Story is a powerful thing. As educators, we know this to be true. In fact, we endeavor to read as many good, true, and beautiful stories to our young students as possible during the grammar stage. Line after line, page after page, we invite them into the stories we hope will inform their understanding for years to come. Much of the time, we read to young children. And even once they take over the reins of reading themselves, the stories they read are generally short enough or so well-known that little effort is required for parents and teachers to engage with them in discussion. When a child laughs at Mr. Toad’s antics or describes Aslan with wide-eyed wonder, we make connections with them almost immediately. Our shared stories become shared experiences, and often those experiences lead to open doors for discussions that form character, shape thought, and enlarge perspective for all involved.
As parents and teachers, we delight in watching our students become readers in their own right. As they gain independence, it’s only natural that they begin to choose their own literary pleasures, some taking them in at an astonishing rate. While many of these may be titles that are old and familiar to us, it’s difficult to keep up with the latest series captivating our middle-schoolers or teens—but it’s no less important.
Sharing stories with teenage students creates opportunities for bonding, meaningful discussion, and insight. I was reminded of this as my own two oldest children—both daughters—read and re-read some of their favorite books over the holiday break. Instead of slammed doors and arguments (which I daresay is often characteristic of relationships with and between teens), laughter and exclamation could be heard from their rooms as they took turns sharing favorite lines from beloved books. Sometimes I would find them lying on the floor of one of their bedrooms, sketching favorite characters or pasting favorite quotes into an art journal. Other times they could be found writing their own stories or creating characters together in response.
On one occasion during our extended holiday break, I came across a song written about a popular book series my daughters had read. While I wasn’t a member of the books’ target audience, I had decided to read them last year after much pleading from my girls. We had already enjoyed numerous evenings of bedtime conversation about the books and their characters, and now we had a song to listen to as well. The song was “brilliant” in their opinion—and pretty ingenious in mine. We chatted together about how each verse of the song carefully highlighted the significant parts of each book in the series (reading for the main idea, anyone?) and how the artists used expressions and props to emphasize important aspects of the story. Of course, this launched us back again into conversations about characters and story elements and why the books are just so good.
Listening on repeat to a quirky song about a juvenile book series reminded me of the gift to be gained when we read what our teenage students are reading. Yes, it takes extra time from us as parents and teachers. Yes, our “to read” lists are getting longer and longer. Yes, we sometimes simply don’t like what our teenagers are reading. Yet there is so much to be gained when we lay those rebuttals aside and engage what our students love. In so doing, we might just find an opportunity to create a bond—and shape a life.