I am a list maker, mostly because I find immense satisfaction in crossing things off my list. Sometimes I actually add something to my list just so I can put a checkmark next to it. For most of my adult life, I had also been that kind of reader. Once I started a book, even if it was the worst book I’d ever read, I felt like I didn’t have a choice but to finish it. I had to cross it off my list. And of course I couldn’t cross it off my list unless I had completed the whole book, which meant reading every single dull, slow moving, depressing, this-is-not-holding-my-attention-when-is-this-going-to-be-over page.
My epiphany came when I realized that I have never looked my students in the eyes and told them they had to finish reading a book that they were totally disengaged and uninterested in. Never. So why on earth was I torturing myself and taking away valuable reading time? (This is what I call my “Duh” moment, but in the teaching realm it sounds much better if I call it my “A-Ha” moment).
I actually remember the first book I let go. It was hard, really hard. I felt like a failure. But at the same time, it felt good abandoning something that just wasn’t a good fit for me. I kept the book on the coffee table for a while (maybe to remind me of my guilt) and then after a week or so put it back on my bookshelf. At that time, I was writing down the titles of books I had read (yup – making a list) so that I could recommend books to friends, and to be quite honest, remember what I had already read. So when I abandoned this particular book, I was stumped! Where would I write down the title of this book? I had read about half of it, but I couldn’t exactly write it down on my “read” list. It was a serious problem (well, for me it was).
Goodreads literally saved my life. Now when I let a book go I add it to a virtual shelf I have labeled “Abandoned,” and in the last two years I am not ashamed to say that I have abandoned 10 books. Many of those books have come to me highly rated by people in my personal reading community, but for whatever reason they just didn’t appeal to me. I have tried to reread a few of them a second, and yes even a third time, but rarely have I reversed my initial verdict.
So why does this matter? Well now, I intentionally use my own reading behaviors to inform my teaching. I teach my students when and why it might be appropriate to abandon a book. I share my Goodreads list with them, and tell them about the books I have let go. I tell them that it feels hard to let one go. Sometimes they beg me to give a book another chance, but they are ALWAYS surprised when I tell them that adults abandon books too. I share my thinking, and I tell them that abandoning a book does not equate to failure. I tell them that I wish someone had told my younger self that abandoning a book was an option, because it took me well into adulthood before I even allowed myself to leave a book unfinished. I teach them when to give a book a second chance, and how to self-select books so carefully and thoughtfully that the chances of them abandoning a book decrease simply because they know how to choose wisely the first time.
So let’s teach children WHEN and WHY it is okay to abandon a book:
- Too easy
- Too difficult
- Not interesting
- Too confusing
- About a topic you don’t particularly enjoy
- Not what you expected
- Slow moving and hard to get into
- Don’t like the characters
- Disappointing sequel
- Not interested in the genre
- Too long and you lose interest
- Doesn’t feel like the story is going anywhere
- Poor writing style
But let’s also make sure that children know HOW to give a book a chance by:
- Reading more than just the first few pages. In the classroom, I tell my chapter book readers that they should read to at least page 50 before making a final decision to abandon. For early chapter book readers, I tell them to read at least two chapters. Sometimes books that start out slow turn out to be great reads!
- Talking about the book with a parent, teacher, or classmate who has read it. Readers may need help clearing up early confusions about complex characters, unfamiliar settings or plot twists. Once children understand these elements, and have a context for reading, they may be more willing to continue reading it independently. Let them know they can stop and have conversations about the book as they read! Readers are not alone.
And most importantly:
- Help children build their reading stamina. Children must have structured reading time. Some readers choose lengthy books (think Harry Potter) only to abandon them because they lose interest. Reading takes practice, and children who aren’t able to sit and read for longer periods of time may be more likely to abandon books. Encourage children to read a little more each day!
- Beware of children who abandon books often. This is usually a red flag that they are not making good first choices and may need support in learning how to self-select just right books (See earlier post: Selecting Just Right Books for Your Reader at Home). If children are finishing books too early, browsing but never making a final selection, or never seem to read a book all the way through, then take some time and find out why!
We certainly don’t want children to get into the habit of abandoning book after book, but we do want them to know that abandoning books is an authentic reading behavior. Hey, even I do it a few times a year.
Follow me on Goodreads (Nicole C.) to see what I’m reading and what I’m letting go.
You can also join Nicole for her August session of the Mo Willems Book Club, which starts Monday!