During my childhood, my mother had a habit of regularly visiting the local library and bringing home stacks of books. When we finished reading these stacks, we turned to our bookshelves, because my mother was also an astute thrift store book shopper, filling our home with many classics and not-so-classics. The authors of books on our shelves offered a wide range of writing quality, style, and topics, from Laura Lee Hope to Enid Blyton to Christmas Carol Kauffman to Lucy Maud Montgomery to Jules Verne to Jane Austen to William Shakespeare.
Not all of us children took to reading easily in our first years of school, but we all became voracious readers. I believe both the stacks of library books and overflowing bookshelves in our home were the “secret sauce” that enriched us in our formative years. Those books established our reading lives and strengthened our abilities to learn in school.
Last spring as we stripped education back to the essentials, I found myself especially focusing on the reading of my students. I wondered how to mitigate the negative effects of the long summer slide after a truncated school year. Reflecting on the joy and richness of our childhoods that were jam-packed with books, my co-teacher and I created a series list for Grades 1-4.
We shared this list with the parents of our lower elementary students, in hopes that the list would do several things. First, we wanted to enable moms to get books at local libraries all summer long. In our area, libraries allowed curbside pickup only, which eliminated the opportunity to flip through books to check for quality and soundness. Anticipating that this series list would introduce parents to authors and books their children would enjoy, we hoped the process of choosing books would be less stressful, thus making library books more accessible to every family.
In addition, by offering lists of series, we hoped to reach the struggling and reluctant readers in our classes. While series are often not the best quality literature, they do offer a gateway to reading for reluctant readers. Many children find the predictable plot lines easy to follow and enjoy meeting the same unchanging characters in book after book. The vocabulary in beginning to read series is usually not challenging, allowing students to gain reading fluency and confidence that will prepare them for bigger and better books.
As a teacher, I’ve recommended series to parents, even series of poor literary quality, because these series may pique the interest of students and build their reading stamina, getting them ready to enjoy the best and richest of books. Our series list was only the means to a greater end, which was to create another list—a list of high-quality literature that feeds minds, nourishes souls, and forms hearts of children and youth.
Standing on the shoulders of giants, we took the recommended reading list our bookstore, Christian Learning Resource, had offered since time immemorial and we expanded it to create a must-reads list for pre-school to grade 12. It’s not a perfect list; it’s a work in progress. But we think it has potential as a resource for parents, teachers, and even students who want to know what to read next. Teachers may find it helpful to reference this list when looking for engaging books to read aloud in story time or excellent books to study in literature class.
We teachers can enable the parents of our students to offer the great gift of broad, deep, and wide reading to their children. One way to do this is to share recommended book lists with them. Bookshelves overflowing with quality books make every home and school more beautiful. Take these lists with you to a library, thrift store, or bookstore today!
CONTRIBUTOR: Anna Zehr
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