I’ve read a lot during this holiday break—and am reminded that most of what I know about reading I’ve learned on Christmas vacations. And summer vacations. I’ve learned about reading in tree houses and on trains; on sandy beaches and wooded trails; in cabins during snowstorms and in tents under starry skies. I’ve learned reading through time.
Time has shaped my reading preferences. If the story has a dog or spider that dies in the end, there had better be some hope around. Otherwise I feel betrayed.
If a young girl discovers a desolate garden with a rusty key and pours her hope and heart into it, something better grow. If a nanny suddenly appears with a magic umbrella and then suddenly disappears because the wind changes, I need to know that she left that corner better than she found it.
Endings are not always happy in the books I love. Shakespeare’s King Lear pays such a terrible price for being blind to his youngest daughter’s sweet and simple truth. Jane Austen’s heroines can be blind to the simple truth, but recognize it in time to live happily after. Redemption is a relief in reading.
Unrequited love is okay as long as it is a steppingstone to an enduring relationship, or, at the very least, a sustaining and life giving memory. In the end, the clever and coquettish Scarlett O’Hara may not get the boy, but if she looks toward tomorrow in a way that leaves the reader looking forward, I’m good.
These are my preferences. I guide my third graders as they find their own. I teach them that reading is thinking. Every book they open is an invitation to an ongoing conversation and an invitation to slow down time,… to make the world a bigger place.
I teach about choice. Sometimes you choose a book, and sometimes, a book chooses you. We can make mistakes. We might pick the wrong book; we might pick the right book at the wrong time. When it comes to feasts you don’t have to finish everything you start… and reading is a feast.
Every day I give my students time to grow in the reading life: time to open books and fall in, time to scan the narrative landscape and pan for gold. If a reader’s progress slows, I move fast to assess, assist and get the reader back on his or her way.
I can’t give my students tents under starry skies or cabins in snowstorms. But I can give them a sunny book-filled corner classroom on the second floor of an old red brick school. I can give them time, support, and choice. And I can point the way toward a literary life.