The Power of Abandoning Books

A week ago, I finally had the conversation I had been avoiding. A boy had been slowly making his way through The Two Towers a couple of pages a day, and it was soon clear that he needed to set the book aside. I was worried, though, about how he’d react to the suggestion. One of his friends was reading the series, and some other factors made me wonder if he’d take my idea well. Finally, though, I explained what I was noticing and suggested he choose a book in which he could make more rapid progress. I showed him The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin, a novella I thought was perfect for him. To my relief, he immediately agreed, and I might have even detected a hint of relief on his part at being freed from the book. He took The Ice Dragon home with him that night and by the end of class the next day, he had finished it. Next, based on the recommendation of a classmate, he checked out The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer Nielsen. After one day, he was sixty pages in, and he continued to make good progress all week.

Each year, I tell myself that I’m going to be quicker to step in when I see this happening. I know that some students will stick with a book even when they don’t like it, even when they’re making so little progress that the book would take them a couple months to finish. I know that some of them, especially kids who’ve never read much before seventh grade, need that encouragement because they assume they’ll dislike the next book as much as their current one. For some reason, though, I always hesitate to have this conversation with kids. I try to tell myself that things will be okay, that if they just stick with it things will get better, that if I just remind them to read at home, this will magically solve everything. For some reason it’s hard for me to trust my instincts.

Yet over and over, kids remind me about the power of abandoning books.

When the girl who was plodding through Inkspell made the decision to abandon it after several weeks of slow progress, she started The Selection and her progress immediately picked up. On her second night with the book, she read almost sixty pages, probably an hour-and-a-half of reading for her. And I wondered why I didn’t encourage her to make this choice a couple weeks earlier.

When the girl who was barely making any progress in The Scorch Trials abandoned it in favor of Divergent, she finished her new book in less than a week. And again, I wished I would have made the suggestion earlier.

Thankfully, despite the fact that I failed to provide the advice those girls needed, they eventually made that decision themselves. But others, like the boy in my first story, need to be nudged in the right direction. So I guess I’m writing this post mostly for myself. I hope it will help serve as a reminder to pay attention to my students, and when I see one whose book choice is not working well, be willing to step in and offer the right solution.

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