Nancie Atwell’s book The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers is a manifesto for change in reading classrooms. She successfully argues that the key to reading instruction is to arrange our teaching so that students can engage in “frequent, voluminous, self-selected reading.” To help teachers develop classroom libraries of books that kids want to read, she’s listed recommended titles on her school’s website. But this isn’t your typical list.
First, it’s developed by extremely literate students. According to Atwell, students at the Center for Teaching and Learning read about 40 titles a year. At the end of the year, every student is asked to recommend books. As Atwell explains,
In June, all the boys and girls at our school help us create master lists, organized by grade level and gender, of the inviting, accessible books that they’ve loved best. These “Kids Recommend” lists contain the books students name in response to this question: What 10 to 12 books do you love so much that you think they might convince a _____-grade girl/boy who’s a lot like you—except that she/he doesn’t read much—that books are great? The answers are available to our students and their parents over the summer, as well as other teachers and the general public here at our school’s website.
Second, the list is updated every year:
Students update the lists annually, because the field of children’s literature changes so quickly. While a handful of titles do maintain their popularity over the years—S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (1968), the novel that created the field of young adult literature, continues to speak to kids—most drop off and are replaced over time.
The lists are sorted by gender because “in general, their tastes in books aren’t the same, after the primary years. At the middle-school level, the overlap in titles is only about twenty percent.”
Here are links to the lists:
And for your colleagues who teach primary and elementary students, here are the rest of the lists:
Atwell hopes that these lists
will set a trend. Our ultimate goal is a whole network of websites of great titles, nominated by K-12 kids who choose and read their own books in all kinds of school settings: their favorite titles each year, as the go-to resource for selecting literature for classroom libraries in many communities across America.
I plan on asking my students for their recommendations at the end of the year, and I encourage you to do the same. If you already have a list of student-recommended titles, leave a link to it in the comments section and I’ll put all the lists together on one page.