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Thinking About Reading

Teachers prattle on about reading comprehension strategies; about vocabulary and monitoring your understanding and rereading and summarizing. I read to enjoy books. When I read, the words scamper across my brain, leaving illustrations behind. I picture the worlds I read about, I envision myself there, and I wonder what it would be like to live there. I cannot fully experience a book without immersing myself in it.

When I teach reading, I am tempted to say, “Go read,” and leave it at that. About half my class would happily do so. Some would struggle through whatever they think I want them to read, or whatever their friends are reading. Some would open the book and stare blankly at the pages, never turning them. And some would read the words, just the words, and never take a moment to think about what the words are saying.

Thinking about reading is a skill that must be practiced, and like any such skill is initially a chore. Once you have mastered thinking while you read, you will find that books have a much deeper meaning. Keep in mind that the author had a purpose in writing the book, whether to inform, entertain, or persuade. The author also has a theme: friendship, loyalty, family, or determination. By the time you finish the book, you should be ‘getting’ what the author is trying to say about the theme: the author’s message. Is the author trying to tell you not to lie to your friends? To be loyal to them? That family will always have your back? Or that you can achieve success if you never give up? I’m sure you have all read books or stories with those messages and themes. A YA urban fantasy coming out this month, The Apocalypse Gene, was definitely written to entertain. It is a complex book with a lot of potential messages. To me, the book is about friends supporting each other to overcome adversity. (read my full review of the book on October 7, and buy your own copy October 17)

While reading, think about the characters. Do they remind you of anyone you know? How about other book characters, or movie characters? Themes are recurring, so if one book has a hero who has lost his parents, chances are other books will, too. Comparing and contrasting these characters helps you understand the deeper significance of a book. In The Apocalypse Gene, Olivya and her mother are desperately trying to make ends meet in a difficult world. Olivya’s father is dead, and she cannot forgive him for leaving her. This is a familiar setup for anyone who has read young adult literature. The male lead, Mikah, is growing up around adults who have a terrible, important secret. This, too, is familiar to young adult readers.

During the novel, consider events, too. If you put yourself in the character’s place, will the situation seem similar? Olivya and Mikah live in a future world scarred by pandemic. That part will seem like fantasy. But Olivya’s mother bans her from the computer as a punishment. THAT will seem familiar to young readers. And no matter how annoying her mother is, Olivya is devastated to discover that her mother has cancer. That revelation will resonate with readers of all ages.

So when you buy your copy of The Apocalypse Gene, read it carefully and think about what you are reading. There are personal themes, teen themes, religious themes, end-of-the-world themes waiting for you to discover them. Read, enjoy, and discuss here!

In paperback (loaned to me by a student): Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior by Chris Bradford

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