I have loved reading all my life. Even as an infant I was read to extensively, and I credit this early and constant exposure to my love of reading. English was always one of my best subjects in school. I also apparently enjoyed writing from a young age. Even before I could write, I had a tendency to dictate stories to anyone I could con in to helping me. A surprising number of these stories began with “it was a dark and stormy night,” and proceeded to involve me solving strange and mostly nonsensical mysteries involving ghosts at the ballet studio or horse thieves at the stable (have I mention I freaking loved Nancy Drew?)
Because a I love reading so much, I’ve always loved teaching reading and writing. I want my students to get the same joy out of it that I did, but that is sometimes easier said than done.
When I was trying to come up with a list of books I wanted to use with my 5th grade reading group this year, I spent a lot of time considering what kind of books my students would actually enjoy. My students all struggle with some aspect or another of reading and writing, and because of that many of them have turned this struggle into an all out hatred of reading. They don’t want to read at home. They think books are boring, and I knew I would need some pretty exciting tales to hold their interest.
When I failed to come up with any specific titles that I thought might be engaging enough to encourage my students to actively participate during our reading lessons, I took an informal survey at the beginning of the year about the types of books, movies, and t.v. shows my kiddos favored. Without exception, every single one of them mentioned ghost stories and/or mysteries.
Suddenly, two books that had both been favorites of mine when I was in the 11 year old range immediately came to mind. I’ve been using both of these books this semester with more success than I could have imagined.
The first, The Ghost of Fossil Glen by Cynthia deFelice, follows the adventures of Allie, a smart and spunky 6th grader who just happens to begin seeing a ghost who needs her help.
Allie teams up with her best friend Dub to help solve a decade old mystery, all while trying to convince her friends and parents that she’s really seeing a ghost and is not, in fact, crazy.
The other book, The Smuggler’s Treasure by Sarah Masters Buckley, takes place during the War of 1812. After 11 year old Elisabet’s father is captured by the British, she leaves her Boston home to live with an aunt and uncle she has never met in New Orleans. Once there, she finds herself in the middle of a hunt for a hidden treasure surrounded by mystery and a possible haunting. This book includes real historical figures and also details a lot of the French history of New Orleans.
Both of these books have been a huge hit with my 5th graders. They have main characters around their own age that have fabulous adventures and solve mysteries, which has an automatic appeal. Additionally, I’ve found it really easy to make the assignments that go with these books fun and interactive.
It absolutely made my day when one of my students asked me if we were going to finish the book before Christmas break. When I told him no, he said, “What?! But I have to know who the ghost is! Please can we read extra so we have time? I’ll even come during recess!”
Operation: Love Books seems pretty successful so far.