Book Love: For the Love of Reading


An essential element of elementary education is the importance of personal reading. Children in the early stages of their education are encouraged and often required to engage in reading books of their own choice. However, as time passes and 3rd graders turn into middle schoolers, and middle schoolers into high school students, the prominence of reading for pleasure is replaced with the required reading of books chosen by the Board of Education.

“If you go into any elementary school, there are so many books in the classrooms,” said freshman English teacher Lisa Penninga, “and I just think it’s sad that something happened at the high school level where there’s this sort of disconnect in which kids aren’t reading books.”

This compounds into a lack of reading that, according to Penninga, results in students “graduating without the ability to read 200 pages a week. They’re floundering in college because of that lack of reading ability.”

What Penninga emphasizes is the importance of building “reading stamina,” similar to practicing for a sport. This philosophy is derived from and practiced through a program called Book Love.

Book Love was pioneered by teacher celebrity Penny Kittle in New Hampshire, and was adopted by teachers at Forest Hills Northern a few years ago. Following meetings between district English teachers this summer, several FHC English teachers, including Jon Fisher, decided to participate in the program.

“The Book Love Program is intended to help kids reconnect with reading books,” Fisher said. “They get the opportunity to choose any book they are interested in reading, and they get between 10 and 15 minutes of class time every day to just kick back and read. This process will hopefully help students to increase their reading fluency, vocabulary, and more importantly, just relax for a little while every day.”

For the first time in a long while for many, students decide their own book, and this freedom hopefully encourages not only a passion for reading in students, but further reading outside of required classroom assignments as well. According to Fisher, students are constantly bombarded with “articles, non-fiction, and data that is used in their classes, but they rarely get the opportunity to read for pleasure.”

The early success of the program being implemented by several FHC teachers during the beginning of this school year led teachers to write a grant to the Forest Hills Educational Foundation requesting $1,000 per participating teacher to spend on books to fill their classrooms. The grant was awarded, and now several teachers, Penninga and Fisher included, have the liberty to shop for whichever books they or their students desire to fill bookshelves in their classrooms.

Using the awarded money, Penninga plans to diversify her current classroom set of literature with items such as war books, fantasy works, and even graphic novels. Fisher plans to focus primarily on young adult literature. The current ten minutes per day allocation coupled with the incoming flux of new novels will hopefully bring the Book Love program even greater success at FHC.

“You can travel the world in a book and see a whole new experience or time period or culture,” Penninga said. “I think that’s a huge benefit, to just give us this new perspective on life outside of our own little world.”

This essential perspective stands as one of many merits to the allocation of reading time for students. A guaranteed 50 minutes a week of reading for students spurs reading passion in even the most unlikely of students, according to Penninga. And the focus on reading for pleasure only opens more doors.

“I believe that most of the benefits that are associated with reading come when one is reading for pleasure rather than when they are being forced to read,” Fisher said. “The ability to choose the book, genre, and topic are essential for getting students to buy into the experience and actually reap the rewards of reading.”