Developing Engaged Readers Begins with Trust

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I teach a twitchy little Bunny, wide-eyed and suspicious. She hid in her rabbit hole for most of the year until two weeks ago when the field turned forsythia and daffodil yellow. Cautiously, she emerged from her burrow, pausing to listen and sniff the air between each short hop sequence across the schoolyard and into Beatrix Potter Middle School. 

When Bunny arrived to English class, she hippy-hopped straight to her assigned desk where she sat frozen except for the occasional tremors that rippled down her backside. She never made direct eye contact with her classmates or me during that initial lesson.

Finally, it was independent reading time, but Bunny remained still with no book on her desk. She initially turned down my book suggestions, staring straight ahead, continuing to avoid eye contact. After many probing questions on my part, she eventually admitted that she didn’t like to read books, especially long books.

“I’m easily distracted by movement,” she explained in a quick, whisper-voice, her nose twitching. “If predators are near, I have to be ready to flee.”

“I get it,” I responded sympathetically. “Have you considered reading short stories?”

A few minutes later I placed a stack of short story anthologies on her desk. Ironically, she extended her paw to pull the horror-themed short story collection toward her and began to read Out to Get You, 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe. At the end of class she hurriedly placed the book in her knapsack and hopped out as quickly as she had entered.

The next day, Bunny’s hopping pace appeared more relaxed, and while she didn’t greet me at the door, she did make eye contact as she passed. When it was time for independent reading, I asked her how the scary stories landed, and she said she had enjoyed a few tales but was ready to move on to another book.

Hmm.

“Do you read graphic novels?”

“Yes,” she replied with a quick twitch.

Bunny followed me over to our graphic novel collection and we talked about books she had read and liked in elementary and middle school. I introduced her to a few new authors and titles based on her past favorites. 

She left day two with two graphic novels, Anaya’s Ghost and Be Prepared

Today, day three, Bunny greeted me with a hello as she hip-hopped over to her desk. Her ears and shoulder blades relaxed a little. At the start of our reading time, she  called me over to her desk to announce she had finished both graphic novels overnight! 

“Fantastic! Let’s get you more.”

She selected Brave, written by one of her favorite graphic novelists, and one of my recommendations, Heartstopper, a new graphic novel that no one in class had read.

Less than two hours later, that little Bunny hopped back into my room all animated, all bright-eyed, all wiggly-back, asking for the sequel to Heartstopper.  

“It ended on a cliff hanger and I really want to read the next book! It was so good!” she exclaimed with a twinkle in her eye.

“You finished Heartsopper before you even left school? That is amazing! And also suggests to me that it is a really good book other students may love.”

Sadly, I told her that I didn’t own the sequel, but that I would look into securing a copy. Bunny asked if she could hold on to the book because she wanted her best bunny friend to read it. 

“Of course! But will you do me a favor?” I asked as I placed a blank sticky note inside the front cover of Heartstopper.

“What?” she asked cautiously.

“Will you write a short review, recommending this book to other students?”

“Sure!” she agreed, slightly surprised by the request. 

And with that she returned the book to her knapsack and hopped out of my classroom, but not before giving a slight wave of her paw and an I’ll-see-you-tomorrow tilt of her head.

7 thoughts on “Developing Engaged Readers Begins with Trust

  1. I just love this story. As I was reading it, the wild bunny who graces my backyard even hopped by, giving me another visual to go with the head-only one that so fittingly begins your slice. I love all the bunny vocab and how through books, the bunny became more open and confident. Such a perfect description of students reentering the school building after being stuck at home due to covid. The slice also shows what a caring, determined teacher you are and so knowledgeable about books, too. You are a masterful storyteller!! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Wow. Your use of an extended metaphor woven with such pure book love is brilliant. I know the effect you can have on teen readers…I will be sending you some of my little bunnies soon!

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  3. I also love how you capture the tentative student as bunny. You write so sensitively about the transformation to trust, especially with your very physical descriptions. My favorite is the “frozen except for the occasional tremors that rippled down her backside.” You demonstrate deep understanding of both readers and bunnies 🙂

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  4. A Spring tale of transformation- I love how you nabbed this bunny with books. I appreciate the book titles you shared and am taking notes. So many wonderful teaching moves. Well done book/bunny whisperer!

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  5. You are truly a bunny-whisperer. This example provides so much evidence for the expansive progressive that comes from small steps, one hop at a time.

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