Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Making Readers

Dear Teachers,

Since I'm a former librarian, it probably won't come as a big surprise to any of you that I have identified as a reader pretty much my whole life. I can remember walking up to the toy store that was just a few blocks from my house, with birthday or babysitting money in my pocket, trying to decide between the horse book or the Nancy Drew book. Usually the Nancy Drew book won, because I loved that someone with MY NAME could be so intrepid and such a good sleuth. I voraciously read every episode I could get my hands on, numerous times; I was always on the edge of my seat wondering how that Nancy was going to get out of the scrape she found herself in.

And then one day, Mrs. Brubaker, my 5th grade teacher, gave us an assignment. We would have to give a book review to our classmates. "This is great!" I thought. "I'll be able to tell everyone how cool Nancy Drew is. Maybe someone else will want to read about her, too!" I don't remember which installment of the series I chose to present, but I do remember the shame I felt when the teacher I had loved and trusted decided to criticize my choice of book in front of my entire class. "That is not a real book," she chided. "It's just a formula. The same basic thing happens in every book." I was so embarrassed.  The conclusion I came to? Maybe I wasn't a real reader after all, if I hadn't even been reading a real book.

The next reading memory I have is of discovering To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in the 8th grade. There is a passage near the end of the book that I can remember to this day, because I must have read it about 10,000 times. I remember absolutely weeping for the beauty and sadness of the passage. To this day I can walk into a book store and practically turn right to the page that I loved so.
A boy trudged down the sidewalk dragging a fishing pole behind him. A man stood waiting with his hands on his hips. Summertime, and his children played in the front yard with their friend, enacting a strange little drama of their own invention. It was fall, and his children fought on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Dubose’s. . . . Fall, and his children trotted to and fro around the corner, the day’s woes and triumphs on their faces. They stopped at an oak tree, delighted, puzzled, apprehensive. Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate, silhouetted against a blazing house. Winter, and a man walked into the street, dropped his glasses, and shot a dog. Summer, and he watched his children’s heart break. Autumn again, and Boo’s children needed him. Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.
I don't know why that passage spoke to me the way it did, but I do know what a profound effect it had on my reading life. Forty years later, I still get a little choked up when I read it, but it's the memory of my 13-year-old reading self, I think, rather than the words themselves.

I've been thinking of my early reading memories because I've been working for a few months now on our district's Secondary Reading Advisory Committee, a group of lovely and committed Reading teachers who are looking at revamping our middle school Reading curriculum. It's been my privilege to work on this committee and to witness the care and thoughtfulness that these dedicated teachers bring to the work  of thinking through and creating a new reading program. The members of the committee have examined numerous research studies on what makes kids become readers; have read several books about what makes kids become readers; have discussed our observations about what makes kids become readers. The clear "winners" include student choice, time to read, and plenty of access to reading materials.

But the other winners, of course, will be the kids who reap the benefits of the hard work that these wonderful teachers have been doing over the past few months; the kids who will very likely become readers because of these teachers and many, many other teachers like them. Once again, I am reminded of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work in this profession. Because of this reading committee - maybe because of YOU - someone, somewhere will likely find his or her Secret of the Old Clock or To Kill a Mockingbird. And that someone, 40 years from now, will remember how you made them feel about that book, and hopefully will thank you.



1 comment:

  1. I, too, was a huge Nancy Drew fan. Maybe she, the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden led us to greater treasures. Perhaps they were the Twilight or Hunger Games of our generation. JN