Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My reading journey (part 2)

Day 27 of 31 at Two Writing Teachers!
Yesterday, I shared my childhood reading journey with you.  Afte reading it, Elsie called me a "reading machine.  Today I'd like to share the more recent part: high school through now.  Sadly, I wasn't exactly a reading machine during most of those years.  When I read Kelly Gallagher's Readicide, I knew just what he was talking about.

High school didn't leave me much time for reading, outside the required classics for Honors English that I wearily dragged myself through.  (There were a few I loved, but there were also more than a few that made me forget the magic of reading.)  While I mostly had wonderful teachers, I still experienced two of the causes that Gallagher cites: over-teaching and under-teaching books.  The classics we were assigned for summer reading were difficult (and old!) enough that they needed a teacher's guidance, or at least some thoughtful discussion... not a multiple choice test. (I can't even identify them in Jeopardy questions, for heaven's sake!)  As for over-teaching, well, we all know what that is.  (Thankfully, I didn't experience it to the highest degree, but there were still some slight instances of it.)

Some of the brightest glimpses of light in my reading life during high school were:
  • Walden (Shhh, don't tell my husband that I've been in love with Thoreau ever since!)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (SO glad this wasn't summer reading: I never would have enjoyed it without my teacher to explain all the murky historical allusions!)
  • Shakespeare plays (Yes, I really do love them!)
  • other good books that I liked, but might have loved were it not for under- or over-teaching...
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Thank goodness J.K. Rowling reminded me what it was like to sneak out my flashlight and read far into the night because I just couldn't stop!)
  • getting to write a senior thesis about a topic of my choice (contemporary American Indian identity in House Made of Dawn and related short texts)

Unfortunately, reading was still a chore in college.  Who wants to read for fun when you can barely slog through the hundreds of pages of assigned reading?  During breaks and summer, I threw myself into reading favorite children's books in Spanish.  I also re-read A Tale of Two Cities about once a summer, but I didn't read much that was new to me.

However, I did fall in love with Julia Alvarez after reading In the Time of the Butterflies, and I read her books until there were no more.  I actually felt that old melancholy I used to feel when I finished a series or author!

During my first few years of teaching, I was actually one of those teachers who didn't really read, at least during the school year.  (That's right!  You can gasp now!)  I'd occasionally read some books in Spanish, but mostly just on breaks and over the summer.  I played with the idea of trying Hunger Games since so many kids were reading it, but I wasn't sure if I would like it...

Then one summer, I stumbled across Inés del Alma Mía and brought it to the beach.  I fell into that old, deep reading zone where I'm so immersed in the story that I'm completely unaware of my surroundings.    How could I have lost this?  I resolved to never lose that delight again.  (This was also right at the time when I had started teaching ELLs in summer school and reading blogs that pushed my thinking...)

That spring, I was mesmerized by Donalyn Miller at the Dublin Literacy conference.  After her keynote, I bought The Book Whisperer and devoured it the next day.  I knew she was right.  (And this year, when I read Book Love, I knew Penny Kittle was right as well!)  Teachers need to be readers.  Schools need to be creating readers, not killing them.  No kid should have to suffer through mind-numbing worksheets on a book they've already read, like I did in 7th grade.  No kid should be dragged through an endless parade of "classics" just because they're famous, while hiding or losing or never even finding their true reader selves.  All kids should have the chance to read books that will draw them in, mesmerize them, and make them utterly lose (and find!) themselves.

I made a commitment to read all the time, not just on breaks: for myself and for my students. I joined Goodreads, and now I'll never run out of books again!  Who knew there were so many great YA and MG books written since I was a kid?!

A few months later, I finally got the opportunity to teach ELLs.  Now reading is more than a part of my life; it's a part of my job too.  I read because I love books, but I also read to help my students love books.  The more books I read, the more chances I have to find the book that might hook that one reluctant reader.  The more books I read, the more opportunities I have to hand a book to a student and say "I got this for you.  I think you'll love it", while meaning "I know you.  I care about you."  I don't think there's a bigger gift I could possibly give to my students than turning them into readers.


  1. I so agreee with you. That is my primary goal at the start of the year - to have kids love books. We read any chance we can.
    I don't do as much reading personally as I'd like but agree with you on several of the books listed.

  2. What a journey of reading you've had! High points and low points on a road paved with books. You are an inspiration to your kids. It breaks my heart when teachers tell me they don't like to read. Did you ever read the Hunger Games?
    BTW: that recipe doesn't taste like cranberry, but it gets a BBQ-ish flavor, my husband doesn't like cranberry either, but he likes that roast. Go figure. :-)

    1. Oh yeah! I read the whole trilogy this winter and couldn't put them down! Couldn't believe I had waited so long!

      Maybe I will try a roast that way! Thanks!

  3. This is a wonderful description of a literary journey. You are so hones in your ups and downs. I struggle to read some of current popular YA books as I don't like science fiction or fantasy. I have to confess that I haven't even read Hunger Games. Am I a bad teacher?

    1. Jaana, you are a wonderful teacher! You care about your students, and you want them to become readers and writers. You help them develop their English skills in a supportive environment while valuing their home cultures. Your students are lucky to have you!
      If you are interested, the Nerdy Book Club has had several posts this year about tackling your "book gaps". Everyone has book gaps -- I'm trying to read some graphic novels! You might want to make yourself a Book Gap Challenge with those genres, but there are plenty of historical fiction, realistic fiction, and other genres that also have fantastic new YA books you will love sharing with your students! Focus on those, and then step outside your comfort zone just every once in a while!

    2. Jennifer, you are a gem! I will be checking out your recommendations!
      P.S. On my original comment I intended to say that you are so honest. Sorry for the spellings:)

  4. And here yet another way you can share your reading life with your students -- this post would be perfect! I love that you have organized your thoughts about your reading life as a kid and young adult - my memory just won't allow me to do it! Your last paragraph says it all: I know you and I care about you. (Goosebumps!) That's what we want for each of our students! Read on!!

  5. I love this Jennifer & am so glad you're on Goodreads with me, but of course that means the TBR list gets longer & longer! Like my post about writing yesterday, I think everyone needs to read, and then read some more-teachers & students. My favorite line: "The more books I read, the more opportunities I have to hand a book to a student and say "I got this for you. I think you'll love it", while meaning "I know you. I care about you." Exactly! Some of my very favorite reads last year was listening to the Chaos Trilogy by Patrick Ness, and the first two of Veronica Roth's trilogy, Divergent and Insurgent-all so good, if you like The Hunger Games. Terrific post to hear about your reading. You seemed to share what many have experienced as far as the Readicide goes. Thanks!

  6. I get all fan girl about Donalyn and Penny. I've had to up my reading game hanging around with the Nerdies. I'm probably one of the worst read of the bunch...but I do love to read.

    Thanks again for a thoughtful piece!

  7. You make so many good points here. Like you, I struggled with a reading life in high school and college. I think I continue to struggle because I am constantly trying to balance my time. There is a different feeling when you fall "into that old, deep reading zone where I'm so immersed in the story that I'm completely unaware of my surroundings."

    I find that reading blogs and spending time on Twitter have both increased the amount of time spent reading. There are so many people who recommend really great books that I never go to the library to "find a book" (read as aimlessly wander through shelves), instead I go to the library to pick up a book someone has recommended. There are also so many opportunities to talk with others about the books I am reading. I enjoy the conversation.

    Thanks for the reminder of the importance of our reading in recommending books to students and being a part of their reading community. I love when you said, "I don't think there's a bigger gift I could possibly give to my students than turning them into readers."

    Thanks for sharing your reading journey,


Comments make me happy and I'd love to hear from YOU! :-)