Slice of Life: A Literary Letter

Dear Rooms 501 and 601,

I knew our first day back after the Thanksgiving break was going to be challenging. Teachers looked groggy. One even said, “How many days till Christmas break.” You had to be feeling this too.

I had plans. Big ideas. I was ready to hit the ground running with all kinds of wonderful.

Then you walked in.

I thought that the library would be packed with you all shopping for books.

I was wrong.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit heartbroken.

I sent home new books. I thought you were excited about them. What happened?

Over half of you in Room 501 said you didn’t have time.

I set my sadness/borderline despair aside and asked, “What makes you want to read?”

Some of your answers didn’t surprise me.

Books with humor, action, mystery, drama

Books that have the impossible.

Long books with short chapters. (Cool thought! Me too,)

Books that are filled with sadness.

I asked you about books you love.

Smile, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Tides of War, The Crossover, Crenshaw, Lost in the Sun, Runaway Twin, The Story of Diva and Flea, Home of the Brave, Fish in a Tree

Some of you were specific.

I like the book called Anne of Green Gables because she’s brave and the imagination is making me heartful of feelings. So I love reading books like these.

I like adventure but what makes it difficult is that the words are hard to pronounce and it’s so intense that I forget waht happens in the story.

I am honored to hear your thoughts. They give me hope and purpose.

I asked why so many chose not to read over the break.  Was it because of the books? What J said may be close to the truth for many of you.

I think we chose books that were just right, we just have other things that take our attention away.

I know some read at home over the last week. Some always read. But many didn’t.  Thank you for your honesty. That’s how we will get better. We need to work together to figure it out.

I learned just right books and choice aren’t enough when you walk out the classroom door. There needs to be more. Something else. But what? More accountability? (you didn’t have partners to respond to) More parent involvement? (a letter, a phone call)

You moved on to your next class, and these questions stayed with me as Room 601 walked in. 

I was ready. My plans were adjusted.

“Ok, guys!” I said. “Pull out your books. Put the books you’ve finished in one pile. The books you’re still reading in another pile.”

I looked around. Most of you had the finished pile stacked high.


“When can we shop for books?” K asked.

I looked over at D. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan was sitting on her desk. “That’s one thick book. Did you finish it?”

Well it took a few days. But I just went outside on my porch. No one is there. It’s quiet and I can read.

D’s comment got lots of you talking:

I read in the morning, play video games at night.

I read at bedtime.

I read when my parents are cooking.

I read when I get bored. I got bored a lot this break.

I set goals for myself.

I know some of you in room 601 didn’t read. Some of you don’t read when you walk out the classroom door. But many do. And we need to learn from this.

I learned readers find a time and a place to read every day. Readers make plans and goals for reading.

I learned that those who read outside of school, read with a plan they made. In a place they chose.  No one said my mom made me. No one turned in a reading log or got a coupon as a result of reading at home.

I’m happy for those of you who have found your reading life outside of school. You are on your way. Some need some extra support. You haven’t discovered that place and time that fits you, yet. We need to work on that.

See you tomorrow,

Mrs. Harmatz

P.S. Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Tuesday Slice of Life. Find more slices here.


29 thoughts on “Slice of Life: A Literary Letter

  1. Yes. Exactly. Sometimes it’s hard to know when they will read and why. Sometimes it’s hard for me to know what will make me want to sit and read over all other things. You did an awesome job of showing us this.

  2. What an interesting contrast between the two classes. I’m glad the readers came in immediately after the non readers. I agree with Kim, sometimes it is hard for me to know what will make me sit still and read and I am a voracious reader.

  3. I totally get this and could have written the same letter. I have those who will read no matter what. They just love it and will find the space and time. Others find excuses not to read. What makes those habits? Does it start early? Can we make a difference?
    We’ve talked about virtual book clubs but never got that underway. I wonder if we could do some partnering for Christmas break?

  4. As a kid, I read nonstop (of course in those days there was no internet, video games, cable TV), now I don’t read as voraciously. I have the same questions Margaret asked rolling around in my mind.

  5. It’s funny how sad we feel when kids don’t read. Sad for them, not because they disappointed us, which they did, but for what we know they are really missing out on.

  6. Interesting the contrast in the classes, but that means to me that the others will come around, just will take more time with you, Ms Harmatz! I liked the way you wrote this as a letter to your students. It makes me wonder if a whole book couldn’t be written this way, topic by topic? Best wishes in rounding up the readers!

  7. I loved reading this. My book club is larger this year, I’m trying to balance my readers who read a book or more a week with the ones who take longer. I’ve decided It’s all good as long as they’re reading, but it does make organizing our meetings each week more challenging.

  8. It’s tricky – we want our kids to own their own reading lives, and yet there is only so much we can do to nurture that life and provide impetus for it. I was drawn to the comment your student made about other things taking over – that’s important, too. Sometimes, holidays are more for talking and connecting, I know that’s what I did, much more than reading.

  9. I have been there before and have felt that despair when my students choose not to read. However, after a weekend filled with family that was here for five full days I have to confess that I didn’t make time to read. Sure, I read picture books to my daughter, but nothing more. Sometimes, when life gets so busy, we’re so busy living that we don’t make time for the things that matter. Hopefully, when they have a few extra days off during Winter Recess they will read. Fingers crossed!

    • So important to put ourselves in their shoes. (as always) Your comments help me think through the next steps for the holiday break. What is best for students is multifaceted!

  10. You speak of students but try doing a survey of teachers at school – you’d be surprised that there are many who don’t read during holidays either. I think that in our SOL community of readers and writers we don’t realize that not everybody reads. You do a great job guiding a new generation to become readers. Having the continuous conversation and reflection helps to create active reading lives.

    • I’ve thought about this a lot. I wonder what the percentage is of passionate readers in the adult population. And how it differs over the professions. In a world of data you’d think there would be something out there on that!

  11. This is interesting because I see similarities between this year’s class – readers and last year’s class – nonreaders. I wish we could wave a magic wand – or book – and just make them ALL readers. Maybe I will put that on my Santa list! I would even share!

  12. You’ve given me lots to ponder. I will admit that I recall posting to you in the fall about how reading like we did this summer can continue…and what did I do all of break – binge watch Greys Anatomy!! I blame it on my cold but sometimes reading does feel like work and I just needed a break. But I do want to make my own plan to read over winter break. And I need to share that with my students and set them up to make a plan!! Again, thanks for getting me to think!!

    • Love it Sally! Did a bit of binge watching myself. Sometimes we just need the break.

      I think I haven’t built enough around planning for the breaks in the past. We use every minute of instruction to build the work we do together in the classroom. I need to start building how reading will go when they walk out.

  13. Wow- this is so powerful. So many truths in there. I admire your honesty, and the clarity with which you express a huge range of emotions. But what comes through above all else is your energy and belief in these kids and what you do.

  14. As a reader, it’s hard to imagine that there would be other priorities in life. But it’s true. Keep sharing the passion; it WILL make a difference! (Plus, we have all those new titles to share! Maybe over Christmas break?)

  15. Love how you wrote this a letter to your classes –did you share it with them? It is so hard to find a balance. As a mom, I know I wanted to spend time with my teenagers over break. They have so much homework all the time that I wanted hikes, games, puzzles and cooking together. We probably did not read as much as we should have – but I miss spending carefree time with them now that they are older. I will need to think more about helping them find time to also have some carefree reading.
    Thanks for pushing my thinking.

    • What is best for the whole kid (and family) matters. It’s a good thing to take our preaching to heart. Wondering about how to create a conversation with families about the need to read over the break while acknowledging and valuing family needs. Hmmm….

  16. Isn’t it hard not to take it personally when kids don’t love reading as much as we do? It can be challenging though, to make time each day for reading. If it’s hard for us experienced readers, imagine how difficult it must be for kids!

  17. I so appreciate your willingness to truly look at what truly IS. That is such a strength of your teaching and connection with your kids. I found myself reading this thinking about Donalyn’s books… and how we might bring more of that wild reading to students across our classrooms.

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