A few observations on developing an in-class reading library
This is a reflection piece without any teaching resources
One of the accomplishments that I am very proud of this year is that I now have students voluntarily borrowing books from my class library to read at home. They are not yet breaking down my door to get the books, but there are more and more kids who approach me after a class which featured SSR and shyly ask if they can bring their book home. ¡Enganchados!
The problem with our school library is that it appears to be designed to supplement the English department´s curriculum by offering translations of Shakespeare in Spanish. Really?! I am going to describe the types of books that have appealed to my students (both heritage speakers and non-heritage speakers).
Drug trafficking: Reading about narcos and gangs do not make our students become narcos and gang members; it makes them become readers . This theme is a big attraction for adolescent boys and has led several of my heritage speakers to switch from leveled (simplified) readers to literature written for Spanish speakers. I need more leveled readers on this theme so that I can hook (enganchar) more adolescents who prefer to read this type of book but are not Spanish-speakers. The one book that comes to mind, La vida y la muerte en MS-13, is already a hugely successful part of our Spanish 3 curriculum and thus is not available in my free reading library.
Sports: My disappointing and surprising observation is that historical pieces about specific stars of a previous era have not been too popular. My students can´t see themselves in someone who played pelota sixty years ago, but they do flock to books about contemporary athletes as well as fiction that takes place among athletes. This last piece is what I would like to provide more (hopefully the expiration date is considerably longer). I think a big part of the popularity behind La Llorona de Mazatlan is that the main character is a soccer player who is attending a summer soccer camp.
Biographies of their idols: While interest in these books may be fleeting (there will be a new crop of idols next year), these books are also among the most valued among my heritage speakers. It is like the car of a salesperson: a lot of mileage is put on it in a year and so they have to be replaced frequently. I don´t even try to guess who their idols are. I ask on an interest survey. I can imagine having a project with my upper level classes in which they write simplified biographies of their idols, which we will publish in class and then feature on my SSR wall.
Leveled readers designed for non-native learners of Spanish are great for heritage speakers. Really, I didn´t expect this, but many of my heritage readers love reading when it is an easy experience. The readings in their textbooks are all challenging. Even the higher interest readings I cull from newspapers present a challenge. SSR should be an easy, enjoyable experience.
Science fiction and fantasy: I have managed to seriously occupy the weekends of several of my heritage speaking girls with the Lazos de sangre series (enough that they were leaving sticky notes for me to buy the next book when they finished book 1). As for level readers, Stephen Krashen recently recommended two books by Christine Tiday on the moretprs listserve. Ms. Tiday is a Spanish teacher who writes accessible readers for learners . I am going to order a copy and I will post my own book review later. I am also looking forward to reading En busca del monstruo by Pablo Ortega Lopez and Pat Verano. I have also been encouraging my heritage speakers to write fan fiction following the plots, characters and writing styles of novels that they like; this might yield a few SSR stories to post in my biblioteca.
Provocative real life dramas featuring adolescents: this is my highest priority and exactly what I want more of because I see so many adolescent girls stealing away every moment they can to read books like Jay Asher´s Thirteen reasons why. We really need this in a Spanish leveled reader. La Llorona de Mazatlan also fits into this category.
Classic children´s books such as those written by Eric Carle (The Hungry Caterpillar) and David Shannon (of the No, David! series) have been fine for kindergarten day when I read aloud to students, but they have not been so popular in SSR. Given how expensive they are I have decided that it is better to buy an extra copy of a leveled reader.
I am glad I took the time to write this out. I see more clearly now that my own students writing will form the basis of expanding my class library.