I wrote a couple of posts last year about participating in a literacy program at my son’s elementary school, reading with kids who could use a little extra one-on-one time. The program I work with asks us to follow a specific structure. The first reader brings out a book from his or her backpack and reads it to me for about six minutes before we chat about it. Then I read from a book I’ve brought for about six minutes, and then we discuss. Then the kids switch and I do it again. I bring a handful of diverse choices each time and let the kids pick whichever ones strike their fancy. I very much enjoy it, not only because the kids are awesome and it’s really fun, but also because it’s such a great hands-on exercise in the challenge of winning over reluctant readers.
Last year I got to know two wonderful second graders and wrote a bit about the quest to select books that both fit the criteria of the program and engaged the kids. The key last year was ultimately embracing the fact that my two readers were very different and making sure my selection catered to both. By the end of the year, one was totally enamored with Dog Man, but remained a selective reader overall. The other had completely embraced books, most notably latching onto the endless fun to be found within Where the Sidewalk Ends. After three weeks of poetry at the end of the year, she came to our final session with her very own copy prepped with poems to read together. It was amazing!
This year I’ve been assigned to kindergarten, which is a whole different (extra adorable) world. The challenge of picking age-appropriate books short enough for my time constraints is less of a challenge. But again my readers are very different. One of them has loved every second of every session since the first week, so reading with him hasn’t turned out to be such a challenge at all. It’s really just a delight to see what he wants to read next. At our last visit, we dug into Fabulous Frogs by Martin Jenkins, spending several minutes on the final spread talking about which frogs we would most like to meet in real life. He thought the Argentine horned frog looked most impressive, while I thought the black rain frog looked most intriguing.
My second reader is a bit harder to pin down. He’s incredibly sweet, but isn’t the world’s biggest fan of sitting still. Half his attention is always on who might be coming down the hall, what the other kids in the class might be up to, or whether it’s going to be snack time soon. He also isn’t terribly interested in the reading practice. But the week before winter break, we had one of those moments that makes this kind of program so worth it. He pulled out The Incredible Book Eating Boy semi-enthusiastically, and as we started to read he suddenly snapped to attention and shouted out in gleeful horror: “He’s eating books? That’s nasty!”
From there he was completely hooked. When we turned the final page he looked at the rest of the pile and said those magic words: “I want to read ALL the books!” We had a few minutes left so we read I Really Want to Eat a Child, followed by Bear Report, followed by Lucía the Luchadora. I’ll admit I let him stay out of class an extra few minutes so we could finish all three (his teacher didn’t mind). It felt like this was a moment too good to pass up.
As he went back into class, he turned and asked if I could bring back Creepy Carrots from the previous week so we could read it again. I was so sad to have to tell him I wouldn’t be back the next two weeks because of the holiday break, but I’m really looking forward to diving back in.