The library in our school is an amazing place. It has huge windows from floor to ceiling, welcoming light and space for classes to spread out and read. Our previous librarian had huge beanbags for readers to sit on. It is a wonderful space and so much different from the rest of the school. But still it is a terrifying prospect for some of our younger children.
We’ve all met that young lad who arrives at secondary school and finds himself locked outside the world of the reader. He browses the shelves aimlessly, completely in the dark about where to start. And how much empathy do we have for him as teachers? Rather than merely suggesting books for him to read, in what sense can we put ourselves in his wee shoes? You see, giving him what we think is appropriate reading makes us feel good, but he will still lack the reading history required to understand why it is important.
This year, I had already recognised the four or five “future readers” in the class, not all of them boys. For them, arriving in the library was like throwing them into a swimming pool when they couldn’t swim. One picked up a 700-page novel, the others picked up books without even looking at what they were.
Nothing more important
This is why the teacher talking about books, every day, whenever possible, is so vital for these guys. They need to hear what books can do, recognise what they can find in the library, talk about what they discover. They need to see us reading, picking up a book, carrying one around, being readers. To me, there is nothing more important.
As Scout says in To Kill a Mockingbird, when her teacher, Miss Caroline, forbids her from reading: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
So excuse me if I’m a bit sniffy about World Book Day, which came around again this month.
Every day should be World Book Day. Books should form the backbone of all of our days. I should be telling young readers about my reading: what confuses me, what entertains me, what makes me laugh.
And I ask the same of them. When teaching language points, I reach for my current novel and discuss a particular image or use of contrast or an effective use of the colon. Then that wee lad starts to see that his reading is useful to him. He begins to enjoy his 10 minutes of reading at the beginning of every lesson. Sometimes, he’ll even read 10 minutes at night and come in and talk about it.
As the year progresses, the library becomes his space, too. He is included. And isn’t that why every day should be World Book Day?
Kenny Pieper is a teacher of English in Scotland