • The article I’m referring to is “Engagement With Young Adult Literature: Outcomes and Processes,” which can be found in Reading Research Quarterly, Vol. 48, Issue #3.
  • Photo: A button on my daypack.

Another thought:

With all due respect to those like ED Hirsch who push for reading the classics and amassing thousands of facts, what good is all that stuff if people can’t relate it to real life? This is not to say that classics aren’t worth reading–they are–but oftentimes 15 year-olds have trouble with Romeo and Juliet and the like. As interesting as those texts might be, they lack something in accessibility. It’s probably better to take time for readers to work on more accessible (and personally relevant) books before they tackle canonical works.