Yesterday I asked them to give me the top 5 expectations they have when they open a fiction book. Here they are, in the order they were given:
1. A beginning, a middle, and an end. (Wow! The basic structure of fiction on the first hand up!)
3. A problem.
I had to stop them there because they had said so much in their top three and I wanted to make sure they really heard themselves. I probed, "You expect to enjoy fiction, and yet you also expect problems? You ENJOY the PROBLEMS?" They laughed, delighted by the wrongness of that truth and assured me that they enjoy the problems. "Do you ALWAYS enjoy problems?" And they laughed again about that, and assured me that they do NOT always enjoy problems. "So why do you enjoy problems in books?" They couldn't really put it into words, so I gave them the simple truth that they already knew about fiction: We can enjoy the problems BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT OURS! An example from just the day before: When S. decided to read THE GIRL WITH 500 MIDDLE NAMES by Haddix, it was with the expressed mission of finding out how the character in the story handled the teasing. Not her problem.
5. Story. Not facts, story. Unless, as the boy who's reading CRACKER by Kahodata pointed out, you're reading historical fiction, and then you expect some facts mixed into your story.
When I sent them off to read, it seemed like the silence in the room was a bit deeper than usual, and I was unwilling to break it by having conferences. Maybe it was just my imagination, but the way they were holding their books as they read looked like they were holding mirrors up to their own hearts.