Share the Gift of Story with All Your Students

The Gift of Story: Exploring the Affective Side of the Reading Life 
By John Schu
(Stenhouse Publishers, 2022 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Kathleen Palmieri

It has long been my belief that a book is the gift that keeps on giving. You read it, fall in love with the story, recommend it, lend it, and then treasure it as it sits upon your bookshelf waiting for the next visit.

So when I heard about John Schu’s The Gift of Story: Exploring the Affective Side of the Reading Life, I couldn’t wait to get a copy.

There is nothing better than holding a brand-new book, the sleek feel of the cover and the smell of freshly printed pages. As I opened Schu’s book and began to glance over the table of contents, it pulled at my heartstrings.

I could hear myself sharing books with my students using many of the same phrases I saw in the TOC – such as the chapter title “Book of Your Heart” and others that described a story as “healer, Inspiration, clarifier, and connector.”

A book that invites readers to linger

Professional books tend to invite the reader to browse the chapters and not read in any particular order, simply to find what is relatable or needed at that time. The Gift of Story is not one of those books.

Yes, you can certainly flip through and notice the wonderful books that are recommended, or find inspiration in reading #StoryIs contributions from several authors and educators. However, as soon as I read the foreword by Katherine Applegate, and the note from the author, I felt like I was invited into a streaming conversation that I didn’t want to end.

Schu describes his book as “a book of my heart,” imagining his reader as “sitting beside me as we take this journey together,” inviting his readers to be “enthusiastic literacy champions…waiting to recommend that special book that stays with them (students) for the rest of their lives.” (page xiv)

What a book can do for a reader

I love the first chapter, Book of Your Heart, and the many questions that we can pose about books that may unleash the power of what a book can do for a reader. Questions such as “Is there a book that helped you better understand yourself or a classmate?” or “Is there a book that calms you and helps you find your way back to joy?” (page 2).

The One and Only Ivan is a book that changed Schu’s life. He describes the impact this children’s book had on him as an adult and the question he asked himself: “What was it about this particular book that spoke to me?” This led to a realization that Ivan’s story helped him to understand parts of himself.

Within this chapter Schu demonstrates through experiences how “Stories have the power to strengthen and heal hearts.” (page 5) This first chapter not only sets the stage for an incredible journey into the power of stories, it also creates the desire to keep turning the pages.

Discovering your definition of story

Throughout this reading journey Schu helps the reader discover their definition of “story.” He reminds us that story is more than story elements such as characters, setting, and plot. He asks that we “expand our ideas of story as we consider other elements that may not be immediately evident – such as joy, happiness, compassion, laughter, connection, culture, and identity.” (page 6)

He goes on to ask us to apply a “flexible definition” of story to include both the academic and affective needs of our students. The affective elements are the large focus of this book and what truly will resonate with the reader. These elements include story as clarifier, healer, inspiration, compassion, and connector.

Bringing the heart into reading

Each of the affective elements of a story are explored in the chapters that follow. Titles and experiences are shared – from how we help students connect with books, to ways we can introduce new titles, to QR codes that help us dive deeper into others’ thoughts shared through the “#StoryIs” hashtag.

Schu offers not only many titles within each of the affective element chapters, but also wonderful QR codes such as “Tips for Coaching Booktalks” (page 40) and “Book Trailers” (page 41-43) to name a few. The “Mr. Schu Suggests” pages are wonderful resources not only providing titles but insight into each book.

The final chapter, “Story as Connector,” can only be described with one word – incredible. It is truly the chapter that “connects” all the others and offers poignant experiences, insights, and ways to bring stories from the heart into the classroom, as one of the subsections beautifully offers.

For example, both “International Dot Day” (page 110) and “Poem in Your Pocket Day” (page 115) provide QR codes, showing that there are so many ways to connect to a story in the classroom or within the community.

In the words of Schu: “Together, let’s share our hearts through story.” (page 131).

A gift that keeps on giving

John Schu’s The Gift of Story: Exploring the Affective Side of the Reading Life is truly a gift. Following chapter 6 is “The Story Continues” (page 129), which has been my inspiration for a deep dive into my summer reading. As I realized this treasure was coming to a close, I truly wanted to continue this conversation with Schu.

I began this review by sharing how a book can make you fall in love with the story, recommend it, lend it, and then treasure it as it sits upon your bookshelf waiting for the next visit. I will definitely recommend this book to my friends and colleagues, but I’ll have to buy them a copy rather than lend it.

This book is truly the gift that keeps on giving, and I will be reading it over and over again. My bookshelf will have to wait quite a while to have the honor of holding this gift.

Read another review of The Gift of Story here at MiddleWeb.

Kathleen Palmieri is a National Board Certified Teacher and NBCT Professional Learning facilitator. She is a fifth grade educator in upstate New York who reviews and writes regularly for MiddleWeb. With a passion for literacy and learning in the classroom, she participates in various writing workshops, curriculum writing endeavors, and math presentations. As a lifelong learner, she is an avid reader and researcher of educational practices and techniques. Collaborating with colleagues and globally on Twitter @Kathie042500 and expanding her education adventures at are ongoing practices.



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