Book Yente

By Cherylann Schmidt, 7th/8th, Ewing, NJ:


Each year at back-to-school night, I share my goals for my students with their parents. My hope is:

1. For each student to become a lifelong reader
2. For students to be able to communicate clearly in writing

Then I talk about ways to nurture their child’s and family’s reading life. The tips are pretty simple: set aside family reading time, let your child see you reading, talk about what you are reading, plan regular trips to the library.

When children are in preschool and primary grades, we are focused on building a love of reading. Over time, that focus starts to wane, and by the time students get to middle school, they don’t read. Parents nod in agreement when I share this. I tell them that I know they read all the time. They read while they’re waiting for their child at soccer practice, piano lessons, or dance. As soon as their child is finished, they toss the book aside, only to pick it up again the next time the child is out of sight. Some hang their heads a little. I gently remind them that they can take a minute to mark their page and make a comment about what they just read, then put the book aside. It’s simple to help kids realize that their parents read.

When you walk into my classroom, it’s easy to see what I value, which is probably why the parents at back-to-school night are so agreeable. I have an extensive classroom library. My books are stored in small wooden crates, made by my husband, that line the counters covering two walls of my room. Each crate holds a dozen books. Students donate books to my library. and library sales are my best friends. I stalk my favorite bookseller for information about new YA novels. I have another bookseller friend who passes along YA ARCs (advanced reading copies) for me. I’m constantly cultivating the library, making sure I have just the perfect book for each student. I’m also on the lookout for the next gateway book.

Furthermore, I book-talk each book that goes into the class library, because I read everything that goes in the library. I had a professor when I was an undergrad who told us that we can’t recommend books to children if we don’t know what’s in them. Truer words were never spoken. (Thank you, Mrs. Jones.)

I have former students in high school and college who will email me for book recommendations. I have students I don’t teach ask me (shyly at first) for book recommendations. I entertain my students with the latest stories of how I randomly suggested a YA book to an unsuspecting teen while browsing my local bookstore. My students usually want to know what book I’ve put in that child’s hands, and then will critique my choice. After I earned my doctorate in reading-writing literacy from UPenn, my students started referring to me as “The Book Doctor” (probably because I’m repairing books all the time).

But do they keep reading when they leave me? I know a handful do, but I just hope the majority do. I hope the reading has stuck. But I don’t really know for sure if goal #1 has been achieved.

Recently, my district has experienced some growing pains. Community involvement has increased with each board of education meeting. At a recent board meeting, a dad stood up and spoke rather passionately about the importance of a good education, and to support his thesis he stated he was going to highlight three examples. Much to my surprise, I was his second example. I taught his daughter when she was in seventh grade (she’s now in high school). He told the board, “Dr. Schmidt took my daughter, who would only read because she had to, got to know her, figured out what she might like, and spent months going through book after book after book until she found the type of book that my daughter liked. She reads four to five books every week now and is an exceptional student because of Dr. Schmidt.”

And then I read what my students wrote in my yearbook this year. Here’s a sample:

“Dr. Schmidt, Thank you so much for being an amazing teacher this year! You have given me a love of reading and writing that I didn’t even think was possible! I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher. Have a great summer!” (HS)

“Dr. Schmidt, Thanks for teaching me language arts this year. I learned more than I did any other year. I liked your book talks and I was inspired to read. I hope you enjoyed having me in class.” (CR)

“Dr. Schmidt, I am so happy that I could have you for both 7th and 8th grade. Your class taught me so much about writing and I don’t know where I would be without you. I will greatly miss your library, book talks, conferences, and your class in general. Have a great summer.” (OG)

And my personal favorite:

“Dr. Schmidt, Thanks for a great year. You made me realize that reading isn’t actually that bad. Have a good summer. I’ll see you soon.” (AL)

I suppose goal #1 has been achieved for more students than I was aware of.