Something cool happened yesterday. It was actually really awesome, but I didn’t think about it until after the day was over. The library honors day kind of took all my attention, and I didn’t even really notice the really cool thing until after it happened.
First, let’s go way back to August of 2010. I wasn’t Mr. Martin, yet. I was just plain Benji. I was a recent library school graduate, and I was going to change the world. I believed, and pretty firmly, that there was a book out there for every kid, and once they read it, they were going to love books and they would be life-long readers until they quit reading in the grave.
I took my first job as a middle school librarian in Memphis, at an inner city school, and that didn’t really help ground my lofty beliefs. When I took over, the teachers and even the principal warned me, don’t get discouraged. These kids don’t read at all. “We’ll see,” I thought to myself. See how cocky young Benji was?
Well, the library was in a very poor condition when I took over. It looked like the collection hadn’t been really developed since the 70’s. I’m not joking, either. A String in the Harp, 1977 Newbery Honor winner was on display. I didn’t have much of a budget to improve the collection, but a lot of great friends from library school and elsewhere, sent me lots of donations. The collection was much improved, not where I wanted it, but the students did start reading more. By the end of the year, the circulation had doubled what it had been for the previous two years. Of course, I was feeling really good about that, and I was really feeling like my theory about every kid having potential as a reader was true.
Then I took this job, and real life smacked me in the face. The majority of the kids here, already loved reading and the library was in phenomenal shape. In Memphis, things were so bad, they could only go up. Here, I was taking the place of an outstanding librarian, and just trying, in the beginning, to not drop the ball and let everyone down.
Like I said, most of the kids really love reading here, but there are a few who don’t. They really, really don’t, and at first, they frustrated me to no end. I gave them suggestion after suggestion, and every time it was, “That book’s too long, or “My teacher will only let me read 5th grade level books,” when I tried to give them shorter books. I tried so hard, and every week when these certain students came to library, I had a stack of suggestions ready for them. And those suggestions, like all of the previous ones, would fail.
Finally, not consciously I hope, after about a year of trying and failing, I left these few kids to their own devices. They’ll read the bare minimum, I thought, and there’s nothing I can do about that, They just don’t like books, and they don’t want to read. I need to focus on the kids who actually want to read. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my views had totally changed. I went from thinking that EVERY kid will read and love it if you find them the right book, to thinking MOST kids will read if given the right book. By the end of the year, I might have even gone down to A LOT of kids will read if given the right book. I just couldn’t break through to that one group of kids.
About a month ago, a girl was going through my bookmark drawer to get a bookmark to save her place in a book that she really, really didn’t want to read. Her teacher had given her three days to finish a book and take an AR test, and she was miserable about it. She picked out a bookmark and asked for a pair of scissors. I gave them to her, confused about why she needed them. She took the scissors from me and cut off the bottom of the bookmark where it read , “I LOVE READING!” underneath a girl jumping really high with a book in her hand. (cheesy bookmark, I know, but my students go through them fast, so I take what I can get) “Thanks,” she said after she handed me the scissors back. “I didn’t want my bookmark to lie about me.”
That’s when I knew that I had changed. I had seen this girl every week for about two years, and I had never once found her a book that she liked. She believed that she just didn’t like reading. She had learned that over the years about herself, and she had convinced me, too. I shrugged my shoulders, my feelings may have been a little hurt, but she wasn’t really telling me something I didn’t already believe.
Well, the cool thing happened yesterday. Last week I had shown the kids this book trailer for Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson. It’s a great trailer for an awesome book. I told the kids in would be ready for check out soon, I just had to put it in the computer, cover it, etc.
Well, I forgot about that. With the library awards day and the Battle of the Beard, I forgot all about Boys of Blur and getting it ready for checkout. It just sat on a shelf in my office for a while.
Yesterday, the girl, the one who hated reading, and had cut the bookmark, came into the library in the afternoon. This surprised me. Before, she only came into the library with her class when she had to.
“Mr. Martin, is that book ready?” she sheepishly sheepishly? “Boys of Blur?”
I was taken aback. “Do you want to check it out?”
“Yeah. It looked really good in the trailer,” she said.
“Here,” I said rushing into my office, and getting the not-yet-processed book. “Take it.”
She took the book and started flipping through it while she was walking back to class. I saw her today, reading before school. I’ve never seen her reading, ever, not even during our quiet reading time in library class.
Anyways, that’s the cool thing. I had pretty much given up on this kid, but maybe, just maybe, she found a book that she liked. We’ll see, but it’s possible that my original beliefs might be true. Everyone can like reading if the right book is put into their hands. Maybe. I hope.