Slice of Life: Books Worth Rereading

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One of my favorite features of The New York Times Book Review is the “Bookends” column. Every week, two authors (from a group 15 journalists and novelists) “take on questions about the world of books.” These questions are varied and wide-ranging. Recent columns have addressed everything from “Why Do We Hate Cliché?” to “Does Fiction Have the Power to Sway Politics?”  I’ve been thinking about this week’s question, “which books do you read over and over again?” since I finished reading the column.

I was not a voracious reader as a kid. I did read and love Charlotte’s Web and James and the Giant Peach, and I’m sure I reread them. But I don’t remember reading them to the point where I had passages memorized or the books fell apart. Columnist Dana Stevens clarifies this distinction in her response to “which books do you read over and over again?” when she says “there’s rereading a book, and then there’s inhabiting it as an alternate reality…”

This is where the power of reading lies. It’s through this habitation that we truly begin to, as Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton suggest in their book What Readers Really Do, “think about how those lessons and ideas might impact and inform our own lives.” (p.183) While we do have these kind of transformational encounters with books as adults, it is the books we read as children that often have the largest impact on our lives.

But I don’t think this kind of habitation necessarily happens without help. Many kids do find that life-changing book on their own, but more often, they need our help and guidance. In order to help with this, we need to know books and our students. We need to foster the kind of interactions with books that, as Dorothy and Vicki also state, “gives us an opportunity to give voice to the way that text let us feel validated and less alone. And naming that for children allows them to go forth with more awareness of the role books can play in their lives.” (p. 180)

The list of books with the power to change lives is as long and varied as children themselves. But there are a number of books that turn up again and again on lists of transformational books. I would include anything by Kate DiCamillo on such a list, although The Tale of Despereaux and The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses are my favorites. Pam Muñoz Ryan, Christopher Paul Curtis, Sharon Creech, and Jack Gantos all have written books that have the power to change young readers lives. And this year’s Newbery Medal winner,The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander is the latest wonderful addition to this list.

In her Newbery Acceptance speech for The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo explained that everyone involved in making books for children has “been given the sacred task of making hearts large through story. We are working to make hearts that are capable of containing much joy and much sorrow, hearts capacious enough to contain the complexities and mysteries and contradictions of ourselves and of each other. We are working to make hearts that know how to love this world.”

Books that do that are books worth rereading.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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7 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Books Worth Rereading

  1. Such a beautiful speech! Thanks for sharing it today. I think “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is one of my favourites to read over and over, as well as “The Boxcar Children”, and anything by Roald Dahl. I love reading his books to my classes year after year. Oh, and Harry Potter. I love them every time!

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  2. I loved Kate DiCamillo’s speech and frankly everything she has written. I always steer kids to her books first. They are those live-in-type books. My books that are read over and over are wearing out. One student’s mom bought me a new copy of one of the Harry Potters that fell apart in her child’s book sack. I watched my student Tobie massage a page from Wonder as he contemplated a found poem. The page is all wrinkled now, but I figure that’s a sign of love. As I am writing my comment, I feel a blog post emerging. Thanks!

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  3. Today for our yearbook we had to come up with one super power we would like to have- mine was the ability to talk to fictional characters. In my mind, I have wished for these conversations for a long time. Your slice makes me want to write down some of these chats!

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  4. I am not a teacher. I could not even begin to fathom what I would recommend to children these days outside of Harry Potter. But I do so appreciate the teachers that know their students well and can make such suggestions for them. I remember my middle school teacher saw that i was reading a high school romance novel because I was bored with the reading selection in my school. She looked at the book and informed me that while technically it was age appropriate, I was “too good for it.” and I could do better than that. The next day she gave me ‘three books If Beale Street Could Talk” by James Baldwin, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” By Zoral Neale Hurston and “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. All of which blew my young mind because 1) No one had ever told me I was too good for anything before and 2) until that day I had not known there were novels by black authors other than the poetry of Langston Hughes and Maya Angelo, and 3) they remain good books that I reread to this day. I admit those books were not exactly kid friendly reading material even for a preteen in the 70s, but they perfect for me and she knew it. It was my first lesson in knowing your audience and thinking out of the box for them, lessons like the books I still use to this day. So for all of you who get to do this for the right children, my kudos to you. So of you may never know how much it means, but it really does mean so much.

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  5. This is the hardest part of my teaching job, the part that requires the most thought and preparation – but it’s always worth the work when you match child and book and watch a reader emerge.

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  6. Loved your post. Will have to track down that article from the NY Times. As a child I didn’t re-read many books and even as an adult I have’t done that except for the read alouds I read to my classes. Those have stayed with me. “Edward Tulane” by Kate DiCamillo was actually recommended to me after my mother died in 08. I read it every year after and it always touched me. Books are a touchstone – we can return to them, even just to recognize what they gave us.

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