Reading Ladders

After I read about reading ladders from Teri Lesesne, I immediately started considering how I could use this with my ninth and tenth graders this fall and in the future. A lot of ideas came to mind, and I drew on my experience from running a book club. I wanted to pick a larger genre that was widely popular and create an escalation of texts, like Lesesne describes. Ultimately, I decided to map out a reading ladder for Romance and Mystery (specifically murder mystery, being a crime junkie myself). These genres are broad enough that they can entice even the most reluctant readers while still lending themselves to important topics.

As I considered the progression of my Romance reading ladder, I thought closely about all-encompassing portrayals of romantic love, in its many forms, and the forces against it. I started with Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell for a couple reasons; it is well known and revered, and my students will most likely have heard of it if they have not already read it. Familiarity is a good place to start. I move up to Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith. This is a small step up, if a step up at all. It is a bit lighter than Eleanor and Park, and when you’ve just read heavy and heartbreaking, you need to be prescribed something hopeful and heartwarming. As the ladder continues upward, I start introducing Young Adult LGBTQ+ texts, or books that may transcend the heteronormative romances students get used to seeing on shelves. Lesesne talks about building empath among young readers, so why not start presenting them with stories that are often whispered instead of shouted proudly? Toward the top of my ladder are two more classic works from the larger Romance genre. “A Glimpse” by Walt Whitman is a poem that uses elevated language and imagery to convey the feelings of love at first ‘glimpse.’ This text will serve as a foothold to reaching Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, a Romance that addressed both external and internal forces against love in the Georgian Era.

Perhaps it is naive to think that Mystery is a genre almost anyone can enjoy, but I think it is especially true for young readers. I remember sneaking into R rated movies because I wanted to feel grown and independent enough to handle even the most restricted content. Alas, I am a (soon to be) high school teacher, not a high schooler myself. So, I created a ladder of Young Adult mysteries that are engaging without being too much for the (typical) young reader to handle. This is a genre I can binge, so I wanted to be sure to include a couple series for students to explore before advancing to the next step on the ladder. As these titles escalate up the ladder, they getting a bit more graphic in content (still in the YA genre!), but mostly they are observing different scenarios and circumstances around murderers and their victims. At the top of my ladder, again, are two examples of classics from the genre, allowing students to compare the ways time periods and social changes have influenced the dealings around crime.

I want to explore these ladders in more depth, but the major takeaway I gathered in making these is this: it will be critical for my students to map out there own reading ladders as well. Students are more likely to challenge themselves when they set personal goals. Even more importantly, though, it invites students to explore titles they wouldn’t normally consider and builds empathetic readers and people.

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