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Books For Boys

[Editor’s note: miss brave is the pseudonym for a second-year elementary school teacher in Queens. She blogs at miss brave teaches nyc, where this post originally appeared.]

On a recent Friday afternoon I sat down with William and asked him a question I hardly ever get to ask my students in our stressful world of labels and checklists: “What do you like?” I wrote his answers on a post-it: motorcycles, bikes, cool cars, airplanes, skateboards, scooters and the New York Mets (especially Carlos Beltran).

“Wow,” I said as I surveyed the list, “you really like things that go!”

I wanted to encourage William to ask a grown-up at home to bring him to the public library and sign him up for a library card. I told him — in a sort of “keep this on the DL” kind of way — that even though in school we tell him he can only choose books from his “just right” level (which has flown all the way up to I!), at the public library he can take out any books he wants, and it’s free! William frequently says things like, “I want to read M books,” so I suggested that he ask a grown-up at home to read a chapter book with him.

But William seemed dubious. He said something about how his mom thinks that the library will ask you to sign something (I might try to get in touch with Mom and see what I can do). I told him that I would go to my own library and see if I could find some books about motorcycles, bikes, cool cars, airplanes, skateboards, scooters and the New York Mets (especially Carlos Beltran).

When I got to the library, though, I was really disheartened. The library has plenty of books about motorcycles, bikes, cool cars, airplanes, skateboards and scooters (not so many about the New York Mets), but I could tell at first glance they were far above William’s reading level. And he’s not my only friend in this predicament — I happen to have other male students who, because they’ve already been held back at some point, are in second grade but going on nine or ten years old and still reading at a mid-first grade level. They are boys who want to read chapter books, M books, books about motorcycles, bikes, cool cars, airplanes, skateboards, scooters and the New York Mets (especially Carlos Beltran). But instead we make them read these boring books that are, frankly, total snoozefests! I was trying to help one of my frustrated I readers shop for books the other day and I was completely horrified at the selection in his classroom library — I wouldn’t want to read any of those books either!

After William and I talked about what he liked, we talked about one of his new I books, Small Pig by Arnold Lobel. It’s about a pig who’s looking for some good, soft mud. I could tell William was enjoying it. Pig, mud, what’s not to like? That got me thinking that it’s not reading that William dislikes; it’s reading books like Biscuit. (No offense to Biscuit, but when you’re a nine-year-old boy? You’re kind of over him.)

Why, why, why aren’t there more low-level high-interest books for struggling readers? Books about motorcycles, bikes, cool cars, airplanes, skateboards, scooters and the New York Mets (especially Carlos Beltran)? The public library actually had Dick and Jane books in the Easy Reader section. Dick and Jane!

The following week I sat down with William and introduced him to the collection of books I’d gotten for him at the public library. I put them all in a bin in his classroom that I labeled “Miss Brave’s Books for William” and told him he could choose books from that bin to read during our independent reading time. During lunch that day, William’s teacher came to my office and reported: “Whatever’s in that bin, he loves it. He keeps walking by it and peeking over and asking to take from it.”

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