This weekend I was reunited with the book I left at home when I made my commute back to college last weekend: Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild. I love this book so much that I considered begging my husband to mail the left behind copy one hundred miles, so I could have it again before Friday. I did order my own copy to replace this borrowed one that I will have to give back someday. This is a book that makes me want to underline every word on every page. Maybe- there’s a good possibility- that I’ve been reading the wrong books, but this rarely happens when I read. I’ll mark a line or two, here and there, but I don’t usually agree with everything. The professional development book I’ve connected to this strongly was Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them.
Reading in the Wild made me think about my own reading habits and how I can show, not tell, my future students that reading is a superpower. I already know I want my classroom to be filled with books and magazines, stacks of notebooks, boxes of pens, crayons and markers and comfy spaces. A place I would want to be even if I wasn’t required to spend over forty hours a week there. (I imagine food will have a place too.) I am already a wild reader by Donalyn Miller’s definition. I have books stacked everywhere. I keep one in each vehicle and New Yorker magazines in the bathroom in case of emergencies. Showing students that reading is fun and not a dreaded assignment should be simple.
But let’s think about that a little bit. In today’s world of Common Core, overwhelming numbers of state standards and a general lack of classroom instruction time for anything that won’t be a multiple choice question on a standardized test, is fitting in “wild reading” really that simple? In a world where most kids are readily acquainted with video games but not their local library, familiar with the internet but not the pages of a book, and there is always government money for police salaries but not librarian’s, is a love of reading a simple thing to foster?
Donalyn Miller is s fabulous book advocate. She talks about the young adult books she reads and how she finds the stacks of personal recommendations she provides to each student. I’ve read widely and voraciously for almost forty years, but I read my first graphic novel for a class last year and I’ve never read young adult books until required to for class this semester. With so much good stuff to read, I didn’t feel the need to add another category of books to the pile. I was ready to give up on young adult last week after reading four that I was not excited about, when I finally met a young adult book that clicked. I thought about how difficult it might be to find that perfect book that excites each student, especially reluctant readers. I thought about how smart it seemed of Donalyn Miller to have each student make reading plans- something that I do naturally with my stack of ten books leaving the library each time and a to-be-read pile of books I own next to the bed- so they know what to move on to when they finish one book. I realized that her encouragement of organic book conversation in her classroom mimics what I do with my friends because I surround myself with readers. We talk about what we’ve read lately and shove books at each other from our own libraries. Hopefully I can use these strategies to encourage students to be wild readers, in my classroom and for the rest of their lives.