Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Oh Rats! #SOL2016

In December, a group of colleagues and I were privileged to travel to New York City to participate in the Argument Institute held at the Teacher's College. I walked away from the experience with a deep appreciation for text-based debate, and surprisingly, I discovered a new informational book that instantly captured my attention. I carefully tucked the title away in my mind, and returned to the enthralling middle grade novel, Ruby On the Outside, which details the experiences of a young girl coping with her mother's incarceration.

Fast forward a few months to a frenzied Friday in February. My students and I have just turned the final pages of Fish In A Tree, and before the emotional closing scene with Mr. Daniels, Travis, and Ally sinks in, several children excitedly chirp, "What are we going to read next?" The pressure was on, and the kids demanded an answer. Unfortunately, I'd not thought that far ahead, so I took the weekend to explore my options. 

Based on my personal reading preferences, my mind automatically thought, What poignant, sentimental realistic fiction book should I share with my students now? I considered Kate Dicamillo's Tiger Rising, Jenn Holm's new graphic novel, Sunnyside Up, and the award-winning memoir by Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming. Each of these thought-provoking novels stamped my DNA and altered my world view. They made me a more humane and empathetic friend, spouse, teacher, and parent. If these stories impacted me in such a profound way surely they would resonate with my students? Right? 

Thanks to folks like Donalyn Miller and Pernille Ripp, I've become all too aware of my book bias, and when I found myself gravitating towards my literary comfort zone, I paused long enough to consider how I could "Mind the Gap". Not every child in my room wants to reach for a tissue, tearfully sniffling through the last few chapters of a book. Perhaps it was time to branch out and tackle a nonfiction read-aloud that might appeal to an audience of readers who aren't like me?

It didn't take long for Albert Marin's fascinating book, Oh Rats!, to resurface in my mind. This nonfiction text hooked and mesmerized my kiddos from the first page. Phrases like "Oooh gross!" and "That's super cool!" rippled across the room. Eyes widened with wonder when they heard that rats must constantly gnaw on something or their incisors will grow into their brains and kill them. The carpet space buzzed with excitement, as students' hands shot into the air, each child eager to share a connection or a question. When they begged me to keep reading, I knew I'd chosen wisely. 

I have always believed in the power of reading aloud to students, but today I know the importance of exposing children to a wide variety of genres. I don't have to apologize for my personal reading preferences, but when I open my mind just a little, magical things happen!

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