If you want to encourage reading among students age 10 and up, give them ready access to hardback books other than textbooks.
I was reminded of that this past week as I reread Mark Glickman’s Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books. Glickman introduces his story by telling how the UPS driver delivered to him a 1764 copy of the Hilkhot Alfasi, a title Glickman says “literally means ‘Jewish Laws of the Guy from Fez.’” Inside the front cover, he found a decal whose logo featured two concentric starts of David and the caption “Jewish Cultural Reconstruction.”
A Google search told Glickman that the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction was an organization that sought Jewish and other culturally important works stolen by the Nazis and attempted to return them to their rightful owners. Intrigued, Glickman began digging to find out how his book and millions of other books survived the war.
In the final chapter before the Afterword, Glickman says, “It’s an irony of modern technology: the more digitized our books become, the more drawn we are to the printed word.”
If his observation needed proof, Glickman provides it in the Afterword in which he tells of showing his copy of the Hilkhot Alfasi to descendants of European Jews attending a religious and educational summer camp in the Pacific Northwest. Glickman says touching the pages afforded those kids a way to connect with the generation of their forebears nearly wiped out during the Holocaust.
You probably can’t show your students rare books like the Hilkhot Alfasi, but any hardcover, nonfiction you can put within their grasp encourages reading, especially by male students. Paperback books may get passed around, but hardback books get handed down. Guys see hardcover books as serious, useful, important, valuable. If you allow students to borrow your hardcover books, they’ll interpret that as a sign of your respect for them and their abilities—even if they don’t know yet what their abilities are.
One other thing: Don’t go all librarian on this, with borrower cards and due dates. Lend to students as to any of your friends. Turning students into readers is a good thing, even if you lose a book or two in the process.
©2022 Linda Gorton Aragoni