I distinctly remember the first book that I ever hated (yes, English majors can hate books, too). I was in 8th grade, and my English teacher made the class read Johnny Tremain. I remember complaining right along with everyone else; Why were we reading such a dull and boring read? The couple of weeks that we were stuck reading and discussing that novel I could be found staring out the window of our classroom silently waiting for the torture of that novel to end.
I know, I know. Since that was a class assignment (and I was a goody two-shoes), there was no way around reading it. However, this type of a thing happens more often than I care to think about. How many kids have turned away from the idea of reading because they are forced to read books that they loathe? How many fantastic books have these kids missed out on because of this?
These are the reasons that I loved Daniel Pennac’s “Reader’s Bill of Rights” so much. The 10 Rights that are outlined are crucial. We need to empower kids to know that they can read (or not read) at their pleasure. Kids and adults need to feel as though they have control over what they read and how they read, because they should have this power. If we are asking everyone to read and then read more, than shouldn’t they at least be able to decide what to read?
Readers, you have the power. You don’t have to continue reading a book if you feel like it’s sucking the life out of you. You can skip pages to get to the “meat” of the novel. You are able to pick where you want to read and when you want to read. You have the absolute right to reread anything you want (I especially enjoy this one) without feeling ashamed and having to justify your choice with others. You don’t have to defend your choice in books; once you find a series or author that you love, go for it! Read all of what your choice has to offer. Most importantly, you have the right to not read at all.
Readers need to exercise these rights. Use them all. We can’t keep discouraging readers by forcing them to read a certain way or to read at all. By doing this, we effectively turn them off from reading for good. Let them choose. These Rights will hang in my future classroom with bold lettering. I want my students to read, but I want them to read what they want to read; whether it’s a classic, a YA novel, a graphic novel, or even the newspaper, I’ll just be happy to see them engaged in reading something. If we let students feel empowered by their choice instead of dragged down by our choice, we allow them to be more confident readers. This, in turn, just might get them to do the thing we all want them to do: read more.