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On Finding Books That Are Just Like Me

I was recently working in a first-grade classroom when I sat down next to Sam, who was reading Amelia Bedelia: On the Move. I began to ask him questions about the book he was reading. "What's been happening so far?" "Have you read any Young Amelia Bedelia books before?" Then I asked him why he chose the book. "Because Amelia is just like me," he responded. I paused for a minute because my initial thought was that they look nothing alike. “Can you say more about that?” I asked. He told me that Amelia was moving to a new house just as he had recently moved. Our conference continued but this idea- of what is "just like me" left me thinking.

In recent years there has been a push to fill classroom libraries with diverse literature. To provide students with the opportunity to see themselves in the text they are reading. We look to fill our shelves with characters from a variety of backgrounds. For me, this means having characters that look like my students- their backgrounds, their heritages. After my conference with Sam, I realized that "just like me" should be more than just appearance. It is a combination of many different things including appearance but also experiences, family structures, ages, and environment. I want readers of all levels to be able to connect to text for a variety of reasons. I want my readers to say this is just like me because:

  • It looks like me

  • It sounds like me

  • I have done that before

  • That’s like my family

  • I have been to a place like that

  • This feels like where I live

  • I have felt that way before

In The Book Whisper, by Donalyn Miller, she explores Brian Cambourne's conditions for learning. She writes that engagement is an essential condition for learning. She goes on to say that, "Reading must be an endeavor that has personal value to students.” When we give students texts that they value, we give them the chance to make a connection. We can then teach them how to think deeper about the text. We can teach readers at all levels to have ideas about the text that they are reading. This can lead to learning how to say not just their idea but why they have that idea. Some possible language to teach readers could be:

  • I think…….because……

  • This reminds me of……

  • This is like my life because…………

  • ________is like me because……..

So how do we build a library that reflects the readers in our classroom? In Growing Readers Kathy Collins suggests:

  • eavesdropping as students are having conversations with each other on line, unpacking, on the carpet, at their table, etc....

  • sketching or jotting about reading memories

  • talking about why they did or did not like the book they read during independent reading

  • sharing favorite books and why they connect to the text

As I head back into classrooms after a nice holiday break, one of my goals for 2020 is to provide readers with opportunities to see themselves in the texts they are reading. However, I now realize seeing ourselves in a text exits in a variety of ways.

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