Great Book, but What Does it Mean?

Less than a week ago, I did something that I have not done in years: I watched a televised music awards show.   Overall, I see why a lot of top 40’s hit music does not appeal to me, but I also cringe at the messages sent by many of these artists, many of whom consider themselves role models.   This is not about an inappropriate cut on a dress or an otherwise overly suggestive moment, but sometimes the wrong message can be as simple as…well, a message that is just stated wrongly.   One young man in particular accepted an award, and his heart was to share that he came from nothing, and for those kids watching him in similar circumstances, this is achievable.    The trouble was that the heart, the brain, and the tongue were not in sync, and this otherwise inspirational message came out as a rant of garbled confusion.   I remember saying to my husband, “This guy really had a positive message to share with young people.   It just makes you wish someone had placed just one or two more books in his hands.”

It is midsummer, so might I remind us as parents what is at stake here by pointing out the value of reading?  In digesting books–good books,

  • we are able to connect events of our past to our present and future, drawing wisdom from both similarities and differences
  • we learn more about self through learning about others–their struggles, their fears, their habits, and their values
  • we learn more about the world around us
  • we ask questions, and we seek meaningful answers

You can read more great articles about the value of reading here and here.

Susan Wise Bauer in her Well -Trained Mind states the predicament that I described real-time in my example above:  ‘Since self-expression is one of the greatest desires of adolescence, high-school students should have training in the skills of rhetoric so that they can say, clearly and convincingly, what’s on their minds.   Without these skills, the desire for self-expression is frustrated.’   (pg. 451)   While speaking at a conference, she also pointed out that there is a point where the traditional book report becomes useless as a teaching tool.    No one will ask an adult for a summary of a book’s contents; many will seek  an opinion.   And, as students age, there is no tool that sharpens the wit and the tongue like a good book that forces a child to think about those “deeper” questions.

BUT, let’s face it.  Sometimes reading can be confusing.


ginger reading shot 2


How do we engage our children after they have worked hard to read the book, but still come up mentally and emotionally empty as to what it means?   Here are some discussion starters that might help your older child make more of a book, gain confidence in his abilities, and increasingly put shape and form to his thoughts and phraseology.


  1. After reading the book, or preferably before, ask your student to write a list of questions that he would like answered.   If the book is entitled How to Read a Book, the first question might be, how do I read a book?
  2. Have a discussion about the book.   Begin with what is the book about, but then ask your student from whose point of view is he or she telling the story.   Have your student tell the story from multiple points of view and discuss how the story changes.
  3. If your student is writing an opinion, ask him to state why his opinion is accurate.   What data did he use?   How would you as a parent verify his opinion?
  4. After reading the book, what of it?   What questions does your student still have?   How might this story be applied to something that is happening in real life?
  5. How did the story end?   What might be an alternate ending, or how might a student draw a different conclusion?
  6. What is the main idea of the story?   As a student, do you agree or disagree with this main idea?
  7. What assumptions is your student making about a character or characters?   How might your thoughts change without your assumptions?
  8. Have your student give an example of a stated opinion in order to practice expressing thoughts clearly.


Also, realize that writing can have numerous audiences and purposes to give it more “life” and intrigue in a student’s eyes.   Book reviews to Amazon or other similar sites can be a great way to get your student thinking more critically and expressing himself in a way to influence others.   Isn’t that what we’re really talking about?     Also consider letters or e-mails to relatives about a book, and don’t devalue a spoken word poem, play, or video review of a book, any of which can be powerful tools for a student who gets frustrated with writing.

This type of engagement and activity takes time and patience, particularly if a student is accustomed to writing a simple summary.   You as the educator should not include every question as a part of every assignment; also, there are books which should just be enjoyed without the pressure of having to be “deep.”   Be intentional, but not overbearing.   Most of all, be ready to learn, just as your student will, through a rich diet of good books and nourishing conversation.   Enjoy one another and be blessed.





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