At this very moment, our students are diving deep into F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (the Penguin Classics hardback edition), resurfacing from sampling a collection of mind-bending short fiction by Philip K. Dick, approaching the final scenes of Hamlet (The Arden Shakespeare edition, studied by professional actors as well as serious students and academics), and immersing themselves in other books that we’ve assigned as required reading. Their understanding of what these books and their command of the new vocabulary introduced therein is being measured through weekly reading comprehension assignments and quizzes.
These works are important and their authors are titans of the English literary canon and wrestling with great stories is as vital to developing mastery of the English language as regular exercise is to maintaining physical fitness. Assigned reading alone, however, is not going to foster a lifelong love of reading. A reading habit that will endure throughout one’s life is something that’s vastly more valuable than the ability to recite a poem memorized for some pointless competition but never understood or to rattle off a summary of a particular long-ago-read novel or play.
Putting the right book in the right kid’s hands is kind of like giving that kid superpowers, wrote Cecil Castellucci, the YA Editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books, in 2011. We encourage you to click through that link, read her article in its entirety, and give it some thought. It will time well spent.
Our hearty agreement with Castellucci is a huge part of the reason we strive to ensure that, in addition to our assigned reading, every one of our students is taking home new books, of their own choosing, as frequently as possible. We go to great lengths to fill our book bins (and our DVD bins as well) in such a way that they’ll always contain something of interest to every one of our students — even when that means procuring books about Japanese ghosts, octopus behavior, and the human immune system.
It’s all because, to borrow Castellucci’s turn of phrase, we’re trying to give our students the superpowers!