I started to love to read right around 5th or 6th grade. There were no big readers in my house, no bookshelves stuffed with titles. I remember my mother telling me once that she struggled to be able to read at all because she needed glasses that her family could not afford for a very long time. She never developed the habit, she said. Her brother did. I remember visits from Uncle Cliff. He was usually the first one out of bed and I would often find him at the kitchen table with morning coffee and a book. Fantasy and science fiction, I think. (Fantasy is my favorite genre.)
The first book I remember loving was Elizabeth’s George’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It was assigned reading for school and I was as surprised that the school assigned the book as I was that I enjoyed it so much. I don’t remember any other book from that time, but I have vivid memories of sitting on the swing in the backyard reading this one. It wasn’t until high school, when I had more freedom to wander into a school library, that I really developed my love of reading. I still read sitting on the back swing, and also on the front stoop, and in bed, and sitting in the back of Dad’s pickup truck parked in the driveway during the week, and at the park, and . . . well, you know.
My delayed start as a reader reminds me of the importance of giving kids access to books. I think this year I’m going to be more willing to lose books from the classroom library. Last year I set aside a box of “take home” books but there were so many great titles in the library that kids wanted to savor. I want kids to know they can borrow books, take the time to fall in love with them. So, we’ll set some time right at the beginning of the year for lessons on how to take care of books, how to find them and reshelve them so others can find them, how to put them in your backpack to minimize damage to the cover, how to budget time to finish a popular book to give someone else a chance with it. And I’ll brace myself to deal with torn covers and lost titles.
If I truly think kids should read self-selected titles, if I want to develop a reading culture where kids anticipate getting a copy of a popular book at least as much as they anticipate Pizza Friday, then I need give them access.
I want one of my students to have a memory of savoring a great book while swinging in their backyard.
Heads up to my DonorsChoose community, I may need to request a lot of new books next year.