Books on the Bus

“It was boring.”

“Your entire school day was boring?” I asked. I’d launched into a conversation with the seventh grader waiting next to me at the bus stop after his friends all got on a different bus and he was left standing alone, staring at the rain.

“Yeah I took a nap during meditation.” He had a meditation class today? He probably needs the sleep and that seems like a better time to catch up on some rest than in the middle of other classes. But still, not what I want to encourage. So I directed the conversation towards what he’s doing in social studies (prepping for the Geography Bee on Thursday) and what he has for homework.

“I have to finish the chapter and it’s like 40 pages long…”

“Makes sense,” I responded, “So what’s the book?”

“I don’t even know.”

I wasn’t going to let him off the hook that easily.

“So ok do you have it with you? Let’s see what it is.” Begrudgingly he swung his backpack around and pulled out a book by Julia Alvarez.

“She’s a famous author!” I exclaim.

“But it is still boring, Ms.” Fair point, kiddo.

“Well you have to give it a chance. Some books get more interesting and exciting as they go along.”

But he insisted that, no, this book was boring. The bus pulled up, but I still wasn’t going to let him get off that easy. We boarded the bus and piled into the back where the seats form a U. Facing him still, I pulled out my own book.

“If you read on the bus, you’d have some of your homework done before you get home.”

“Naw I’m good.” But apparently not, because his phone was broken. No Clash of Clans today.

“What are you reading?” he asked. So I passed him my book, The Next American Revolution, by Grace Lee Boggs. Marx and unions in Detroit are not typical topics for middle schoolers.

“It looks boring.”

“You’re just judging a book by its cover.”

But at this moment our conversation was interrupted by a woman sitting at the base of the U. She looked exhausted, one of those poor whites who wears sweatpants and sparkly eyeshadow well into their 30s.

“I used to not like reading either. But my mom used to take my phone and television away and make me read as punishment. But one day she made a mistake and she gave me a book I was interested in. And I don’t remember the name of it but it was a mystery. A teen mystery. And from there I got into Stephen King and thriller books and I read all the time. Because it takes me out of my world, you know? It gives me ideas of other places. Like maybe it is real.”

At this point she seemed to catch herself.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt your conversation,” she said, “but I couldn’t help it because I used to hate reading. And you’ve got to give it a chance.”

The seventh grader glanced across at me and I nodded along with what the woman was saying, all the while feeling slightly uncomfortable. She’s not the kind of person who I tend to talk to on the bus, tongue ring slurring her speech. But, especially in front of my student, I was hyper-aware of modeling respect and inclusion.

“Can I see what you’re reading?” She asked. So I handed her my book.

But I added, “You know based on what you said, you might be more interested in the book that is on the bookmark. My friend wrote a teen mystery book.” (For info about her book, click here.)

Thin Space. Even just that first little paragraph sounds cool! Remember that,” she said to the silent man next to her, who had been hidden behind his sunglasses the whole time. No response.

“Well this is our stop, come on baby,” she pulled on Mr. Sunglasses’ hand.

I watched them walk away as the bus pulled away from the curb. As I turned back to the 7th grader he was rustling in his backpack. Out came a book. As he leans forward to hand it to me he says, “This, I like to read.”

I turned it over and opened it up — a graphic novel and part of a series. “Great! And it looks like there are more like it in the series!”

He mumbled something about still not liking his school book as he put the book back in his bag.

“Is it because the books are in English? Do you know how to read in Spanish?” I enquired.

“No it is fine, I read both I just don’t like the book.” He explained that he’s been here in the United States for six years (so I wonder what his Spanish reading skills are really like) but that the school books really are just boring.

As he stood to get off at his stop, my head was spinning. Are there other graphic novels he’d enjoy? How do I get them into his hands? Why did he admit to liking reading at all? What made him feel comfortable sharing the book with me? And how can I work on not judging people by their covers?

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