Building Reading Life

I started this blog post on May 27 with full intent to write my feelings about a reread of Little House on the Prairie, but then I got sidetracked and away from my writing, and I didn’t finish it.

And a month went by. School ended almost a week ago, and I started this week with a renewed commitment to my writing life. I also started this week hoping to catch up with some professional book clubs I’m part of. They have all been fabulous, and I’d highly recommend all of them (NCTE Reads, Passionate Readers Book Club, and Book Love Summer Book Club). I digress (again). I began my reading for Passionate Readers Book Club with a Reading Identity Reflection. Then in the group, we were asked to talk about what we uncovered about our reading identities. For me, it was that I have always been a Reader, which is not really anything that has been uncovered. What was uncovered is that I might not have remained a Reader had it not been for adults along the way who fought for my right to read and introduced me to new books.

And so, the first novel I remember reading was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I was in first grade. It was the fall of 1977. It happened after a fight (a fight I only heard about when I was much, much older) between my mom and the school librarian.

The reason for the fight was that she was restricting my right to read. Mom was a revolutionary, I guess. I started reading long before I entered school. Books were always very sacred to me. Words. The library. Story Hour. The smell of books. The sound of my nana’s voice as she read. I revered all of those things.

I can’t remember when I actually learned to read. I just simply remember reading. It was like breathing to me. When the adults in my life realized I could read, I was inundated with books that I could read by myself. I’m sure this was in part a way to nurture my young reading life. I’m also sure it was in part to free up some of their time to do something other than read to me. But I was hooked.

When I started kindergarten, Mrs. Knoller, my teacher realized there were a few of us who could read, and she dug around in the store room, found some old Dick and Jane readers, and ran a reading group with us. So by the time I entered first grade, I was a really solid reader. I was far beyond “I Can Read” books and well into chapter books.

First grade should have been great. The problem was it wasn’t. The problem was two-fold. The first problem was my teacher who stuck by the first grade curriculum, teaching us phonics and refusing to let us read. According to her playbook, first graders don’t know how to read, so we didn’t. At the age of six, I remember thinking that “reading” time was stupid because I already knew how to do what I was doing (circling coordinating letter sounds in my workbook). Luckily, I had Mrs. Schuh for speech, and to improve my /s/ and /sh/ sounds, she let me read.

The other problem was the school librarian, who decided what shelves the first graders had access to. This meant we were only allowed in the tiny back room of the school library, which was already woefully tiny, that housed the “I Can Read” books and picture books. But I was far beyond those books. I remember choosing books simply because I liked the pictures not because I was interested in the story. Had I not had a reading life outside of school, I would have had a huge reading backslide that year.

Somewhere around October of first-grade, I was finally brought over to a small shelf of “chapter books” that I could choose from. I suspect Conan the Librarian thought the books would be too hard, and I’d scurry back to the K-1 section. Well, they weren’t. I devoured From the Mixed Up Files, moved on to Mr. Popper’s Penguins, read all the Jenny the Cat books, and by the time I got around to Carolyn Haywood (which simply because I received B is for Betsy as a gift from my aunt), I think Conan admitted defeat. By the new year, I had full access to the library. And it was in that full access to the library (believe me I think my class library is bigger than our school library was), I found the Little House books. It took me a good long time to read Little House in the Big Woods, primarily because I remember rereading sections of it before moving on to the next part, and Little House on the Prairie. I might have been reading On the Banks of Plum Creek when the school year ended. Or not. After all first grade was a long time ago.

Luckily, the next September, I entered Mrs. Thompson’s second grade classroom. She nurtured our reading lives and introduced me to Louis the Swan, Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy, and a host of other great books. Mrs. Thompson’s ability to create Readers out of all of us is probably a post for for another day.

Now, as I stated in the beginning of the post, this was supposed to be about my re-reading of Little House. And yes, I will be writing that post within the next week. I also have some feelings about the ALA’s decision to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Prize, and I have Prairie Fires sitting on my nightstand waiting to be read. So that post will be written when I finish Prairie Fires.

I’ve been away from the blog almost the whole school year. I’ve been busy nurturing Reading lives myself–with both my middle school students and my grad students. This summer starts the blog anew. I hope you’ll stick with my on my summer adventure.

Until next time,

See YA


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