In the last two years of my undergraduate English program, I worked as a bookseller for a local indie bookstore most Athenians have heard of called Avid Bookshop. I’ve always loved reading, which is not the case for many people, so working at a bookstore was my dream. I was thrilled to clock in every day and spend my time alphabetizing shelves, writing book reviews, and talking to customers about what they were reading. Before I knew I wanted to become an English teacher, I thought I could do this forever. At our staff meetings, we broke down how to hand sell books to individual customers, books that would excite them to take home and make them want to come back for another recommendation.
As I read through Penny Kittle’s work, I realized that being a teacher was, in part, a job for the ultimate bookseller. Throughout secondary school, I found my own time to read independently, but it was never required by my teachers. While I read multiple books a semester, my classmates were barely reading the books assigned. I thought I was odd because something that bored so many students entertained me endlessly. I know now that it isn’t a flaw with the students, but rather the teachers. Building and increasing stamina in young readers only happens when we give them the space to choose books they are drawn to, books that are approachable.
As a bookseller, I had kids (or their parents) come in looking for the next book they wanted to read. I always started with some basic questions: “Well, what are some of your favorite books?” Most kids would quickly list of a number of titles, others would look at their shoes or glance at their parent, making it known they hadn’t really read anything they enjoyed. The reluctant readers, the ones who think reading is never for pleasure but solely necessity, are still reachable. It was important to me that I made sure I could find something for everyone. If a kid didn’t have an answer when I asked them what their favorite book was, I asked them what they liked to watch on TV so I could find something similar (or perhaps they have seen many movies that were adapted from books, in that case I would lead them to the original texts!) Like a good bookseller, teachers need to be able to hand sell books to their students based on stamina and interest, not one or the other.
When I left my job at the bookstore, I dearly missed engaging with customers (and particularly young people) about what they were reading. As I continue working to earn my masters in teaching, I am overwhelmed with excitement to curate my own mini bookshop within my classroom: one that students see themselves represented in, and feel excited to browse.