Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Raising readers

Day 30 of 31 at TWT!
"I don't like reading because in my country [UAE] baby don't like to read, and when they grow bigger they still don't like." Sadly, I'm not even surprised when I get to this part of A's reflection letter.

The first time one of my Middle Eastern students told me in a reading conference that he had never read a book before, I almost fell out of my chair. Never read a book?! How could someone get to high school having never read a book?! I knew reading was a less common pastime in some other countries than it is here, but...?! No wonder it was such a struggle to help these kids find "just right" books in English -- they'd never even done that in Arabic!

But after several years of getting that exact response nearly every time I conference with another new student from the Middle East, I've come to expect it. "In my country, I was weird because I read books," admitted J, the one Iraqi student who came to me already identifying as a reader. "I love being here because there are so many books, and other people read! I'm not weird for reading stories here."

Turning kids into readers is one of the absolute best parts of my job, but even many high schoolers who "hate" reading have chosen books before, read books before, and often even have fond memories of a time in their childhoods, long ago, when they did enjoy reading. Winning back those reluctant readers is a much different task than starting from absolute scratch with kids who have no concept of what's it's like to choose a book and no cultural frame of reference for the idea that reading is something that people do for fun. While I'm used to this by now, hearing students identify and articulate that cultural norm still jars me.

A.'s insightful reflection illustrates how crucial it is to grow readers from the moment they are born. I don't know if he would have noticed the cultural difference anyway, like J, or if all the pictures I show of my baby reveling in her books helped him realize and articulate it. Either way, it's such a powerful statement:
"I don't like reading because in my country baby don't like to read..."

Not in my country, thank goodness. And definitely not in my house!

Even the Easter Bunny knows...
... Little Sweetie is already a reader!
"Look, Mommy!"
Raising readers is important, magical work, whether they're ten months old or in tenth grade. So grateful that I get to share the joy of reading with one very special kid who wiggles with glee at the sight of a book... but just as thankful that I also get to spread it to so many others who have either lost that delight or never even knew it at all.


  1. I suspect that the actual pictures of you with the baby reading, or you and others reading "to" the baby is life changing & helpful for these students. One of my adopted nephews arrived here (at about six years old) from an orphanage in another country, having never seen a flush toilet. He was terrified of it for a long time. It's hard to imagine, but those students are so lucky to have you, Jennifer, and other student role models too! Happy reading!

  2. Don't we have the best job...supporting readers? Such cute photos of the youngest engaged in books!

  3. How can your students not catch the reading bug from you? You change lives when you pass along the joy of reading to your students. Joy in books is a given in your house. I just got a video from my daughter-in-law of Clara reading a book I gave her. What a treat!


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