My Memory of The Giver

In a video released today, some of my reading role models and favorite authors discuss their memories of reading The Giver. 

If Walden Media had interviewed me, here is the memory I would have shared with them:

I was in the 6th grade. It was 2001, a few years after The Giver had won the Newbery. Not to brag, but I was a good reader at that age. My school was using Accelerated Reader for its primary reading program, and I was a few levels above other readers in my class. At that time, the higher levels in our school library had fewer books- the higher the levels, the fewer the book choices available. I remember being frustrated because I had a hard time finding any books for me. I was a level black, and Frankenstein was one of the options. I skimmed through the first few pages, and decided I wouldn’t touch that book with a ten foot pole. 

And so I wandered aimlessly around our school library. Mrs. Paulsen, the librarian, must have noticed my cluelessness, and she asked how she could help me. I told her I needed a book that was at my level. (Oh, how I wished I could have kept reading books below my level- there were so many more choices). 

After we conversed, she pointed me toward The Giver. I remember thinking, “Is this something I could really like?” It was a higher level book. She thought I could do it. And so since she believed in me, I believed in myself. 

At the same time, the 6th grade teacher had also kicked off a reading contest. Whoever won the most points from Accelerated Reader over the next three weeks would get prizes, and anyone in the class who could get over 10 points in the next 3 weeks would be treated to something special. These contests meant nothing to me- 10 points was a breeze. In previous contests, I had always come out on top. The Giver should get me started.

And so I began what would be a four week journey with The Giver. 

As we neared the end of week one, I was just getting started. This was a deep book. I didn’t read it slowly because I was having trouble with it. I read it slowly because that was the only way I could handle the depth of the content. I remember laying in my bed, only getting through one chapter. It took me so long to digest what I was reading. 

Week two came up and at the end, I was only a little over half ways finished with The Giver. I knew the end of the contest was the following week, but if I finished the book, it would be over with. This wasn’t just any ordinary book- this was one I was going to savor. I was determined not to finish it in a hurry because I didn’t want it to end- it was a different world- so different than anything I’d ever experienced before.

And a day before the end of the contest, I had a few chapters left. I could have sped through the remainder of the book and taken my A.R. test the next day, and collected my points. But I wasn’t ready. I was still digesting this book. I finished it over the weekend and took the test on Monday- the day after the contest was through. 

The results of the highest point earners were plastered in the classroom- and there I sat, at the bottom of the list. I hadn’t earned a single point during the last three weeks. All because I was savoring The Giver.

For the record, on that Monday, I scored a perfect score (not that it mattered) on my A.R. test and harvested all of the points the book was worth. But it was too late to count them in the contest.

And so, the following Friday, the class held a celebration of their victories and accumulation of points over the last three weeks. I was happy for them. The top point winners collected their prizes, and then anyone in the class who earned more than ten points got a popsicle. The teacher told me, and one other boy who hadn’t earned his 10 points, to put our heads down while everyone else enjoyed their treat.

At the time, I thought it was unfair that I was being “punished” for taking my time with a complicated book. It probably was. 

My classmates had been rewarded with popsicles and other sugary treats, but I had been rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing that I got to deeply enjoy The Giver. I hadn’t wasted time, and my reading rate of that book had nothing to do with how good I was at reading.

Sadly, an experience like that could have crushed some kids. It could have turned kids off to reading for the rest of their lives. It could have done the same to me, too, but it didn’t.

The Giver stuck with me so strongly, that I couldn’t let my experience with it end my career as a reader. Not earning a popsicle didn’t ruin my experience with The Giver. I don’t associate bad reading memories with the book.

I just remember that I found a book unlike any other I had ever read before. It challenged me. Made me think. Helped me experience life in a way I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. It sticks with me to this day. It also made me wonder what else is out there that can bring me on such a journey? It only made me want to read more.

I just happened to have the privilege of meeting Lois Lowry this past weekend. Hearing her tell the story behind The Giver and getting her signature in my copy was like coming full circle. 

I think I was a winner after all. 

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17 thoughts on “My Memory of The Giver

  1. This is a powerful story that I plan on sharing with anyone who claims that AR and incentive programs are good for readers. Thank you for telling this story, Dylan. I knew you were a winner already.
    I wish I was your sixth grade teacher, but I wasn’t teaching in 2001!

    1. I’ve read your comments about the evils of AR in the past, and I’ve felt “oh, to each their own,” but for some reason I’m feeling a bit more agitated than normal and feel the need to comment. I am an elementary school Media Specialist and I have seen some amazing things come from AR. If it is used as curriculum, I agree that it is detrimental. I personally use it as a motivation and goal-setting tool and that is where it has been amazing. There can be an element of competition to spur some kids along. There can be an element of reward for reaching a goal. I see the most amazing things with emergent readers who come to me incredibly proud with their progress in AR. Yes, the questions are not deep thinkers… but I don’t want it to be. I don’t need a computer program to do my job. I also look at AR as yet another tool for the tool box. Who knows what will work the best with the next student who comes along?

      1. Kevin, I’m glad that you’re able to find some positive benefits from AR, although I imagine your skills and talents have more influence on your students than the program. I have traveled to hundreds of school districts and find more evidence of the harm inflicted by such programs than benefits. Interviewing 900 adult readers, not one of them traced their love of reading back to AR. No research evidence on the positive effect of AR has ever been published in professional library or reading journals. The program costs money that could be used for library programs and books. I agree to each his own, but I’m not expressing my opinion from limited experience. The research from Betty Carter, Alfie Kohn, Stephen Krashen and many others prove that AR has negative consequences for readers over the long term and diverts needed funding from other literacy programs. You are welcome to disagree with me, of course. I don’t really understand ignoring the research in our field, though.

  2. Great story! So glad you took your time to really read. You are so right AR is not connecting readers to books. It is only about how many words you can scan. I love the Giver – what a great read!

  3. This is a wonderful story! Good for you to stick up for enjoyment of a book instead of AR points. I HATE A.R. for that exact reason. I LOVE letting students select (and helping them select) books they fall in love with.

  4. Wow. This is both heartening and sickening. Head down on the desk? Yikes. Reading is so powerful. Here’s hoping more kids find their way past attempted shaming and into the wonder of words as you did!

  5. I teach The Giver every year in my 8th grade class, and it’s always a perfect way to start the year. So much of that story resonates with my kids, helps develop our own class community, and carries us throughout the rest of our studies. Loved your post!

  6. I think you all are missing the point. It’s not about how bad AR is. If it hadn’t been for AR he would not have found the book! This is about connecting readers with quality works, and how books can change and shape young lives. (There may be a point to be made about not being so rigid… he did get the points, only missed by one day, and he was reading an advanced book. I think most teachers today would have rewarded him, but then again, if he had received a reward this story would not have been nearly as poignant, would it?)

  7. What the research says.

    Accelerated Reader (AR) consists of four components: (1) supplying books; (2) providing time to read; (3) quizes, and (4) prizes. We already know that (1) and (2) work. The question is whether adding (3) and (4) add anything. What need are studies comparing all four of these components to just (1) and (2). This crucial study has never been done. Nearly all AR studies compare AR to doing nothing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but when it does work, we don’t know if which of the components is responsible. My conclusion is that there is no research on AR effectivness. There is, however, a great deal of reseaerch showing that (1) and (2) work quite well.

    Alfie Kohn has reviewed the research on motivation, and concludes that if we give someone a reward to doing something that is already pleasant, we are sending the message that it is not pleasant, and nobody would do it without a bribe. These kinds of rewards can thus extinguish behaviors. We have no long-term studies on AR.

    Sources:

    Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s,
    praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Second Edition.
    Krashen, S. (2003). The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of
    accelerated reader. Journal of Children’s Literature, 29 (2), 9,16-30.
    Krashen, S. 2004. A comment on Accelerated Reader: The pot calls the kettle black.
    Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 47(6): 444-445.
    Krashen, S. (2005). Accelerated reader: Evidence still lacking. Knowledge Quest, 33(3), 48-49.
    Krashen, S. (2007). Accelerated reader: Once again, evidence still lacking. Knowledge Quest 36 September/October. Available at: http://www.ala.org/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/knowledgequest/kqwebarchives/v36/361/361krashen

    *Available at http://www.sdkrashen.com (see section on Free Voluntary Reading, scroll down)

    1. Thank you for sharing these resources. I may be part of an Accelerated Reader committee that reviews this product (I live in Wisconsin Rapids, world headquarters for Renaissance Learning). I plan on referencing these websites you mention if I am included in future discussions about AR.

      Some ideas I have already suggested to their company: Get rid of points; replace points with suggestions for related titles in regard to author, genre, or a title that has a slightly higher text complexity; connect that reader to other readers that have read the same book; have the capacity for students to send book-related messages to peers; rate books and provide reviews that is available within the infrastructure.

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