By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – As I was thinking about what to share with you this week I gave some deep thought to trashing John Bel Edwards and his tax-raising, money-grabbing administration of our state, and I also thought about listing the myriad reasons why Mitch Landrieu would be a terrible president of our country should he actually run (I think he will run, for the record), but instead I’ve decided to be more positive today and write about philanthropy and the generosity people have in their hearts.
I do a lot of writing on my own blog and in other places about my classroom and my students; it is no secret to anyone that I stand in strong opposition to Common Core which has stripped my sophomore English classroom of novels and implemented a 75% non-fiction reading curriculum. I firmly believe that my students need to read novels, short stories, poetry, and plays. They need to be able to get lost in the pages of a novel, to lose track of their world for a bit and vicariously experience the lives of Scout Finch, Daisy Buchanan, Harry Potter, Ramona Quimby, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Meggie from Inkheart, or even Boy21.
In the spring of this year I polled my students about their reading habits and was dismayed to find that almost none of them had read a book for pleasure since elementary school. They were very candid about their reading and their feelings about it. Giving me some small hope, I also learned that many of them enjoyed reading in the past but as they advanced through school and they were channeled into more unpleasant reading chores, they turned against it. I figured then that maybe I could reignite a love of reading in my students, despite the Common Core mandate that fiction is passé.
So to that end I began my campaign to build a classroom library. I wrote about it (and my students’ responses) on this blog in May. My goal was to accumulate 500 high-interest books, YA and classics, by the time school starts on August 6.
I’ve spend the summer painting bookshelves in my classroom and collecting books. I’ve begged for books on this blog and my own and I’ve combed local thrift stores every week since May. I now have nearly two hundred books for my library! It’s not my goal of 500, but it’s not August 6, either. I’m still going!
The kindness of strangers has overwhelmed me – literally. I established an Amazon Wish List and people I don’t even know have sent books, many with the most supportive and kind notes included! I’ve received both new and gently used books from the Wish List and people have boxed up books that would be of interest to teenagers from their own homes and sent to me. It’s amazing!
As each book comes in, I cover the paperbacks with clear ConTact paper to protect them, log them into a database, and put a book pocket and checkout card in the back. Book jackets for hardbacks are laminated. I want these to last a long time. The books that I’ve never read, I read. I want to be able to “sell” these books to my kids so I have had to do a lot of catching up on YA fiction. I’ve read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller who is the goddess of classroom libraries and Readicide by Kelly Gallagher.
Book donations are still trickling in and I hope that as school starts they will pick up again and I can reach my goal of 500 books. I have a project on Donors Choose that I hope gets funded and I’ve written a couple of grants that I hope come through.
My point here is one of optimism. I believe people are really good and really want to help when they see a need. I’ve seen such generosity and philanthropy through this project that it really lifts my heart. I spent much of last year angry about not being able to share fiction and reading with my students. They are in tenth grade and naturally have little interest in an unvaried diet of Supreme Court decisions, presidential speeches, and scientific articles which comprise 75% of our curriculum.
This year, I’m excited about returning to my classroom and introducing them to new worlds! An of course research shows that readers score better on tests which will make my administration happy. I care less about tests than creating lifelong readers, but it is a necessary evil, and my students do get a sense of pride when they score well.
At any rate, I have about three more weeks of summer and more thrift shops to hit to reach my goal. My Wish List is here if you’d like to send us a book. But most of all, remember, people are really good and even though we see a lot of anger and negativity in the world these days, sometimes we need to look past that and find something positive to hold on to!
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport; she is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation (Oct/’18). Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.