Amazing Kids

Amazing Kids

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Finding the Joy of Reading

I can remember watching my mom read. She read loads of magazines and always had a pile - a really big pile - next to her bed. And by her dresser. And on the end tables. I think she had some romantic novels, too, that she hid under the bed. To her five children, though, she often read A.A. Milne, and it wasn't unusual for her to suddenly burst into a rendition of "James, James, Morrison, Morrison, Wetherby George DuPree..." which was her favorite. Of course, she did this to honor and tickle my brother (whose name is James)! But that was about it.

My dad was always a reader, too. Since he was a pastor much of his reading consisted of (naturally) the Bible, along with countless commentaries and books on pastoring and counseling his congregation. He still enjoys reading and has branched out to many other genres. He often will send a book home with me at the end of one of our visits.

Since I can remember, though, I didn't really share that reading bent. I started taking piano lessons when I was four and practiced every day; sometimes of my own accord and sometimes under duress from my mother. By the time I was nine I was also taking violin and voice lessons. Music was what I did with my time. Reading for pleasure was not even on my radar, except for Archie comics (usually choosing only the ones that were heavy on Betty and Veronica) and Highlights for Children.

One of my grandmothers was the sweetest, kindest person I have ever known. She had taught in a one-room schoolhouse and while she enjoyed reading, when we were around she was busy being our sweet grandma. She baked. She gardened. She lived a simple life and loved on us lavishly.  My other grandmother was stoic and seemed to be above everyone else. She was studious and a very serious science teacher. Her gifts to us were usually books. I would groan inside from disappointment each time I would open one of these odious gifts and add it to the collection of unread books on my shelf.

In eighth grade we read Charles Dickens' Great Expectations in Mrs. Castle's English class and I loved it. In my high school's mythology class we read the Iliad. I clearly recall the vivid images of the various gods and monsters. My favorite teacher, Mrs. Dungy, had us read Hamlet and Othello in Shakespeare class. She loved Shakespeare and since our classroom was the "Shakespeare Room" and was the most elaborate classroom I have ever seen, architecturally built to look like something straight from medieval times, it made a huge impact on me. After all this exposure to great literature, however, I still never cracked a book outside of school. College years were spent reading text books and writing or practicing music, but reading was always for a purpose that never included fun.

Fast forward to August of 2011. Someone recommended The Book Whisperer (by Donalynn Miller) to me. I had become a reader of non-fiction and was dedicated to my students. I put the book on my kindle to take with me while I taught for three months overseas. As I read this book, I knew my classroom would dramatically change. I knew my approach to teaching reading would change. I didn't know my personal reading life would change as well. Upon returning from my Caribbean adventure, I ordered a hard copy of the book and re-read it several times. By Spring Break of 2012 I had set about finding good fiction to read that might be appropriate for the classroom I'd have in the fall and/or books I could share with my middle-school daughter. I started with the Hunger Games series. I was so engaged I would read well past when I should have, and my daughter loved them as well. We talked about them and then enjoyed the movie together. I was beginning to enjoy this!

Then I had a conversation with a family member who is an incredible teacher of reading. We were talking about reading fiction vs. non-fiction. His comment to me was, "Fiction teaches kids empathy, which non-fiction can never teach. Kids have to read fiction to help them in life." He was and is absolutely spot on.

 I began buying and reading books that would fit the students I would have in the fall. I found Abebooks was a source that fit my budget (sort of) and would excitedly open packages when they arrived. I got onto Goodreads and began stalking others who were reading the same type of books I was. I began following Nerdy Book Club to get more ideas, and Mr. Schu's blog for recommendations and trailers of great books. I even got on Twitter so I could follow incredibly talented and smart people who have had years of reading that I missed out on. And I'm thankful to NetGalley, which has allowed me to get a head start on some of the great books coming out for my young readers!

I think I feel like people who have been starving for years. When a banquet is finally provided, they eat and eat and eat and... They just can't get enough. That's me. 

Now my students are readers, too. And not just in the classroom; at home, too. They read and read and read. While the expectation for reading month is to read at home each day for thirty minutes, many of my kids are reading daily - at home - for well over an hour! Then they're asking me for more recommendations.

My life has truly turned on its heels. I have discovered amazing characters, new paradigms, and have been able to offer riches to my students in ways I never could before. I've been able to add richness to my kids' lives as well. I so appreciate those who have helped to light this fire in me. I've found that reading truly, well, it's fun!

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