For my birthday last May, my teenage son, Connor, gave me the most marvelous gift ever: My Ideal Bookshelf by Thessaly La Force & Jane Mount. This book is a book voyeur’s dream-come-true. Essentially the authors asked 100 plus people to curate their ideal bookshelf – no restrictions. Then they were invited to talk about their reading lives and to explain some of the books they had chosen.
When I finished the book, I had this crazy notion. I teach high school English and I have worked pretty hard over the last few years to create a text-rich environment in my room. I want my students to read. A lot. I have hundreds of books in my classroom and I am happy to say that my little library is well-used. My students know that I love to read and I love to talk about books and I love to recommend books and argue about them. I have some avid readers in my classes and I wondered what they would think about creating their own ideal bookshelves. Heck, I wanted to create one!
The notion of trying to choose ten favourite books is ridiculous for any bibliophile, right? I stood in front of my bookshelves at home and pulled out 17 books without any trouble. Then I started the process of negotiation. Then I gave up. It’s hard. (In the end I decided on a YA shelf and eventually I’ll do another less specific shelf, but the thing is I’ll never be happy with my choices; I’ll always feel like I’ve left something important out.)
Here is my YA Ideal Bookshelf:
When I suggested to my grade ten students that they were going to create their own ideal bookshelves, they were, I have to say, enthusiastic. They began the work of making lists and I was gratified to see that they had as much trouble choosing ten titles as I did. Once their lists were chosen, I gave them the bookshelf template which is provided in the back of My Ideal Bookshelf and also at their blog . The results were quite delightful.
Louise wrote: “In the fourth grade I was stuck in a Geronimo Stilton phase and I had a cousin who was bound and determined to see me break out of the 100-page cycle. She began sending me “adult” books. The first was The Giver by Lois Lowry. My mother read it first and then advised me to put it away for a few years until I could better handle it. I read it anyway, mainly out of sheer curiosity. And although it kept me up at night thinking about it, maybe that’s what I liked about it. I’ve read it every year since, and it always feels like I’m reading it for the first time.”
Danielle wrote: “The reason I like books so much is because I like to experience other lives; lives that would be impossible for me to even know someone living them let alone live them myself. Books open whole other worlds for me and reading them and experiencing them is like being reborn.”
Dylan wrote: “I don’t just read these books, I make my own stories with them and when I was not doing that I’d be dreaming of the worlds of those realms and have myself take a place among the ranks of heroes. Reading definitely changed my life. It gave me refuge from the hardships of life and it’s probably the best hobby ever.”
Erica wrote: “My personal favourite book on my shelf is Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I read this book in two days and immediately began to read its sequels. I’ve read the series twice now and I loved it even more the second time. This series had a great influence on me. While reading the third book, I had a strong desire to follow the elves’ path and become vegetarian. One of the main reasons I love this series so much is because of the characters: Eragon’s honour; Shaphira’s wisdom; Roran’s bravery, and Arya’s strength. There is nothing negative I could say about Eragon; I couldn’t recommend it enough.”
Briann wrote: “I was a born reader. I even read before I was born. Well, I guess my mother read to me technically, and only when she wanted me to stop thrusting my feet against her stomach. These books are very different from one another, but they all gave me the same pleasure of living a different life through the unique characters. They all show how life can be wonderful and horrible, even if it’s fiction. I could never aspire to write anything as amazing as these authors did, but reading their stories is a reward on its own.”
Alara wrote: “Even though there were many characters I liked, I never identified with any of them. They are their own person; they’re like real people to me. I would be happy for them, get jealous of them, and cry for them and get sad that I couldn’t help them. I love fictional worlds better than this one, I think. I have more than 750 books in my room (I paid my sister $20 to count them) and I wouldn’t get rid of any.”
Noah wrote: “I always had great interest in the noble Count Dracula. He was my favourite character for his strength, smarts, fits of rage and great passion. Everything about him was over-the-top, from his ability to shape-shift to his hypnotic and telepathic abilities. He was so cool to me. Every power he had was every power I wanted for my own as a kid.”
Andrew wrote: “My fondest memory of Calvin and Hobbes was in grade five during silent reading I lost it laughing and got kicked out of class. That’s a really stupid and funny moment I won’t ever forget.”
Erin wrote: Books that make me cry are the most memorable because it’s a rare occasion when a novel is powerful enough to make me cry. War and slavery books usually leave me blubbering like a baby. The endings of The Book Thief and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas left me wailing. The Lottery Rose gets me to cry my eyes out after chapter three. It’s not easy to make me cry, so these books are extremely important to me.
This is an activity I will continue to do with my students because it was AWESOME!