It’s long been a goal of mine to start to enjoy reading again. Truth be told, I used to be a reader, but then…grad school happened. And ever since then, I haven’t picked up very many books at all. In fact, I gave up reading for pleasure completely.
Lots of factors have made me really want to become a reader again. I’ve been embarrassed to tell my students I’m not really reading anything, that I haven’t read a book recently, that I don’t read on my own or outside of class. I heard Mike Peto speak at CCFLT in Loveland, Colorado, a few years ago about taking your FVR (free voluntary reading) program from good to great, and I believe he said something like, “If you’re not a reader, maybe you shouldn’t be a teacher.” It felt harsh…and seems harsh now. But honestly, I think he has a point. I can’t turn my kids into readers if I’m not a reader. And the more I’ve moved towards a heavy focus on reading and writing in my heritage classes, I’ve felt even more incongruous with what I’m asking my kids to do. It feels disingenuous to ask my kids to become readers if I am not one. So one of my goals has been to become a reader again. But, I think I was going about it all the wrong ways, so it didn’t happen as fast as I would have liked.
Some of the mistakes I made while I was trying to become a reader again:
1. I was only reading books that were in Spanish. (I figured, if I’m going to read, I might as well improve my Spanish, too.) But it turns out…that wasn’t super enjoyable. I’m not sure if I was just reading books that were too hard for me, or if I just hadn’t had that “home run” book experience in a while and I was stretching too much. It wasn’t until I just simply ordered a book, in English, that I wanted to read “just because” that I actually enjoyed the book (see below for my summer books).
2. I was only reading books that were related to something in my classroom. I was reading professional development books (boring), curriculum books (even more boring), or novels, but with the purpose of using them in the classroom. Again…when I just started reading to just READ AND ENJOY, it was…gasp…enjoyable.
3. I was trying to read, during FVR time (the first ten minutes of every class), books that required more of my mental capacity that I could give at that moment. When I finally started reading some of the easy readers (designed for my lower level language acquisition classes) during those crazy first ten minutes, I was able to enjoy the books. During FVR a lot is going through my head…what we’re doing in class that day, which students came in late and how they late they were, what happened last period, and…the book I’m reading. When I let go of reading an on-level book for me, and gave myself permission to read easy books in my library, it became much more enjoyable. (Bonus: I was able to read more books in my library and do book-chats with them with my students. Double bonus: my heritage students observed me doing easy reading, which I don’t think is a bad thing.)
I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the books I read this summer! I’d love to know your thoughts! (Side note: these aren’t affiliate links. I’m not trying to sell you anything.)
1. On the Come Up – I have seen so many positive, exciting comments about this book on Twitter this summer that I could not wait to read this. I had El Odio que das in Spanish, but I really wanted a book in English, so I let myself order this one, and It. Was. Fabulous. Lots of complex themes, powerful female voice, and a lot of important social justice themes handled on a personal level. This is the book that I credit for getting me excited about reading again.
2. El Odio que das. After I read On the Come Up, I had a feel for the powerful female narrative voice that Angie Thomas uses, so I felt better equipped to read this book in Spanish. It sucked me in and didn’t let me put it down. Again, huge social justice themes (racism, police brutality, and poverty, among them) handled on a powerful personal level. Completely different than On the Come Up, but a really great book. I’m hoping to use it in literary circles / book clubs this fall. (Possible issues to consider if you want to teach with this novel: police brutality, racial profiling.)
3. La lección de August (Wonder). This book is so great! It’s about a middle school boy that has severe facial deformity, and a huge chunk of the book is told from his perspective. He’s always been home-schooled, but now he’s venturing into a real school and as we all know, kids can be cruel. What I really loved about the book is the last half is told from all different characters’ perspectives (August’s sister, his sister’s boyfriend, his friend from school, etc.), and sometimes it even tells about the exact same events…from a different perspective. It’s also a book that really encourages you and makes you have faith in the future of humanity, which is hard to beat. In addition, your students may have seen the movie, too, which never hurts! Genre: realistic fiction
4. El libro de los americanos desconocidos. This book was phenomenal. I had heard a lot of great things about it, but nothing compares to reading it for yourself. The book centers on the story of Maribel, a teenage girl, who suffered a brain injury and has been in recovery ever since. Her parents brought her to the US for treatment and to hasten her recovery. This book is so cool because each chapter is written from the perspective of a different character, including Maribel’s mom, dad, and friend/crush. This book was impossible to put down, and I’m certain that even my reluctant readers will really enjoy it. Possible issues to consider if you want to teach with this novel: teenage sex, immigration. Genre: realistic fiction
5. En el país que amamos: Mi familia dividida. This book surprised me! It was so great and at the same time, so heartbreaking. This is an autobiography about Diane Guerrero and how she became a star on the show, Orange is the New Black. In particular, it recounts her story about her parents being detained by ICE and coming home to an empty house (I encourage you to warn your students or at least keep an eye on who’s reading it in case it might be too close to home for some students to read). Basically, the US government never followed up with Diane, and she was left to fend for herself. It’s heart-wrenching, but also heartwarming. I loved it. Possible issues to consider if you want to teach with this novel: immigration, ICE/detention, depression, self-harm/cutting, suicide. Genre: personal narrative/biography
6. Yo no soy tu perfecta hija americana. Yet another phenomenal book that I absolutely could not put down. This book is told from the perspective of Julia, a high school student living in Chicago, and the daughter of Mexican parents. Julia’s older sister, Olga, was the perfect Mexican daughter that took care of her parents and never aspired to do anything else with her life, at least in Julia’s opinion. When Olga dies, Julia struggles to figure out how to meet the impossible demands of her parents and fill the hole her sister left. But…it turns out Olga wasn’t as different than Julia as she first thought. I realize now why my students were fighting over this book last year when I only had one copy! Good thing I’ve added 3 more. Genre: realistic fiction. Possible issues to consider if you want to teach with this novel: teenage drinking and pot use, teenage sex, depression, suicide, self-harm. Genre: realistic fiction
7. Cajas de cartón. This has been so frequently mentioned as a favorite book for both FVR and classroom novels by heritage teachers on social media that I thought it was finally time I read it myself. It traces the formative years of Panchito, as his family struggles to survive as migrant farm workers in California. He talks about the struggles of not getting to go to school because he has to work or help watch his siblings, the crushing weight of his family’s poverty, and the racism and linguistic barriers he faces when he does get to go to school. Honestly, I had a hard time getting into this book. After reading so many fantastic narratives, this one just didn’t measure up, at least for me. When I reached out on social media to share my worry that my students might not like it either, the responses were overwhelming. Nearly every single teacher talked about how much their students loved this book; even if they were not from or living near a migrant farm community, it seems that a lot of the bigger themes (poverty, struggles in school, family bonding, racism, struggles with the language) resonated with many students. My takeaway? I don’t have to think it’s a fantastic book for it to be a fantastic book for students. Possible issues to consider if you teach with this novel: immigration/ICE raids, migrant workers. Genre: personal narrative, semi-autobiographical
8. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Race. In the last year or so, I’ve really become passionate about social justice, and working on both myself and my immediate surroundings to try to dismantle white supremacy. The more I learn, the more I realize how much work there is to be done. I’ve gotten super excited and inspired by many great social justice advocates on Twitter, and one of the professional growth opportunities I’m excited about it doing the #ClearTheAir chats on Twitter. I discovered the chats last year, and sort of did some lurking, but my goal is to commit to at least doing the reading and checking in on the chats this year. However, I felt a little behind because they read this book last year and I hadn’t yet read it. This book is such an easy read, so accessible, and just so powerful, it’s hard to explain. It really helped me make sense of the responses I hear often about racism and white supremacy, and gave me some real practical places to start my work. I don’t really say this often, but I would even go as far as to say it was life-changing. I recommend it to everyone, but especially to heritage teachers who spend their professional lives advocating for Latinx students.
9. The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other. Full disclosure, I’m still working on finishing this. I’m reading it for the #ClearTheAir chats I mentioned above. The book is about all the issues that seem to affect and also govern how teachers interact with the parents of their students. There are so many great insights in this book, it’s been really good for my own professional growth. I would definitely recommend it! You can see lots of tweets about the discussions using the hashtag I mentioned earlier.
Whew! That’s a lot of books for one summer, especially for a non-reader like me! Lol, actually, now I consider myself a reader again 🙂 Next on my list are The Poet X, A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History (for #ClearTheAir), The Marrow Thieves (for #thebookchat), and How to Be An Anti-Racist (for both chats, lol).
I also wanted to add that not all of my book choices were home runs. I tried to read El Cerrador: Edición juvenil and El Soñador, but I had a really hard time getting into them. I will put them in my FVR library, though. I also have been trying to finish the last few chapters of Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide for a few months now. I hope to finish those last two, in the pursuit of professional development, but I might not ever finish the first two. I think part of becoming a reader means we get to set aside books that we don’t like and move on to other ones that excite us.
Happy reading, my friends!