I read my first book when I was 20. It was Wally Lamb’s, She’s Come Undone, and when I got to the last page I read it so slow as to avoid leaving this world and character that had become such a part of my life. It was 480 pages of pure magic. I was taken away every night into someone else’s life and managed to fall in love with people who only existed in text and who resided inside this soft covered paperback that lay in my hands.Sure, I looked at books over the years. I read words in books. I answered questions on sheets of paper my teachers would hand me in order to assess my comprehension. But to truly read a book, now that is something that happened to me much later in life.
I am an educator. I am a lot of things, but educator is the one part of me that is so engrained in everything I do. I have Masters degrees in education and it has been a big part of my life for years. When I started teaching, my love of reading, and helping my students achieve in that area, had become an obsession. All children can learn to read. Of course, there are varying degrees of this, but essentially all children can learn. But to think deeply about a book. To question motives of characters and read in between the lines, that’s a whole other ball game.
When I taught, I found that most parents and even teachers would assess these children by the book they were holding in their hand. “Wow, Lucy is reading Harry Potter! And she’s only 6!” I hate to burst your bubble, but Lucy is not reading Harry Potter. She is looking at the words, she is connecting the sentences, but she is not truly reading that book the way JK Rowling intended her to. And it’s not little Lucy’s fault, not by any stretch, she is simply not ready to dissect a book of that caliber at such a young age. This is where you come in. For years, teachers have given out the dreaded assignment of “Read for 20 minutes every night”. Kids hate this. Trust me, even the ones that do love to read, hate this. You are assigning a chore. Most kids will go home and when asked to do their reading, they’ll grab a book, open it, and stare at the clock for 20 minutes until they are allowed to close it. Reading should never be looked at like it’s a duty. It is a gift and we need to be a part of showing children this.
I first realized how integral my role in all of this was when I read a book aloud to my class. With every word read and every page turned my students stared at me with mouths gaped open. When I had closed the book to signify that we were done for the day, there would be a roar of groans and “please, just one more chapter?!!” This wasn’t just a few kids, this was all of my kids. And so it went like this for years, I would read to them, and they would yell at me not to stop reading. What was it about being read to that was so different? What was it that made kids that hated reading by themselves love stories and characters so much they actually raced to the carpet to hear the next chapter?
Reading is hard. For children, it is almost as hard as exercising. They learn words at a young age and slowly string them into sentences and by the third grade we are handing them chapter books and saying, “here you go, have fun!” What we have failed to do by that age is create and lay the foundation for good thinking. We haven’t taught them to read in between the lines because, frankly, they just started to read lines! Taking the chore of physically reading a book and just focusing on the comprehension will do more for a child and for you as well.
The world needs thinkers. They need people who question things around them; who look at problems and say “I can fix that, I can make that better”. Thinkers are more important than readers. Thinkers will become readers. Be a part of making this happen for a child. Whether you are a parent or an educator, take the time to read to a child. Read one chapter at a time and then have a conversation. Talk about the characters, talk about what they did and why they did it. Talk about the scene and setting, why did the author write a certain scene the way they did? Make your child think. This is what reading is all about.
My advice for all of you is take the book out of your child’s hand and put it in yours. Enter that magical world with them every night. Turn that 20 minute chore into 20 minutes that your child sits next to you and hangs on every word that comes out of your mouth. We have become so obsessed with our children become geniuses that we aren’t really aware that the measure of a genius is not the level of their reading, but the content of their conversation. And one day, they will read a book properly; even if it happens when they’re twenty. So try to relax and take pressure of yourself when you see little Lucy from across the street running over to tell you she just finished the last Harry Potter. We all know better now. Run along little Lucy, run along.
Mama’s Top Ten Read Alouds that Evoke the Best Conversations
1.) The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.
2.) Wonder by RJ Palacio
3.) The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
4.) The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
5.) The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm
6.) Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
7.) Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
8.) Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
9.) Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
10.) Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
**These are just the books I love personally. I have read these books and have had conversations with an 8 year old that have been deeper than many adult conversations I have been in. Feel free to choose your own or have the child choose. The point is to be a part of it.**