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Catching Fire

This semester, I am mentoring a student teacher. Malorie is bright and charming--instantly likeable to my students and me. Talking with her during her first day, I explained the workshop nature of our class. Going into more detail about our classroom community, I asked Malorie, "How would you rate your knowledge of children's literature--on a scale of one to ten?"

She replied, "About a two."

I assured her, "I was in the same place when I started teaching. Perhaps, we can do something about that while you are here." I went on to explain to Malorie that she should observe during my reading conferences with the students, but she needed to ramp up her book knowledge in order to lead these conferences herself, "If you haven't read many books, talking to the kids about what they are reading will be a challenge."

Recognizing that Malorie had little time for pleasure reading due to her course load, I suggested that she spend our independent reading time investigating books herself. Eager to learn and interested in building rapport with our students, Malorie jumped on the idea. I offered to help her select some well-known children's books, telling her, "If you have five or six popular books under your belt, you should be able to talk to most of the kids in the class about at least one book."

Listening to recommendations from our students and me, Malorie selected The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins' bestselling dystopian science fiction book. Stealing reading time whenever our students read, Malorie fell into the harsh world of Panem and the drama of the Games. She took the book home with her that night, so she could keep reading it.

The next morning, as I wandered around the classroom, conferring with students and pulling out books for them, I stopped by Malorie's table to share some anecdote from a student. Pulled out of The Hunger Games, she looked up at me with unfocused, tear-filled eyes. Malorie told me that she was at a certain sad part in the book. I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't read the book (WHY haven't you read The Hunger Games, yet?). I will just say that flowers and singing were involved...

Forgetting whatever trivialities I had to share, I said, "Ah, that part...I understand," and brought her the tissue box.

Later, I told Malorie, "Now, you can talk to the kids about the book. Now, you know how they feel after reading it."

That day, sitting in a chair crying while reading her book, Malorie crossed over. She became one of us, part of the community, one of the readers.

Reading teachers talk a lot about finding that home run book for our students, the one book they discover that reveals how magical reading can be. We should talk more often about finding that home run title for teachers--the book that reveals the magic of children's literature to us. Well-written, engaging, meaningful books transcend age ranges and reading levels. If we expect to attain any level of expertise in teaching reading to children, we must become experts in the types of books our students read.

Although Malorie doesn't know much about children's books, yet, she provides another reading role model in the room for our students. They see her read every day and they know that she gets it. Malorie brings her pedagogical background, her life experiences, and her enthusiasm, but she also offers her willingness to dive into our reading community and become a part of it--a priceless gift to our students and me.

I didn't see Malorie last week because of the snow days, but I ran into her today while she was on campus attending her methods courses. She tracked me down in the break room to return her second book, Catching Fire. Yes, she's caught it, and I hope the flame never goes out--both for her and her future students.

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