My first time at NCTE, I played supermarket sweep alongside the other teachers. I didn’t have one of those grandma-rolling-carts to gather my goods in, but the victory was still sweet as I tossed book after book into my free bags. But lo and behold, as I returned home with my goods, I realized that some of the books were middle grade, a tad too young looking to impress my high schoolers, while others were sequels to books I didn’t own. My humble pile was quickly halved as I weeded out and gave away the books that just wouldn’t fit into my classroom library.
This year I took a different approach; I arrived at NCTE with certain students and issues in mind. Suddenly my mission to collect free and heavily discounted books turned into a mission to fill the holes in my classroom library. This not only narrowed my search but also made it easier to discuss potential titles with booksellers. The following are some of the gems I scored at NCTE 2014:
What I needed…Books that help students cope with a friend’s suicide
Sadly, suicide is a tragedy that has touched my school a few times over the past few years. I am reminded of this at the beginning of every year when I receive personal narratives relaying the stories of students’ past friends or relatives. The wounds are deep and raw and fresh, which is why my students need literature to help them cope with such atrocities. This year, I left NCTE with two books that filled this niche: Rumble by Ellen Hopkins and The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand. I have a growing group of Ellen Hopkins devotees who bask in the poetic prose of her books as well as the gritty subjects. Rumble attacks heavy issues through the story of Matt Turner, whose younger brother commits suicide after being bullied for being gay. The Last Time We Say Goodbye, which is due for publication in February 2015, tackles similar themes, only in this book, the female protagonist Lex loses her brother. Lex struggles to cope with her brother’s death and can’t let go of a text message she received from her brother the night he died.
This is unfortunately a topic that will continue to ripple through and impact my students as I receive students who are impacted by the deaths of friends and family members they have lost to suicide. There are no answers to such a devastating event, but I do hope that these books will help show students that they are not alone.
What I needed…Books that are low level but high interest
I fervently believe that students need a dose of success to give into reading. Too often my students arrive turned off to reading simply because they haven’t been exposed to books that interest them. Furthermore, the students who are most resistant tend to be those who are not proficient or only partially proficient in reading and can’t seem to find books that are at a lower reading level yet a high interest level for their age group. My greatest find was a small bookstall towards the back of the convention room that included books from the Sidestreets and Real Justice Series. These books involve gritty stories with heavy hitting topics such as drug abuse, mental health issues, and social problems. While the books I received were between third to fifth grade reading levels, the sepia and black and white photo covers leant a more mature tone to the story—a strong selling point for low level, reluctant readers. I walked away with Jailed for Life for Being Black by Bill Swan, Blow by Jodi Lundgren, and Off Limits by Robert Rayner, all books I’m looking forward to introducing to my reluctant readers.
What I needed…Books that discuss LGBTQ Issues
This is the first year I have had openly gay students who have written either personal narratives or stories about homosexual relationships. The more I read their papers, the more I began to evaluate what sorts of LGBTQ mentor texts I had available. While I had a modest collection of book including Shine by Lauren Myracle, Everyday by David Levithan, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, I needed more. That’s when I stumbled upon Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg in which Rafe, an openly gay teenager, transfers to a New England boarding school where he decides to keep his sexuality a secret. A funny read, this book forces Rafe to question who he is and what it means to fit in. In a similar vein, I also procured an advanced reader’s copy of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens by Becky Albertalli, which is due for publication in April 2015. This book follows 16-year-old Simon who is not openly gay. Simon is blackmailed after one of his flirty e-mails to a boy he has been talking with falls into the wrong hands. These books diversify my library and address issues that many of my students are both facing and writing about.
These are only a few samples from the stacks of books I received, but as I returned to the classroom on Monday, I told all my students about the exciting run-ins I had with famous authors like James Dashner and David Levithan and Ally Condie. I spoke with the students I had “shopped” for, letting them know what books I had bought and how I had them in mind when I purchased them. While I hope the books leave an indelible mark on my students, I know that ultimately my students leave an indelible mark on the growth and construction of my library.
What books did you bring home from NCTE? Are there any holes that need filling in your classroom library? What might you be searching for?