Reading a book you dislike

skippyjon 242x208 Reading a book you dislikeFor about ten years now, I have taught Pre-K. One of my favorite parts of the job is reading stories to the children during circle time. I am far from a great entertainer, but I try my best to make the stories entertaining or engaging to the children in some way; however, making a story interesting for the children is sometimes difficult. One reason for this is  because sometimes I don’t like the story I am reading.

The vast majority of stories I read are ones I enjoy, but sometimes the children are fans of a book or series of books that I just don’t like. Two examples of this are the Skippyjon Jones series by Judith Byron Schachner and Pinkalicious series by Victoria Kann. In both these cases, I don’t like these books while the children in my class love them. For the record, I do not want to besmirch these books or their authors. I can easily see the appeal of them to young children, but there is something about the writing that bothers me on a visceral level I can’t explain. To use an analogy from another art form, the band Maroon 5 led by singer Adam Levine is very popular and I have many friends who enjoy their music; nevertheless, when I hear Levine’s voice and his band’s music it is like nails on a chalkboard to my ears and I am at a loss as to cogently give you a reason why.

This leads to the question: what should teachers of young children do when their students enjoy a book that they themselves do not?

Personally, I have a few strategies to deal with this issue. If it is a book I only slightly don’t like, I will hold my nose and read it doing my best to make it as engaging as my favorite children’s books. If the book is one that for whatever reason I just don’t like at all, I often will read it anyway, but leave out any attempts at reading it with gusto because I am just not a good enough actor to pretend that I am into the book. Other times I might even have the child read it if they are able to, or retell the story from the pictures which is an activity we often have the children engage in with stories they either can decode or know by heart.

Thus, I ask readers of Lolly’s Classroom for advice. Do you only share books you enjoy? What would you do if students wanted to hear a story you were not a fan of? Do you allow children to bring in books from home for the teacher to read and share with the class? How do you choose which books to read to your students and which books to have available in your classroom?

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Teddy Kokoros About Teddy Kokoros

Teddy Kokoros works as a Pre-K teacher and adjunct early childhood education professor in Boston, MA.

Comments

  1. I find it incredibly sad that you would ever seek to pull the joy out of storytelling by reading a book to your kids without enthusiasm and gusto. As a teacher, isn’t it your mission and passion to teach kids to love and read the books that matter to THEM? It’s not about you or what you like. It’s about what motivates your students even if you don’t understand it. It’s terribly disheartening that the sheer joy of seeing your students LOVE a book isn’t enough to make you want to read it to them over and over again with as much gusto as humanly possible.

  2. Gail Lockman says:

    I am a retired librarian, 13 years as a children’s librarian. I will read anything they ask me to, and with gusto, if possible. It’s not about me. Borrow titles from your local library so they have other choices. Ask your local children’s librarian for titles Pre -K kids may like, many never go out of style, especially Pre-K titles. You may need to bring older titles to their attention. Try to get them hooked on some other books that bear repeating. Ask them to select from books you like. These are obvious solutions, I know. But as I said, it’s not about me. Honor their choices, be glad they want to share their favorites, but you can place limits, too.

  3. Teddy Kokoros says:

    Hello Gail and Holly,

    I understand your points; and I probably should have explained the situations a little better in my initially post but I did not want to make it 10 Paragraphs long; our class often goes to the library and the children help pick out the books we read in class. They are very much a part of helping find a variety of books that they are into.

    As for not liking the books, I actually even joke with the children in my class about that there are some books I like more than others and they enjoy messing with me by picking out books that are not my favorites; We often discuss if which books we like a book in class and that it is ok for children to have different opinions about something such as books music, and food. I think it is important for children to understand that we are all human (kids and adults) and have different tastes and that those tastes are ok. Another example are the songs ‘Let It Go” and “Everything Is Awesome” from Frozen and The Lego Movie respectively. When we we dance on rainy days, the children often request both songs to dance to; some of the children like them and some do not and we have talked about why. For example, some children prefer “Everything is Awesome” because it is faster while some prefer to do different types dance moves to “Let It Go” . Just in that case I am much more likely to sing along to Everything is Awesome than Let It Go but in no way does my lack of enthusiasm for that song lesson the children’s love of it; I have had similar experience with Skippy Jon Jones. Just because it is not my preference and I don’t go all out for it, the children often will make up for my lack of enthusiasm in the reading. Overall, I completely understand if that does not seem ok to you and that I should never disparage a book a child likes, but that can stifle honesty and differences of opinion and in a way lying to the children about my preference could be looked at as more disrespectful to them as fellow humans than pretending I like everything equally.

  4. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    in Teddy’s defense, I want to point out that we are taught to share only books that we love, lest our lack of enthusiasm should become apparent. So he’s talking about a real quandary and I think he’s brave to admit it and seek advice.

  5. How about explaining that you don’t really like that particular book and opening a discussion about how different people don’t always like the same things, and that’s okay? That is infinitely preferable to reading a book with no enthusiasm, which seems to me not only mean-spirited but designed to make your audience dislike the book, too.

  6. Melissa Posten says:

    Is there a purpose here to naming the two particular series? If you take that information out, the article works just as well, with the added bonus of not hurting anyone’s feelings on a very public level. I’m trying to imagine coming to the Horn Book and seeing my book cover under the headline “Reading a Book You Dislike.” I don’t care how much success a person has; that’s got to sting.

  7. Alicia Peralta says:

    When getting my degree in Children’s Literature we always read high quality picture books, YA novels, fantasy, poetry etc. However, there were times when I would find a work reductive or perhaps not where I wanted it to be. When I stepped into the classroom, I found myself teaching books that I didn’t always like. At one point, one of my students approached me while I was teaching a book I didn’t like and said “Miss, I don’t like this” and she gave me a substantive reason (this was years ago). While part of me delighted that this student actually agreed with me about the book, I was far more excited that she was able to critique the book in a substantive way. I taught 8th grade, so the age group is a little different. But I think sometimes it is okay to let kids know that not everyone likes every book but that doesn’t mean another person isn’t going to love it. What a wonderful opportunity to model respect!

  8. Teddy Kokoros says:

    Hi Susanna,

    See my above post where I attempted to clarify things;

    Hi Melissa,

    As for naming the series, I just wanted to give concrete examples that people probably have heard of. As for the author feeling the “sting”, I clearly stated that I could see the appeal of the books to others. In addition, every author, musician, artist, actor, etc goes into their art with the understanding that their work of art will not be universally loved.

    • Melissa Posten says:

      Teddy, we just won’t agree on this. Yes, authors come into this knowing everyone won’t like their stuff. But you could take those two specific series out and the post would read exactly the same. Stating that you can see the appeal doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s a big old picture of Skippyjon Jones up there under the headline “Reading a Book You Dislike.”

  9. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Melissa, here at the Horn Book we have to do this kind of thing all the time: talking about books online and pointing out their flaws. The trick is not to be mean about it, and I don’t see that Teddy was mean. Telling the hard truths is part of being a professional in the book field — even in children’s books where some people think one needs to like everything. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything” just doesn’t work for book reviewers — or movie reviewers, either.

    • Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

      One other thing: Skippyjon Jones does just fine and I think it was a good choice since a small blog post like this won’t hurt its sales or popularity one bit. Also, I was the one who chose to include that cover with Teddy’s post.

    • Melissa Posten says:

      It’s certainly what you do at the Horn Book, but it’s not what you do at Lolly’s Classroom. In fact, you have never featured a book cover under a headline like this, ever. (I went back through the archives.) This particular blog has always featured positive messages and love of books, and while I understand that the message behind the post was “everyone doesn’t have to love a book to share it with kids in a positive and fun way,” or maybe “just because I don’t love this book doesn’t mean other people don’t either,” it felt very much out of tone with this particular blog to call out those two series in that way. This never feels like a Horn Book review blog, per se, and the tone is far more casual. And since the post wasn’t even written by a Horn Book employee, I think the “here at the Horn Book” thing doesn’t apply.

      I don’t think people need to like everything; there are plenty of things I don’t like. And I don’t think Skippy’s popularity has anything to do with the fact that if I was the author/illustrator and I saw a post with that headline and that photo, I think it would sting, and the sting would come from an unexpected place. If this were Teddy’s personal blog, chances are it would go unnoticed – but it’s a guest post on a high profile blog, and it’s a guest post whose tone doesn’t seem to match the tone of the posts that have preceded it.

    • Heather Hebert says:

      I must say that the naming of specific books in this blog post, and certainly the placing of a specific cover photo under the headline Reading a Book You Dislike, is completely disrespectful and flat out mean.

      While I understand that “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything” doesn’t work for book reviewers this post is not a book review. It is a post about a teacher’s dilemma. I don’t believe giving “concrete examples” is at all a justification for bad mouthing certain books. Everyone has books they dislike, no one needs a “concrete example.”

      And while you might be right that the Skippyjon Jones cover being attached to this post won’t hurt Skippy’s sales or popularity, it certainly has affected the integrity and spirit of your blog.

  10. I totally agree with Teddy!
    I actually cringe, when my daughter brings home a skippy book. I literally cant get through them. You have good taste Teddy, and we are trying to point our children to good literature and good writing. Keep up the good work!

  11. This reminded me of an interesting experience I just had. I received a picture book from a publisher for review. After reading it, I didn’t like it. But, I decided to read it to a 2nd grade classroom to get their opinion. They loved it and they actually pointed out some of the finer points of the book that I missed. The author had cleverly shown the underwater creatures getting a chest of gold coins at the end and wrote that there was a “treasure” at the ocean floor. The students pointed out (on their own!) that the treasure could have been the new friendship. I ended up giving it 5-stars after our classroom conversation. Huh, 2nd graders! Who would have thought it!

  12. Dear Teddy,
    Been thinking about this all day.
    I tend to only read books I really like, but, if a child brought a book in and wanted me to share it with the class, I would. AND I would read it with energy. I would be thrilled that they loved a book so much that they want to share a book with their friends. However, I agree with Gail Lockman that I would go out of my way to introduce other books, which I know you already are doing.
    My own children seemed to have a special talent for picking out library books that were horrid to read aloud. But I did it. How could I resist the three zillion witch books she loved in kindergarten? Or the president books he just had to read in first grade? They loved those books! And I loved my kids–and I wanted them to develop a love of their own books. But, dang, I would sneak in some William Steig when their heads were turned!
    Please keep reading aloud. Fewer and fewer teachers do and it is a joy to read aloud to kids, even if one or two of the books are not personal favorites.

  13. Christina Dobbs says:

    Hey Teddy, As I read this post and discussion, I kept thinking about two things. The first is that in my work with high school teachers, we actually talk a bunch about teaching with books we don’t necessarily love. I’ll never love Lord of the Flies (or Pinkalicious either), and though I can appreciate Steinbeck, he’ll never be a personal favorite of mine (and I audiobooked it sometimes when I wanted my students to hear the text).

    Second, this made me think of one of my class assignments. Each semester, I ask students to write me a memo about their earliest memories of reading. They often write that in the earliest years at school, they felt like they weren’t allowed to dislike a book. Often these folks write that their teachers loved every book, and they didn’t know how to negotiate their own negative reactions and what that meant about themselves as readers. So I wonder if your readings and discussions about preferences actually open this sort of space to disagree about books and engage with them honestly regardless of reaction, while still modeling that you can engage a book simply because other community members appreciate it and you appreciate them.

  14. Teddy Kokoros says:

    Thanks for all the feed back everyone.

    It is interesting to read others people’s thoughts on this especially people who work with older students who might be required to read certain “classics” as part of a mandated curriculum.

    Christina,

    That is a really interesting story about the children having negative reactions when they did not share their teacher’s love for a book. When it comes to any work of art, I feel one of the hardest things to negotiate is something being an “important” work of art vs. it being something we actually enjoy. Whatever the age group one works with, I think it is important to stress that is ok not to like something and with older students to know that a book might be significant work in some aspect but that does not mean one is required to like it. I believe it was Lolly (but it could have been someone else) who once told the story that when you ask children what the Caldecott Medal means they respond it means grown ups like the book. I am sure if the Caldecott honor were awarded by children and not adults something like Captain Underpants would have won by now.

  15. Nicole Hewes says:

    Kudos to you, Teddy, for posting this. Having to read books that you dislike can be challenging and it is hard to always fake it, especially if there are many reasons that you don’t like the book AND your students ask for it to be read again and again. (Not to mention that throughout the day, teachers sometimes have to do many things about which they may not be enthralled because of mandated curriculum. Read aloud can be such a safe haven!)

    I do have a suggestion for teachers of students who can read with some degree of independence. I teach second grade, so one strategy that I use if I am not excited about a book is having a child who IS excited about the book practice it so that he or she can share it with the class. It’s been wildly successful — particularly when a struggling reader takes on the challenge of wanting to share.

  16. Eric Carpenter says:

    I have experienced this quandary as well. Each year at some point a few students (I teach first grade) discover Where the Sidewalk Ends or Light in the Attic on the poetry shelf in my classroom library and not surprisingly end up reading through all of the Silverstein collections. This is all well and good until some student starts telling their parents about how much they are enjoying these poems, and without fail this is when the student brings in The Giving Tree and tells me that its their family’s favorite and I should read it to the class. I am sure you can imagine how difficult it is to refrain from snide comments about “The Taking Boy”.
    My solution and suggestion to you Teddy, is to invite parents to read these books to the class. When a student brings in something like The Giving Tree and tells me it is their mother’s favorite, I tell them that if it is their mother’s favorite than we as a class would love to hear her read it to us. A quick email or phone call to the parent to schedule a mystery reader session and I’ve successfully avoided reading a disliked book without negating a student’s enthusiasm for said book.

  17. Katie Bircher Katie Bircher says:

    This is a really interesting conversation for me to follow so soon after having read Cathie Mercier’s “Becoming a Book Detective” http://www.hbook.com/2014/04/opinion/becoming-book-detective/ in the May/June issue.

    Cathie writes that, as a child, she disliked Harriet the Spy (and more importantly, Harriet herself) but was afraid of admitting her dislike to adults in her life who were excited to share it with her:
    “I fretted… [that] I would disappoint them, or, worse, I would fail some test of readerliness. When I finally sought advice from the best reader I knew, my mother said: ‘It’s a book. If you liked it, good; if you didn’t, don’t read it again.’ I found such release in those words, such permission to find my own reading way.”

    Of course, for teachers with curriculum, not re-reading a disliked book is not always an option! But I wonder how students react to the revelation that it’s okay not to like a book, even one that has been assigned or one that is beloved by others. (I’m thinking in particular of Alicia’s comment above.) What has been your experience in letting students know it’s okay to “find their own reading way,” as Cathie says?

  18. I love your honesty and openness on this topic, Teddy. As an elementary librarian, I’m like you: I try really, really hard to stick to books that I like/enjoy. However, the annual Children’s Choice Picture Book Award nominees from the state always give me a run for my money – there will be a handful that I just don’t like – and I usually won’t read them aloud. Even using the adage “fake it till you make it”, my students can tell when I’m not into a book (unexpected behaviors increase, without a doubt). I say usually, as I have my 3rd graders give feedback on books they really want to read from the list based on cover/summary…and if enough want to hear a specific title, I’ll pull together some gusto and read it. Otherwise, I’m up front with them: we won’t read all the books together, but they’re available for students to check out / read.
    For the littlest students, I only read books and authors that I love – both new and old. Providing exposure to well-written / well-illustrated books is so valuable that I don’t feel guilty about omitting some popular titles.
    In the same vein, I think it’s important to teach older students that it’s okay to not like every book they pick up. Abandoning a book gets a bad rap, but there are too many great books out there to spend time on one that isn’t working for you. When asked, I’ll tell students that I abandon books, too…including some that they hold dear to their hearts. That’s what readers do, after all.
    Know, too, that I’m also a mother of 2 littles. My children know that there are some books I’m not fond of, yet I encourage them to make personal choices at libraries / bookstores based on what they find interesting. And boy, do they! And while I read some of their choices aloud – think pink/superhero/glitter/movies – it is in limited amounts. I can only take so much before pulling Mercy Watson or Piggie & Elephant off the shelf for a family read-aloud that everyone enjoys.
    Finally, I quite like Eric’s solution of inviting parents to come and share favorite titles. That could be a win for everyone: sharing literature and building community at the same time as staying true to you.

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