Books harbor an impassioned importance within the walls of FHC


With one step into English teacher Lisa Penninga’s classroom, one characteristic distinctly stands out: the plethora of knowledge stacked along her walls. Bordering two sides of her room, a myriad of books, ranging in genres from nonfiction to poetry, fill several shelves.

However, this wasn’t always the case, for when she began teaching her room was literarily barren; she had few novels, no bookshelves, and a low frequency of students reading for enjoyment.

Her accumulation of books lends itself to the reason that Penninga believes that they contain a wealth of information and that reading is valuable not just for students, but to all people.

“I just feel like now we incorporate more of a love for books and reading beyond class requirements,” Penninga said, “and I love it. It’s awesome. It’s great to see students reading books that I haven’t even read.”

Among several other advantages, Penninga believes a significant benefit of reading is being able to understand lives outside of our own, indicating that each story is its own “window” into another way of life.

“I think reading is really important to all society, not just for an individual,” Penninga said. “[It’s important] to all people in terms of creating a window into what other people are going through and what other cultures have to offer.”

To further influence her students to continue to read outside of the school curriculum, Penninga devotes part of her class to “Book Love,” which allows students to choose their own books as a way of independent reading.

History teacher Kyle Carhart is in agreement with Penninga that reading is valuable for students. However, he believes that there are added benefits when looking through a historical point of view.

“From a historical perspective,” Carhart said, “you get to learn what took place and what we can do to improve society and improve on what’s already taken place in the past. Rather than just looking at a battle or a war or a person’s life, taking that information further and getting [a] much broader scope and a different viewpoint of what actually took place [is important].”

Carhart says he tries to both end and start his days reading for his own enjoyment, as well as to gain a deeper understanding of information for his students.

Yet, despite a multitude of resources and effort from teachers, there are a handful of roadblocks prohibiting students from reading consistently.

Junior Amanda Lemmeyer admits that reading is a positive pastime for an individual, but she finds it to be boring at times. With an energetic personality, she prefers more active activities over sitting and reading a book.

“You can learn a lot from [reading], but I don’t enjoy it,” Amanda said. “I just like doing other stuff that’s more exciting. I don’t like sitting. I like [being more active]. Active things are more exciting.”

Another barrier students encounter is relatively nascent and has dramatically increased in the last few decades: technology. Technology’s easy accessibility and entertaining aspects often draw teenagers’ attention more effectively than a book.

According to Penninga, this has strained people’s relationships with literature, and she admits she’s been negatively affected by it as well.

“I think students have to fight to read now,” Penninga said. “There [are] so many distractions, and there’s so much homework. I think they really have to fight for that opportunity to read and really carve out that time just for reading time, which is challenging. I think technology and all distractions like that are definitely a barrier between reading and growth.”

As a way to increase students’ interest to read and to have a comfortable place to discuss books, Penninga created the Book Club three years ago. In this way, it has helped deter students away from the distractions and helped break down the barriers, as well.

Junior Lindsay Larson joined the first year it was created and now is one of the four leaders. As an avid reader and lover of books, she enjoys congregating with her peers who share the same passion as her.

“I love to read,” Lindsay said, “so I wanted to be around [people] who had the same passion for reading. I think Book Club gets kids out there and reading more than they would have originally and makes them find time for it. [I think this is important] because you have better problem solving when you read. It’s also just a good way to destress and relax a little bit because kids are always so busy.”

As an advisor and co-leader of the Book Club, Penninga has watched more people develop an interest in independent reading, and in her opinion, this is a positive outcome due to the many benefits that reading provides.

I think there’s more of a respect for reading now that students are realizing it’s pretty revolutionary what reading can do for us and for our society ”

— Lisa Penninga

“It’s really cool how much it’s grown,” Penninga said, “that it’s not just a few students, anymore. It’s thirty to forty kids that are talking about the books that we’re reading. I think there’s more of a respect for reading now that students are realizing it’s pretty revolutionary what reading can do for us and for our society and that we kind of have to take it back.”

Along with books acting as a window to the world, they are also capable of changing minds and altering viewpoints, something Penninga believes.

For this reason, their influence on peoples’ lives is “revolutionary,” and a life without reading is one without value.

“If you look at any dystopian society, the first thing to go [is] books,” Penninga said. “They don’t want people to read. They don’t want people to think. They just want you to do and follow along. I think through reading, it forces you to think in a new way, and it enhances your thought process and imagination into a world that you didn’t realize was there. So, in a way, it’s revolutionary because it can change your mind without even moving [you] from your seat.”