At our school, we place a strong emphasis on student independent reading and choosing books that interest them.

Katie Hull, my extraordinarily talented colleague and co-author of a future book on teaching writers to English Language Learners, raised an interesting question to me last week related to this practice. We’re interested in getting responses from other teachers.

Reading books about gang life is always a favorite among our students — both those who at risk for gang involvement and those who just find the books engaging. The books we have in our classroom libraries are written by former gang members (for example, by Luis Rodriguez) and have an anti-gang message.

However, Katie’s concern (and I think it’s a legitimate one) is that the ones who are being tempted by gang life may ignore the positive messages of the book, and only focus on what they view as exciting. We all tend to hear just what we want to hear. Could we be inadvertently encouraging gang interest?

What are your thoughts? Does the engagement in reading trump those potential negative consequences? Are we exaggerating the potential dangers? Is having explicit conversations with at risk students who are reading the books and communicating our concerns enough action on our parts?