I’m going to say something that will make many people have a Big Reaction – I don’t believe in letting kids re-read books.
Now I’ll just back away, very slowly…
Calm down. There are some exceptions to my rule. For example, it’s ok for the under second grade set to re-read books, especially picture books or board books. Little kids really benefit from reading a favorite book over and over and over and over… Heck, even bigger kids can re-read picture books – they’re short, so what do I care? It’s also ok for adults to re-read books they loved as a kid. I’ve done this myself, and it’s fun to re-live the warm fuzzy experience of a book that was loved in childhood. It’s ok to re-read holiday themed books – re-discovering our Christmas books each year is exciting and nostalgic for my kids. Lastly, it’s also ok for kids to re-read chapter books if they are exceptional readers who can devour books at a fast pace. If these exceptions do not fit, I don’t believe kids should re-read a book.
The Big Reaction is still happening, I know. Please, let me explain.
I teach struggling readers. They are middle school kids who CAN read, but don’t always do it very well. Sometimes they have poor fluency and comprehension, other times great fluency and poor comprehension. Many of these students found a series of books in elementary school that they can read relatively well and that they enjoyed, and THEY NEVER MOVE ON. Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, Geronimo Stilton, the many Manga series books, Captain Underpants, Baby Mouse, all the Raina Telgemeier books – I have students who are big fans of these books and have read them multiple times for many years, and hardly anything else. That, my friends, is ridiculous. I am sick and tired of watching kids carry around Wimpy Kid or Geronimo Stilton books for all three years of middle school. I know kids love them. Yes, kids should read them. And then they should move on. Struggling readers need to push themselves to read more challenging books if they ever expect to be better readers. Teachers and parents would never think it acceptable for kids to learn addition, and then never move on to higher levels of math! They would never defend it and say, “Oh but he loved adding numbers so much he just wants to keep doing it! Why does he have to move on to subtraction, multiplication or division if he doesn’t want to? Addition was fun! At least he’s still practicing his math!” That would be crazy, AMIRIGHT? Yet, teachers and parents defend the re-reading of books to me all the time.
I encourage my students to move on from their beloved middle to upper grade elementary school books because they are growing up and their reading choices need to grow as well. If they loved a certain series, I can hook them up with some great recommendations that are similar but more challenging. Graphic novels are great, but kids need to mix it up with a real, live chapter book every once in a while. For struggling readers who want to tackle a chapter book that’s a bit challenging for them, my library has audio books that come with a print copy of the book, so students can listen and follow along at the same time. There are options out there for these die-hard fans of chapter-ish books with pictures that are more challenging and will help them move on to something else that they enjoy.
I don’t even let my own kids, who are in third and sixth grade, re-read books. I want them to keep getting better at reading, and if I don’t force them to choose something new and more challenging their growth will slow. My daughter was a reluctant chapter book reader when she was in second grade. She loved picture books, even the ones with lots of text, but she wouldn’t finish a chapter book at all. With the help of my friend the local bookstore owner, she found a chapter book series she loved and it pushed her to move on from the picture book phase. Now she reads chapter books frequently and has improved her reading stamina and ability as a result. Would she have ever reached that point on her own? Yes, eventually. But she would have kept reading books that didn’t push her to improve as a reader if I hadn’t pushed her myself (with some awesome bookstore owner friend help).
Reaching potential as a reader takes practice – it’s my job as a teacher and a mom to help kids get there, by forcing them to move on and read something new, one Wimpy Kid fan at a time.