Our library has just received a big shipment of books and I need to make some space so that the new books don’t get lost. On Friday I therefore did a little exercise with my Grade 6 students that I called “this book must die”.
Since many of them had either read “The Hunger Games” or “American Sniper” or seen the movie, we discussed it in terms of “what are the survival skills needed” by a book to ensure it’s continued existence on the shelves and “which books are a library / librarian / students’ friends and which are enemies“. The students came up with some great ideas, and showed real insight into the dilemmas and choices facing a librarian. It was also wonderful to see how much more “literarily” mature they had become, with groups of students arguing that books such as the “Rainbow Fairies” and “Horrid Henry” series shouldn’t be in our collection, that they were formulaic with no qualities, and with other students equally passionately defending them – including some boys arguing that their younger sisters loved Rainbow Fairies and had the right to read them until they knew better! I wish I’d video’d them to show to parents who enter long convoluted arguments with me about introducing more “classics” (i.e. the books of their book deprived youth) at a younger age to my students. They proved the case of “free voluntary choice” of books for students and that if you trust your students they’ll rise to the occasion.
Although I asked them to focus on fiction, a couple brought some very outdated nonfiction books to my attention (think moustachioed librarians straight out of the 80’s), and one even brought a more recent book on scuba diving where all the information wasn’t current anymore to my attention.
I also let them had a go at the “hallowed hall” of literature circle kits – they did ask. And there definitely were a very strongly felt sentiments about text that they were expected to read either as a class or in small groups. Luckily the “class texts” passed muster (I suspect because the teachers have actually read them – either with the students or independently or even as a read-aloud), but the smaller sets of 4-6 books had three books that will need to be eliminated. The “deal” I made with them is that if even one student came to the passionate defence of a book, it would stay. We had a long discussion about whether or not “award winning” books had any kind of immunity from weeding – again I loved their perceptive comments about the fact that most of the awards originated in America and this didn’t necessarily reflect their world view, interests or priorities.
Besides arbitrary titles that weren’t particularly important, the following ‘text set’ books, some of which are award winning by “important” authors were condemned:
Stowaway – Karen Hesse. 60 students unanimously said they’d struggled through it hating every minute and that it had no redeeming features whatsoever in their eyes.
Criss Cross – Lynne Rae Perkins – they found it boring, found no connection to their lives
The Heaven Shop – Deborah Ellis – I promise I didn’t say a word about this. But their sentiments echoed my privately held sentiments exactly. It was superficial, it was written by an outsider, it had too many coincidences so they felt they could no longer suspend belief.
After 3 exhausting but exhilarating classes the exercise was completed. Then yesterday my Grade 5 classes came for library class and their first question was ‘Ms. please can we also do “this book must die’?” – don’t you love it when a library lesson echoes in the school hallways?