Motivating readers: Veggies vs. Fruits
(BOOK MARCH MADNESS POST)
My wife taught me, when we had babies, that we had to feed them the veggies first. We gave Addison carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash. However, she loved apples, bananas, and pears. Leah said, ” You have to give babies the veggies first because if you don’t they will only eat the fruits.”
I think for far too long teachers have adopted the same approach to books that we introduce to our students. Shakespeare was the carrots. Separate Peace would be the sweet potatoes. Every Newbery in the last 10 years would be the peas. (All except the Graveyard book, it was SWEET!) Veggies are great for discussion, interpretation, and learning, but are not going to get kids to want to read more.
When selecting books for students we have to do it the other way around. We have to give them the sweet stuff first. The apples, like Percy Jackson. The bananas like Leven Thumps, and the Pears like Fablehaven. New and reluctant readers need something they can actually relate to and dig their teeth into. While in the classroom each year, I would introduce literature circles with Percy Jackson. Why? Well Percy and his friends are a lot like kids today. Percy never met his real dad. He gets in trouble at school. He has really bad ADHD. Annabeth, Percy’s girlfriend, was sent away because her dad’s new wife didn’t want her around. Sadly, most kids can relate to Percy and Annabeth’s home-life because it mirrors their own.
Readers won’t stay on the sweets forever. Heck, the right book can even make kids seek out their veggies.
Sisters Grimm, by Michael Buckley, follows the adventures of two sisters who solve mysteries. Not just normal mysteries, the sisters are descendants of the real Brothers Grimm. All the fairy tales they wrote down were actual historical accounts. Now, the sisters live in a town where fairy tale characters, good and bad live in hiding among humans. It’s up to the Sisters Grimm, their Grandmother, and Puck (from a Midsummer Night’s Dream) to keep order in this tiny little town of Fairport Landing. My students knowledge of actual fairy tales consisted of what they had seen watching Shrek on DVD. While reading these in class, I began to notice a trend in my boys library books they were checking out. They were bring back, you guessed it, the original fairy tales to read on their own. Mr. Price what color slippers did Dorothy really wear? Why weren’t there Jabberwocky in the Alice in Wonderland cartoon? Questions like that became normal and everyday. Whatever I couldn’t answer we researched on our own. A student went online and found a translation of an old Russian fairy tale featuring Baba Yaga the witch. Another was so fascinated by the story went online and purchased a copy of through the Looking Glass so he could read about Jabberwocky’s. Finally, one student brought in pictures of the Sisters Grimm reluctant hero/villian known as Puck. Where did they find the illustrations? In a dusty, thick and hard to read (their words not mine) copy of Shakespearean plays.
This theory doesn’t just work for kids. After reading “Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter” I immersed myself with Abe Lincoln biographies. Did you know in real life he didn’t slay vampires but was still pretty interesting? When I finished iDrakula by Becca Black, I spent the rest of my morning reading the original Dracula story. Reading must be relatable, relevant and real. Let’s be honest, how many of us sit by the pool during the summer reading John Steinbeck? Keep it real! The books atop the New York Times Bestsellers list aren’t veggies they would be fruits.
Let me wrap up with a really bad joke. I hope my whole veggie and fruit comparison didn’t drive you bananas! I just want you to remember what made you love reading. Find those SWEET stories and share them with your students. One day they will thank you for it.
Please take a minute to check out our Book March Madness