The Road Less Traveled

This week I saw the most peculiar thing:  a teacher frustrated with a student for not coming prepared to class with a book in hand, sends the boy down to the library to check out a book. Okay, that part isn’t peculiar. The peculiar part is the fact that when the boy returned, he had the book Mockingjay— a book that I know for a fact the boy read last year.

Now, I’m not speaking ill about the joys of retreading. Avid readers often do that when we find a book we love. But this boy, he had no interest in rereading. I watched him spend the remainder of the reading time flipping through the book not really reading. It was apparent that this student was just passing the time, and I wondered why he chose to check out a book he knew he wasn’t going to read.

A couple of theories continue to swirl around in my head.

Clearly, the boy isn’t in any kind of reading zone, proximal or otherwise.

Clearly, the boy had some connection with Mockingjay and doesn’t know where to go now.

The experience watching this student reminds me of learning to drive. Remember the first time you had to make a decision at a fork in the road? One direction looks easy and smooth–well-traveled. The other sparks a tingling in the gut:  adventure this way, but it’s pocked with ruts and looks dangerous and unknown.

Inexperienced readers are the same way. For some, the library, a labyrinth of books in a myriad of colors, shapes, and sizes, might be one of the scariest places in the world. Some students haven’t a clue how to navigate the shelves. They look at book covers, but don’t see the signs that indicate a good read. For the inexperienced reader, the child who’s not yet learned how to steer through the titles, the familiar is the turn he takes:  “Oh, I know this one. It is safe.”

One solution to this kind of book stall? Teach kids to find books that are part of a series. Once a child reads Book One, the rest of the journey is easy because when he gets to the end of the first destination he simply picks up the next book in the series and continues the journey.

Books like The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and Heist Society and Maze Runner all capture the interest of young readers, and books two and three in the series are just as engaging as book one.

What happens at the end of the series? Some students may beg, “What else has this author written?” or “Are there more books like these?” I’ve seen it time and time again. Once a student feels confident in his choice of books, finishes a series, and experiences success as a reader, he is more apt to challenge himself the next time he wanders the rows in a library.

Of course, some students need more help than others deciding on what journey they will take next. That’s where the teacher can provide additional support. Teri Lesene explains it this way:  “Reading ladders provide that wonderful scaffolding that emerging lifetime readers need by helping them find other books that offer satisfying reading experiences,” (Lesene, 2010).

Teachers have an incredible opportunity to assist readers in making the next step by helping them find the next book that will enable them to continue to grow as readers. Step by step and book by book.

My friend, mister fake-my-way-through Mockingjay? He and I need to chat. I’ll say something like: “I’ll trade you this book for that one,” and hand him Maze Runner, and I bet the next time I see him, he’ll grin and tell me he’s read the rest of the series.

Think about it: In what ways do you as a teacher help navigate students to take risks as readers?




Angleberger, T., & Rosenstock, J. L. (2010). The strange case of Origami Yoda. New York:

Amulet Books.

Carter, A. (2010). Heist society. New York: Disney/Hyperion.

Collins, S. (2010). Mocking Jay (HC. ed.). Toronto ON: Scholastic Press.

Dashner, J. (2009). The Maze Runner. New York: Delacorte Press.

Lesesne, T. S. (2010). Reading ladders: leading students from where they are to where we’d like them to be. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

One thought on “The Road Less Traveled

  1. amyrasmussen September 27, 2012 at 7:49 pm Reply

    For a bit older student, books in a series that my kids love: Divergent, Insurgent and ? and Delirium, Pandemonium, and ? We cannot wait for those third books!


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