The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Strategies for Selecting Books to Read

For someone who has loved reading from a very early age, the idea of picking the “right” book has seemed rather foreign to me. The first book I remember reading completely on my own was Syd Hoff’s literary masterpiece, Danny and the Dinosaur, first read when I was five years old. There may have been others before it, but since neither I nor my mother can recall, we are sticking with this as the official “first” book. I don’t really even know what other books I read on my own when I was young, but I do know that from that time forward, it was a rare moment when you found me without a book within arm’s reach!

I started reading more complex books early on. Mum read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my younger sister and I when I was still in kindergarten. I started reading books like that on my own early enough that teachers often passed over more “age-appropriate” books. I didn’t read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing until 2011, when I started teaching at Wiley and decided to use it as my first read aloud! I still have yet to read any of Jerry Spinelli’s books, although they are in my “To Be Read” (TBR) pile and one of my goals this year is to at least read Maniac Magee. I was reading novels by John Grisham by the time I was in middle school and just kept on reading.

This is a near-daily conversation in my home.

All of this to illustrate that my method of selecting books to read was to go to the bookshelf, whether in my bedroom, in the living room, at a friend’s house, at the public library, or in my classroom, and start reading. I never really thought about whether or not the book was “right.” I knew that such a concept existed for other people. After all, I had to get special signed permission from my parents to be able to get a public library card that gave me access to the “adult” section of the library (a term that simply meant the upstairs-not-children’s-library-section.) I vividly recall the time I was in sixth grade that my middle school library acquired a beautiful leatherette-bound, gilt-edged edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien but wouldn’t let my brother in eighth grade check it out because it was “too difficult.” (Even though he’d already read the entire series on his own before.)

However, since not all of my students are voracious bibliophiles like me, they need strategies to help them pick books that will be good fits for them. One such strategy that we are using throughout our school is I PICK. It has the advantage of being both easy to use and easy to remember:

Most of my students already use elements of this strategy. We talked about it today and then I gave them bookmarks that they can use. When I choose a book, I ask myself four questions: why do I want to read this? (Inform, entertain, my-teacher-is-making-me, curiosity, or a combination of these). Does the topic interest me? (Yes, no, it-doesn’t-matter-because-my-super-mean-teacher-is-making-me-read-it-anyway). Do I understand it? (Absolutely, not at all, most of it, not-really-but-my-teacher-who-really-is-mean-no-seriously-he-is-the-meanest-teacher-ever-he-keeps-making-me-figure-things-out-on-my-own-instead-of-just-telling-me-the-answer-says-I-can). Do I know most of the words? (I like the five-word rule: if the student reads the first page and doesn’t know five of the words, it might be a little too difficult for them.)

I will be sending home information about this strategy so students can share it with their parents, too. I encourage all of my students to select books from the library at school, the library in the community, and the library at home. Hopefully the I PICK strategy will help them build their personal reading CAFE skills: comprehension, accuracy, fluency, and expanded vocabulary!

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