Sunday, February 21, 2016

Reader Snapshots 1: Niche Reader Developing Confidence

First in a possible series of posts analyzing my students as readers.  Suggestions on books for them are most welcome!

Estella (all names have been changed) is a short 8th grader who tries to cover shyness with gruffness.  She's pretty, dresses mostly in sweatshirts and jeans, and jokes about beating up on her little brother.   She started seventh grade reading at a fifth grade level (according to the test we give, which is always a debatable way to evaluate someone's reading ability), and is currently up to the middle of sixth grade level.  When I met her at the beginning of this year, she told me that she'd spent the summer by reading a lot of fan fic.  "Some of it wasn't written very well, but I could figure out what they were trying to say," she told me.  "I didn't watch TV much, I mostly read that stuff online and I feel like I got a lot faster."

I tried to figure out what book would appeal to her.  "Well," she told me confidently, "I'd like something that is romance, but kind of scary.  With werewolves."  I handed her Shiver.  She blew through the first two books, but lost interest by the third.  Still, she was definitely reading.  I handed her other paranormal romances; some she turned down immediately, some she read a few pages of, and some she borrowed and finished.  She didn't always do other assigned activities in class, especially if they involved talking to people besides her small circle of friends, but when she refused to work, she did so by picking up her book and getting lost in the pages.  It's a hard thing for a reading teacher to object to.

She came up to me a couple of weeks ago.  Glancing at me, then quickly away, as if eye contact were too revealing, she asked me if I could help her track down a book called The Immortal Rules.  I found it at the public library that afternoon and brought it to her the next day.  She burst into my room at the end of the day, which surprised me given how reticent she always is, and said, "I'm sorry--I lost it!  I put it down in the gym and now it's not there!"  She retraced her steps, I put out an APB to my colleagues, and two days later the librarian noticed it sticking out of lost and found in the cafeteria.  I took about two seconds to decide whether or not to let her try again.  Her locker partner was excited to see me walk up with it, and put it in the locker so the cover would be facing her when she opened it.

Not something I'd want to see when I opened my locker, personally.

It was only a few days later when she asked me about getting the sequel.  The library didn't have it locally, and I could only track down a new hardback at our local bookstores.  "Do you think other kids would like this series?" I asked, thinking about the $19.95 price tag and the fact that if I get book two, I kind of have to get book one also.  "I don't know; probably not," she admitted.  Paranormal romances are hot, but as I've mentioned before, most of my struggling readers seem to prefer realism.

There was an ebook available from the library, but because I'm currently over the $10 fine limit, I couldn't check it out for her.  She found a 100 page preview on Google Books, and as soon as I pay down my fine this week, she'll be able to keep going.  We absolutely do not have similar taste in books--I tend to avoid things that feature tears of blood--but I will make sure she keeps getting access to books she enjoys all the same.

It never would have occurred to me to suggest that someone immerse themselves in fan fic as a means towards building reading fluency.  I never would have chosen a 485 paged book for a struggling middle school reader.  I never would have suspected my prickly, grumpy student would race to confess when she misplaced my library book.

This is why I love my job.  Learning goes both ways all the time.

Any suggestions for what Estella should read after this series?


  1. Well, if she liked The Immortal Rules, Talon is by the same author and it has dragons in it. I didn't like Talon as much as I liked The Immortal Rules (I like my paranormal bloody), but she might like it. Another vampire book is The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, but that has less romance in it. Angelfall by Susan Ee isn't quite horror, but is a bit bloody, and has some romance, as well. If she's fine with love triangles and doesn't really care about how well the love triangles are written, she might like The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd. And I could keep going.

    But I wish you luck with helping this girl find books!

    Thanks for stopping by Writing on a Vintage Typewriter!

    1. Thanks so much! I passed on your suggestions, and she's going to look them up on Goodreads to see what she thinks.

  2. Great! Let me know what she thinks. :)


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