Monday, May 10, 2010

At the end of a series

They sigh. They droop. They linger by the bookshelves, looking melancholy. They may page through a book or two, but their attention quickly wanders.

They are readers who have finished a series, and they have proliferated in my classroom lately. I've had about seven students finish The Lightning Thief series, and another handful finish Margaret Peterson Haddix's Shadow Children series. Three others have finished the set of three Jessica Day George books. And now...I have a roomful of moody readers.

It's not that I don't have other books. But these students just don't seem to want them. They have entered a serious reading funk.

At first I was frustrated. These are capable readers. They're at the top of their game! The world is theirs! Why are they so mopey?

But, as I was looking over their reading folders and reading their self-assessments, I realized what was going on. I've had the experience of ending a series many times. I always do feel a sense of wistfulness and nostalgia, a sadness that no new books will come from this particular universe. The difference is that I know that there are other books right around the corner. Many of my fourth graders are experiencing this feeling for the first time.

So, how to deal with this? I can't have them sighing and looking out the window every day. But different readers have different coping strategies.

Regression: A few students have gone back to the old familiar standbys. Okay, it galls me a bit to see a student who has just finished the Harry Potter series and the Lightning Thief series to read the My Weird School books by Dan Gutman.

But it serves a purpose. After reading some books with very dark themes, it's natural for readers to want to go back to safe, funny reads. One student even read picture books exclusively for two weeks! I watched her carefully, but I held off on insisting that she make a different choice. I decided that she knew enough about her reading life to make good choices for herself. After two weeks, she settled into a new historical fiction book. It seemed as if she needed to go back to simpler reading for a time.

Nonfiction shift: Two students have immersed themselves in nonfiction. Reading several books on the same topics has brought these readers back to the real world, and helped them to regain enthusiasm for reading. Field guides are special favorites. Because they lend themselves so much to browsing, they are a good diversion for students who have spent weeks in close reading.

A new series: This is dangerous territory. It's so tempting to offer a reader who has finished one series a brand new one to start. But a reader can quickly be turned off by this approach. Often, the first book in a series is the clunkiest and the hardest to love. A reader who has just finished a really great series will often put aside a decent book just because it's heavy on the exposition. (After I finished The Lord of the Rings, it was months before I settled on another series!)

But I have had some success with this approach. Instead of suggesting just one book, I'll offer several different books. This helps to give the reader a sense of choice. The Edge Chronicles, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the Gordon Korman Kidnapped series have all been picked in this way.

Finishing a complex, deep series is a huge accomplishment for a fourth grader. A reader who has accomplished this milestone may have trouble settling back into the mundane world of other books. When I realized this, I learned that I could help my readers to figure out their next steps. (And, hopefully, cut back on the melancholy!)

No comments:

Post a Comment