Monday, February 23, 2015

Reconstructing Amelia and Loving Reading

I just finished reading Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. Maybe I should rephrase that. I just finished devouring Reconstructing Amelia.

Amelia is a high school girl attending an elite school. She is an excellent student and never gets into trouble. Amelia is accused of cheating, and her mother, Kate, rushes from work to the school to pick her up for her suspension. Instead of picking her up, Kate finds out that Amelia is dead. What happened? Was this the suicide of a troubled girl as the school claimed? Or was something else going on? Told alternately through Kate and Amelia's voices, we find out what lead up to Amelia's death. It kept me turning pages and wondering until the end. A good read!


I was satisfied as I finished reading this book. At the end of the book there were acknowledgements by the author. I read those. And then after that, there were the dreaded Book Group Questions. Questions designed, it seems to me, to suck the life right out of a book.

I enjoy books as a whole, which is why I think I prefer book books to digital books. (I'll read on my Nook when I'm traveling, as the ease and portability make it a worthwhile tradeoff.) But I love books themselves. I like the cover art and design, I like feeling the heft of a book. I like the font on the pages, I like feeling the texture of the pages. I like looking through the entire book. I like BOOKS.

However, I've noticed that when I come upon Reader's Guide Questions at the end of a book, which seem to be ubiquitous these days, it deflates my book experience.

It makes me feel like school. Like reading the book is supposed to be "educational", or "thought provoking" or that it is supposed to "challenge me". Books ARE those things and do those things, all by themselves. Books expand my thoughts and feelings, books challenge me to see things and people in a new light, books may (as this one did) deal with difficult issues. Reading is one of THE most "educational" thing a person can do.

Which is why, when I taught third grade, I carved out 20 minutes into every school day for reading. Just reading. They had to read, but I didn't have to know what they were reading. I didn't check and make sure they finished what they read. They didn't have to do book reports on what they read. There were no comprehension questions. No tests or quizzes. They just had to read. I also sent home a slip every Friday for the parents to sign off on that they read for an hour over the week-end. They just had to be reading.

Some of the kids loved this from the beginning. (ALL of the parents loved this from the beginning.) These were the kids who already loved to read. This was bonus time in their school day. And there were other kids who did not like this. They would fidget. And squirm. And roll their eyes. They'd ask me if they could draw (no). They'd ask if they could work on their math (no). I had a small classroom library. The school had a library. They could bring a book from home. They could find something to read. I told them they could start a book and change their minds in the middle if they didn't like it.

And gradually, even those reluctant readers began to enjoy reading. By the end of the year all the students would read quietly for the 20 minutes. And parents reported that their reluctant readers would settle into reading at home too.

School can suck the life out of learning and reading. The goal is that it doesn't, but sometimes it does. I did not want reading to be a chore. I wanted my students to love to read for its own sake.

Just as I loved reading Reconstructing Amelia.

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