Sorry for the quiet on the Ms. Fitz Has Read front – what a crazy month May is for teachers! But even though I’ve been silent over here, I’ve been reading furiously behind the scenes. I’m happy to share that in May, I beat my goal of reading 100 books by the end of the school year! Reaching this goal was especially sweet because it inspired a week full of dance parties, high fives, and cries of “OH MY GOSH SHE DID IT!” from the hallway. Student questions, conversations, and celebrations of literature were the inspiration behind the challenge, and most definitely the best part of completing it. But great books wait for no one, so when I hit 100, I kept reading. On the last day of school earlier this week, I totalled 108. I’m feeling proud, accomplished, and sleepy!
April and May brought a lot of great reads, and some surprising ones. Standout winners for me were:
- The Belles, a young adult dystopian novel tackling our society’s twisted views on beauty and how it relates to worthiness
- A Boy Named Bat, a heartwarming novel for young readers about a lovable, quirky boy and his love for animals
- Delirium, another young adult dystopian in which our society has deemed love a sickness and forces all citizens to undergo a procedure to ‘cure’ them of passion
- The Way to Bea, a middle grade novel that follows Bea as she navigates the changing social tides of middle school with art and poetry as her guide
- The graphic novelization of Laurie Halse Anderson’s haunting classic, Speak, which moved me to tears
- Sparrow, a beautiful and long overdue tween-appropriate look at a young woman of color struggling with mental health issues
- The Outsiders, which I had decided I didn’t like until a library intern pushed me to try it again and made me realize I had been wrong all these years
- The Prince and the Dressmaker, a fantastic fractured fairy tale in graphic novel format, about loving all of the parts of yourself and having the courage to be who you are
Student favorites were Warcross, Marie Lu’s new tech/dystopian/thriller that went viral with 8th graders and inspired an awesome underground book club; Amulet, everyone’s favorite fantasy graphic novel series; and The Summer I Turned Pretty series, an addictive trio of coming-of-age romances by Jenny Han, which had fifth graders and I binge reading together and yelling things in the library every morning.
And to be honest, I could add many more to that “greatest hits” list. This month, I stopped reading what I thought I “should” read and went back to my two favorite methods of finding great reads: asking the readers I trust the most (my students), and wandering around the library and grabbing what makes my heart beat faster. It’s no coincidence that the titles that I get through these powerful methods are the ones that keep me up, reading, long past midnight. It’s why I push my readers to find their books the same way. These are also the books that make my middle schoolers stop by every morning to ask, “Did you finish it yet?!?” because they can’t wait to talk to me about “that ending!” but have promised no spoilers until I get there myself. These moments of connection over literature are powerful, and their effects are long-lasting. When books make us feel passionate, and we create shared experiences around the ways they have touched our hearts and minds, it changes us. These are the moments that create lifelong readers. In the stressful final weeks of school, with the focus on cumulative grades, hunting down lost library books, and saying goodbyes, these moments are especially precious.
Not every book was a game-changer. Although I loved the traditional novel, I found the graphic novelization of Walter Dean Myers’ Monster to be confusing and leave out some of the best parts of the original. Kwame Alexander’s Rebound was fabulous, but I was so disappointed to find that a brief drug reference makes it unaccessible for younger readers and for our library collection. I wish Alexander had saved that particular plot point for another book so that the middle grade readers that adore his work could continue with the story of The Crossover. The first book of the Seven Wonders series left me sleepy and wishing for more character development. See You in the Cosmos dealt with adult issues in a voice that felt too young, which I found confusing and unsatisfying. Beyond the Bright Sea, darling of critics and librarians alike this year, also left me wanting more. And two student favorites, The Croc Ate My Homework and Dork Diaries, were just frustrating for me. Why do the characters have to be so mean to each other? And why are gender lines and stereotypes so blatant in the literature that we give to children? If books help children to discover who they are, is this what we want them to find?
It has amazed me how something as simple as a wall of printed pages could inspire so much in both me and my readers, of all ages. Whether the reactions were good, bad, or just plain loud, there were groups of students congregated in front of this wall almost every day. Although conversations about literature have been rich and rewarding since my first day in the St. Anne’s-Belfield School library, something about putting my reading life out there for all to see – and inviting questions, conversations, and requests based on these personal choices – has upped the ante. Students were more than cheering me on. They were reading along with me, keeping their own tallies, requesting the books that they saw go up on the wall. Miraculously, it had the same effect on almost everyone who passed through that hallway, from kindergarteners to 8th graders to administrators and visiting families. One wall built personal connections much stronger than I ever anticipated. Although I’ll be sad to tear it all down this summer, I’m excited to make room for next year’s reading log. I can’t wait to see what excitement and adventures it will bring.
I won’t be counting my reads this summer, since I’m a big believer in the off-season and using summer to recharge. But I will be reading, ranting, and sharing (as is my nature), so keep an eye on my Instagram! Through June and July my mission is to expand our 7th and 8th grade collection, so expect lots of tween and young adult titles. And don’t forget to follow #stabsummerreading to see what students, teachers, and parents in the St. Anne’s-Belfield School community are reading and loving in the lazy summer days. Please join and and use #stabsummerreading to keep our conversations about literature going over the summer!