I may have previously mentioned that my oldest son, Nikhil, started kindergarten this year. It’s been an adjustment for all of us. I work a lot with schools and librarians, but this is my first experience being a part of a school family. There are a lot of people and programs that all intersect to build a school community, and there are a lot of ways to get involved as a parent volunteer. It can all be a little overwhelming (and gives me new admiration for the dedicated PTA bookfair volunteer chairs that we work with around town).
One of the programs I’ve gotten involved in this first year, though, has been really rewarding. Our district participates in a literacy program that pairs volunteers with struggling readers for a reading session each week designed to give them a little practice and to make reading fun. I have been partnered with two second graders for the last few months, and I love it. I stop by the class every week, and each reader joins me in the hall for 15 minutes back-to-back. For each session, the first reader brings out a book he or she has been reading in class and reads it to me for about 6 minutes before we chat about it a little bit. Then I read from a book I’ve brought for about 6 minutes before talking about it a bit. Then the kids switch and we do it again. The program has had great results for the school, giving kids who need a little extra one-on-one attention a boost, and I love doing it. I have also found it slightly tricky to select books for in a way that’s stretching my bookselling brain in a neat way too.
For someone with a large selection of books at my disposal, I find myself really going back and forth each week about which books will fit best with both our timeframe and what I think will draw out the kids for discussion. With a mission to maximize reading time without cutting the discussions too short, I bring a handful of books per session and let the kids choose what looks good to them. The kids relish the special attention, no matter what we read, and the dynamics are not surprising (funny books with bold illustrations shine, who knew?), but the compression of our time is the challenge. At the outset we’re cautioned against reading longer stories over multiple meetings, and I think that’s right. These sessions do better with a beginning and an end, and with a week between meetings (not to mention school breaks), it just doesn’t make sense. So my goal every week is to find a single story that I can read in almost exactly six minutes—not much more, not much less.
These are smart second-graders, so I want to bring books that have complexity as well as humor. Since the kids consistently gravitate toward full-color picture books with engaging covers, that has meant (mostly) picture books. I’ve definitely gone slightly astray on occasion—Arnie the Doughnut easily takes ten minutes to read well—but here are six six-minute (ish) winners that have totally worked.
- The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett
- The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt (I admittedly had to read it kind of fast)
- Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema
- After the Fall by Dan Santat
- The Battle of the Vegetables (first story only) by Matthieu Sylvander
- The Great Antonio by Elise Gravel
Tell me, bookselling brain trust: What should I read next?