Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Nurturing a Love of Reading

Yeah .. that's me1
I've been playing catchup today on reading the latest postings from my blog subscriptions and discovered a new discussion thread. Several days ago, Jennifer LaGarde, "Library Girl," wrote a compelling post which eloquently shares how she became a book lover and how that wasn't based on any reading instruction or incentive programs, but on librarians and teachers who nurtured her reading and gave her choice. She urged all of us to be those champions for students. (I know I'm way oversimplifying her moving story. Please, please read the original for yourself.) Gwyneth Jones, The Daring Librarian, and others commented on the post. Gwyneth wrote her own amazing post about her history as a passionate reader and challenged us all to do the same. If you haven't read that, please, please go do that now. Gwyneth's posts are always not only insightful and entertaining, but the graphics she creates to tell her stories are a second-to-none experience all on their own. Next, Tamara Cox, the Eliterate Librarian, shared her story, and urged us to read Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer, a book I also found truly transformative in its suggestions for how to build a culture of reading for students.

So, taking up Gwyneth's challenge, here's my story, with three important memories of what made me love reading:

I was blessed as a child because both of my parents read aloud to me from a very early age. I wish I could remember all those books. Several, though, are clearly cemented in my head: A.A. Milne's Now We Are Six, Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verse,  Bemelmans' Madeline books, and Barrie's Peter Pan. To this day, I can still recite parts of each of these - not because I ever tried to memorize them, but because I heard them so often that I couldn't help but remember them. I always loved books and wanted to be a reader myself because my parents brought books alive for me and made me want to read before I could myself.

I was also blessed from early elementary school through my young preteen years to have a children's librarian (I wish I could remember her name) at my local public library - just one block from our house, so I was able to go all by myself from a pretty early age - who was willing to spend endless time walking around with me during every visit suggesting books. Each time I went, I left with a huge stack of books. I usually discarded one or two of them, but read all the rest, and she made it clear that it was okay not to continue with books that didn't speak to me. One of my favorite discoveries during those visits was the Dr. Doolittle series. While, other than the Landmark biography series, I have always been much more of a fiction person than nonfiction reader, she also shared a book with me that lead to a lifelong hobby - Dolls to Make for Fun and Profit by Edith Flack Ackley. I was so taken with the book that my mother agreed to buy me my own copy, which I still own. After I made a number of dolls from the patterns in the book, the librarian even talked me into to lending them to the library to display in the entry hall exhibit case for a few weeks. I was so proud to have my creations on exhibit in the library! While I didn't think about becoming a librarian until years later, those days at my local public library definitely made me a lover of not just books but of libraries.

And, finally, I was blessed with a third grade teacher, Mrs. Schwartzman, who made a ritual of reading aloud to us. I couldn't wait each day to hear Mr. Popper's Penguins and several of the Mary Poppins books read with incredible expression. To this day, I love being read to. I guess that's why I'm an audiobook fan. I think we stop reading aloud to children way too early. Sadly, I don't get to read aloud to high school students, but I know when I was a middle school librarian that the students really enjoyed lunchtime read alouds.

As Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Tamara all shared, my love of reading never had anything to do with reading instruction or incentives. It did have a lot to do with being read aloud to, never ever being told that there was any book I shouldn't/couldn't read, and a lot of indulgence by my parents and librarians in helping me find the right books for me.

As I write, a lot more memories are coming back, and I could probably go on forever with one after another, but I'll share just one more: I was a true goody-two-shoes in school and almost never got in trouble. One day, though, I remember my teacher getting surprisingly angry with me that I had not heard or responded to some direction she gave me. I really hadn't heard her, because I was completely absorbed in the book I was reading. I was living in the world of the book, not the classroom. I also recall, over and over again, "surfacing" from a book and grieving for losing that world I had just inhabited. I even grieved at having to "give up" some really depressing or scary experiences of characters in those book worlds to return to my much more comfortable and safe real world. All those worlds I lived in while I was reading played a huge role enabling me to understand the world outside my own and develop empathy for people different from me.

My wish for all the other teachers, librarians, and parents out there is that you to do everything you can to help your students lose themselves in books. It can happen if you guide them to find books that speak to them. It was one of the greatest gifts of my youth and one every child deserves. Let's all do all we can to give our students that gift.

So ... what's your story?

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