When I ask my 2-year-old grandson to choose a book to read, Tyrannosaurus Rex: Predator or Scavenger? is one of his favorites. It’s a level 5 reader, discovered in his father’s childhood bedroom. He presents it squealing, “Tee Wex!” which I have learned to interpret “T. Rex.” He has patience for about the first paragraph, and then we flip through the rest of the book, looking mostly at the pictures, where he observes, “Oh, fighting!” “Oh, eating!” The later pictures of fossilized, disembodied teeth upset him: he knows they are teeth, and in his world, teeth belong inside a mouth. Does he understand words like carnivore, predator, scavenger when we pause on a page long enough for me to pick out a sentence? No. But he is more familiar with those words now than he was when he first fell in love with this book. And every time we talk about it, he comes a little closer to the threshold of understanding. I’m reminded of the principle that matching a book to a reader sometimes has more to do with interest than with some “reading level” determined by a formula involving sentence and word length. How better for children to truly understand how reading can open worlds to them than by reading above their level on a topic that grips them?
This past week has been about welcoming grandchild #2 to the world and getting reacquainted with grandchild #1—and a long flight from Japan to the US in order to do that. So I didn’t do any official teaching to reflect on, but as an English teacher who loves reading, writing, and training young people to, I’m always reading and thinking about reading: reading on the airplane, reading while holding the baby (wish I’d had a Kindle when my babies were tiny—so much easier!), reading to the toddler (last Christmas it was books about vehicles; 9 months later it’s dinosaurs and sharks), combing my daughter’s classroom library for YA books I haven’t read, browsing bookstores, and picking up a professional development book (Cultivating Curiosity in the K-12 Classroom) that I’d ordered to my daughter’s house. While doing all that, I’ve been reflecting on what it takes to cultivate a culture of reading for the communities I care about—whether at home or at school. I think it comes down to 3 things: modeling reading, sharing reading, and encouraging reading.
I love to read, so modeling comes naturally to me. Any time I go any place where I anticipate waiting, I bring a book—to the dentist office, on a plane trip, sitting up with a baby. I remember walking into a bank lobby with my 3-year-old. She saw the benches and magazine racks and immediately picked out a volume, reclined on a bench, and began leafing through the magazine. Which was in Japanese. Not that she could even read English at that point. But she knew from observing the important people in her life what to do when there was a bench and reading material in the offing.
Sometimes people ask me, “How do you find all those books to read?” I talk to my friends who read, browse bookstore shelves, follow blogs of readers, research each year’s literary prize winners (Nobel, Pulitzer, Man-Booker, etc.), and keep a Pinterest board of recommendations and a Goodreads “to-read” shelf. See below for some ideas of where to start:
- Modern Mrs. Darcy 2018 Reading Challenge:12 different categories—great if you’re looking to expand your repertoire of genres.
- PBS The Great American Read: America’s 100 best-loved books. How many have you read? How many have you heard about and thought, "Oh, yeah, I should read that"?
- World Reading Challenge: 52 countries and a book for each one
- For the Love of Books: My Pinterest board where I collect interesting lists, including the 3 above and many, many more.
And that is probably as long a blog as anyone wants to read right now, so I'll save the next 2 points for another time. Probably my next one, since between the typhoon that knocked out power at my school (and stranded me in Tokyo on the way home from seeing my grandkids) early this week, and the one that's coming later this week, I may not have much classroom teaching to reflect on this week, either! But at least I have plenty of time to read!
P.S. For the original "Grandmothering a Reader," written on a visit a year earlier, see this link.