Thursday, August 1, 2013

Raising Readers

Searching book lists, especially those for 8th and 9th grade, has caused to me reflect on my experience with reading.

I have always been a voracious reader.  I crave books the way kids crave sugar.  In high school I read great books.  Fun books.  Books like A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Don Quixote and The Odyssey.  I remember them because I connected with them.  They were perfect books for my adolescent maturity level.  I did not love Kafka’s The Metamorphis and I disliked Anna Karenina.   I read the Hobbit, but science fiction and fantasy is not my preferred genre and I struggled to finish it on time.   

I read The Communist Manifesto in college and I felt a bit, well, dumb.  I did not get it.  I had no life experiences to relate it to.  I had not worked long enough or hard enough to understand the philosophies behind it nor did I have the maturity to comprehend that Marx and Engles' writings are the antithesis of freedom as we know it.  

I was a business major, international business, and because I was so busy filling my core required credits and fell just 3 credits short of a minor in economics, I never took a course on literature in college.  This is shocking for me to realize now as an adult.  I never connected with a professor or other students over literature in the four years I was in college.

Jump forward to graduate school several years later.  I adored my middle school literature class.  I read every Katherine Patterson book. I detested The Giver.  I loved How The Garcia Girls lost their Accent (or perhaps it was When I Was Puerto Rican....) both by the same author.  Greg would come home from work to find me buried in a book or writing up lesson plans on the book I was reading.  My plan was to become a middle school language arts teacher but it was derailed when the State of Connecticut required upper grade level educators to have a undergrad degree in the subject they teach.  My choices were limited to: a high school business teacher or an elementary teacher.  There really was no choice and in fact, becoming an elementary educator was the right choice all along for me.

Anyway.......all this thinking and researching has led me to believe that plowing through a book list to just say you have read the book is pointless.  Reading for understanding and enjoyment is the goal.  I recently read Animal Farm.  I never would have had the same experience with this book if I read it at 13.  Same with Steinbeck’s The Pearl, which I read last year and 1984, which is my current read.  Could I as a child have understood the main character’s motivations?  Maybe on a surface level, but not in the same way I can as an adult and a parent.  

Heck, I just read To Kill a Mockingbird and Tuck Everlasting for the first time this year!  I read Wuthering Heights as an adult, I saw my first Shakespeare play (the first of many) as an adult, I visited the famous Strand Bookstore as an adult, I fell in love with audiobooks as an adult, and I attended my first author talk at a local bookstore as an adult. 

My children have done all of these and more.  And they have already read Tuck Everlasting and watched the movie adaptation. Lilah proclaimed it one of the best books she has ever read.   They will read To Kill A Mockingbird this year.

It is easy to look at book lists and look at what other kids are reading and feel a sense of urgency or inadequacy.  It is harder to trust that books come into you life at the right time for the right reason.  It is most important to me that my girls are reading, and reading books across genres.  I want them to love books.  I want them to hate books. My favorite book to hate on is Diary of A Wimpy Kid.  I abhor Greg.  I find him despicable. I love to go on and on and on about why I feel this way.  

Our family policy is that we all get to choose audiobooks.  I don’t make the girls read specific paper books because they choose well.  However, I do want them to have the benefit of my experiences and trust that I choose books for specific reasons.  Therefore, I do choose some of our audiobooks.  We just finished Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.  When it was done we all sat very still in the car and just let ourselves feel.  We remembered that in a recent episode of The Amazing Race the teams traveled to the Peace Park in Hiroshima, Japan.  We realized that every time we see a paper crane we will remember this book.  That gives me chills.  Level the book what you will.  Scholastic rates it a 5.2.  That means nothing to me.  What matters is this book became a part of us, just like Tuck Everlasting, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, The Witches, and many, many other books have before it.


Anonymous said...

First of all, as a librarian, I was ready to shake someone at the sight of those library shelves! What a mess!!! Wow, I thought we had some management issues, but the pages really need to get on it at your library!

I've always let my girls choose what they wanted to read because they pick well and they read across genres...they do read some fluff, but then I do as well...sometimes we just need to let our minds relax and enjoy the ride.

I just loved The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye when I was in high school. In college I took a lit class and just fell in love with Maya Angelou's writing...and you are right, those books came into my life at just the right time...

I have been compiling lists of books that I want to read with my girls. The Giver is on the list because I bought the Moving Beyond the Page for it. To Kill a Mockingbird is on the list because we have learned about that period of history and I want them to understand it better. But you have made me really think about books coming into your life when you are ready to read them, when they have the most impact and these books may just not have the most impact now on them.... have given me a lot to think about. I have always been so adamant that my girls pick their own books...but then I got into the idea of reading and discussing and dissecting books together this year...

Anonymous said...

Oh, I just looked at the photo again and realized it is a book store and not a library! Whew! Piles on the floor and books shoved in are fine in a book store, but not in a library. I can relax now! lol.

Diane said...

I totally agree with you about not paying attention to grade levels on books. Grace will be reading a wide variety this year, but they are all choices I have made for her because she is not a reader. I can't imagine not loving to read and always having a book going. Right now all the choices for myself seem to be non-fiction. I hate to admit that I have never read To Kill a Mockingbird or watched the movie. I really need to fix that this year.

Jessica said...

I think they can. You can only bring to a book what your experiences have been so far. If they can relate to The Giver, then they will connect with it. I read it as an adult and I just did not care for it. But that is not my preferred genre. I don't like the dystopian society settings, although I am enjoying 1984 now. You studied the civil rights era so To Kill A Mockingbird will connect with them. To me that makes sense.

What does not make sense is the panicky feeling I can sometimes get when I feel like we "should" read something. I have pushed this aside and realize that we should read what we connect with and occasionally throw something in there for debate and healthy discourse. Lilah and I loved Once Upon A Marigold. Loved it. Grace hated it. We had a great debate over this book. That conversation was more educational than putting down a random book on a book list and never having the intense conversation that brings meaning into our lives.

Does this make sense? I feel like it is a personal subject that we all approach differently and I am not sure how eloquently I expressed myself.

Jessica said...

I have never seen the movie. What got me to read the book was a conversation during one of our beach nights with a then-15 year old who simply could not imagine a world in which someone could not have read this book. I went to the library the next day and took it out!

Rosemarie said...

I really enjoyed reading Sadako and the Paper Cranes with Will. There are just so many good books out there that I think having a choice in what we read is so much better. William has just finished 3, 350 page books in a week because he loves the story and characters. That is all I need to know that he will be a forever reader.

Jessica said...

He reads like Lilah! What has he been absorbed in?

Karen said...

I so agree. Keilee doesn't love reading like I do. She says she 'wants to love it' but isn't quite there yet. I think she enjoys it but she wouldn't DIE without it. I would. :). We listen to so many different things on audiobook. We have listened to books that way since Keilee was 3!! She has listened to children's books, biographies, SOTW, adult books, young adult and everything in between. We NEVER do not have an audiobook. I love what you said about reading things at the right time. I so agree. Keilee listened to "To Kill a Mockingbird" 2 years ago and was Scout at the same time. That was just the coolest thing to me because she got to "almost" live the character in the book. I abhor reading lists. And we loved The Giver" ;). Lets chat once the crazy in my life is over.

Bridget said...

Oh, audiobooks...why did it take me so long to find you?! My boys and I love a good audiobook, but if I were being completely honest, what we really, REALLY love are books read aloud by Jim Dale. That man can READ! We are sort of spoiled because of him.

My older son (7th grade, still homeschooled while my younger son attends Catholic school) was not a reader. He had to go through therapy for both visual and auditory processing deficits when he was in 2nd grade. Because of the issues he had reading properly, following along and using his eyes correctly, reading was a huge struggle and a battle for us. I felt like a jerk when I finally discovered that we wasn't being lazy or obstinate but was actually having serious trouble. Oy. But the "damage" was done, or so I thought. He hated to read.

Fast forward a few years when I figured out a way to get him to read. I began to read aloud to him from my copy of whatever we were reading while he read along in his copy. He was using his eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to hold. Engaging more senses and having my voice help his eyes follow the words on the page got us through Shiloh, Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH, Tornado, and a few others. Then I started looking for good books at the library that also had cds - The Emerald Atlas, Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, The Calder Game - that he would listen to and read along with during the school day. We all listened to the Harry Potter series in the car, the boys reading along in their copies of each book (we got them at thrift stores! Woot!).

It took us a while, but the key to getting a reluctant reader to read was to find a way that worked for him and didn't make him feel like a failure, whether due to the length of the book or the reading level. I hate that his 5th grade teacher told him NOT to read certain books because they were too hard for him. (His one year in "real" school while his sister was at the hospital). Such bull. I tell him he can read ANYTHING. It may be difficult or take longer, but a good story is always worth the effort. I have always loved reading. I can't tell you what it does for my heart to see him pick up a book to read without any prompting from me. :)

[Sorry for rambling!!]

Anonymous said...

I just replied but I didn't get word verification or a message that my reply will be posted.

The American Library Association has a very clear position on children being able to select books they want to read. As librarians, we are trained to talk with a child and help them find books they are interested in. The ALA is against summer reading lists or selecting books solely based on reading levels, the thought is that if a child is to become a lifelong reader, they need to have freedom to select books they want to read and connect with.

Like you, I have made suggestions to my girls, but since they read across genres and make good selections, I allow them a lot of freedom. Also, like you, however, I get panicky that they should read books that may come up in conversation so they can participate and understand what someone is talking about. It is something to give a lot of thought to and I appreciate your perspective.

Jessica said...

Audiobooks create a completely different reading experience because you are sharing the experience with others. Unlike a book where you and I could be found by ourselves for hours if left alone....when you listen to an audiobook in the car or at home you are not alone and you are listening together. You experience the other persons emotional connectivity to that book and you learn from it because you may not be connecting in the same way, or perhaps you are and not it is more intense because you share it with someone else. We are without an audiobook right now. I have to get to the library.

What have you listened to lately that you recommend??

Jessica said...

Not rambling! I think it is important to share that audiobooks ARE reading. My youngest daughter is a voracious reader and audiobooks are more of a supplement. My oldest does not love to read and audiobooks have give her some of her most pleasurable reading experiences. I think that sometimes people feel that audiobooks are not "reading" since your eyes are not doing the work, but instead your ears are, unless like you, you combine the two for a total sensory experience.

Jim Dale is pretty amazing. We had turned off books because while the story is wonderful, the narrator is not.

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!

Jen Dunlap said...

Can I just say I can not imagine sitting in the car listening to an audio book in complete silence! Oh I long for those days! I think I still have a few years to go before my younger crew can do that. Heck even my older kids are always making noise. I love to read too, I always have. My kids however do not like to read. Yet! It's frustrating that my older kids won't sit around and get lost in a book like I did at their age. I haven't given up yet ;)

Jessica said...

My oldest won't either. There are too many other things for her to do with her time, like ride her bike, walk the dog, do gymnastics, play the piano..... I hope someday she enjoys reading but for now she reads for information, not for pleasure. That is why I love the audiobooks so much, it is where she gets to just sit back and enjoy the story. Maybe you can start off with short stories, 10 min or so. We have the app Tales 2 Go and there are many short stories, fables, myths and picture books on it. We also have used Story Nory. I just love Natasha's voice.

Tereza Crump aka MyTreasuredCreations said...

It is harder to trust that books come into you life at the right time for the right reason.... I am late getting into the conversation... but this statement is so true. :)

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