Over Thanksgiving I walked into my parents' bedroom and jumped for joy when I saw the new stack of paperback books forming a leaning tower of Pisa under my Dad's nightstand. I immediately rummaged through it to find books I hadn't read, ones that I'd be interested in reading, or ones that might just keep me occupied when I'm procrastinating from my grad school work. As I rummaged I realized how common this act was for me growing up. Despite the fact I had trouble reading and spelling in school, I was an avid reader at home and read fairly quickly. Growing up in a small town with one tiny bookstore and one small library, being a fast reader didn't help me much. With twin babies at home we didn't get to the library as frequently as I would have liked so when we did we stacked up on books. For a very long time I kept my original library card with my six-year-old signature on it. You had to be able to write your name to get a library card, and so I was filled with pride when I printed those letters on the white plastic for the first time. My license to read.
Even so, I frequently rummaged through my family's books finding ones I could read because I had nothing new to read. I re-read books I loved, and then re-read them again. I was never above finishing a book only to turn to page 1 and start over.
The only real rules I remember getting in trouble for growing up were:
1) No reading at the dinner table.
2) No reading Nancy Drew after 6pm.
3) No reading under the covers with a flashlight.
I'd read while walking and then stop in awkward places... the stairs happened most frequently. Perhaps because when I got to the bottom or top of the stairs I had to fill a parental request like "clean up your room" or "set the table". As long as I was in-transit between floors I could finish my chapter... or book.
My first year teaching I walked through the rooms of my house suddenly realizing how lucky I was to grow up in a 'book house'. Reading was so important to us that we have books in every single room. Some rooms have toppling stacks of books, others have messy bookshelves. Some have books in nice, clean, linear order, while others display books on the coffee table as though they are the centerpiece of the room. My parents are avid readers so reading for pleasure was modeled for me every day. There are even framed pictures in our house of my mother, her sister, and her grandfather sharing a book. There is a similar one of me and my own grandmother so entranced in reading Eliose that we don't notice the camera snapped our picture. Reading was so important to my house we took pictures of it and framed them. As a first year teacher I realized what an incredible message that sent to me as a child. You take pictures of a child's first steps, first bike ride, birthday parties, and holidays. Yet alongside those framed moments were framed pictures of us reading.
I went out and bought cheap picture frames, decorated them, and placed pictures of children reading in the shelves of our classroom library. Every year I start by having those nice orderly bookshelves (the one day they stay that way) covered with pictures of last year's class reading books. Welcome to my room, where you too will learn to dive into the world of reading. As soon as I can I snap pictures of my new kiddos enjoying books and replace the pictures so they can look at themselves experiencing such a momentous occasion.
I struggled with reading in school and was usually in the slow reading group. I even needed a tutor (who is now my principal) to help me with my reading and my God-awful spelling. I wonder where I would be in life if I hadn't grown up with such a powerful message displayed to me everyday in my house. I am sure I wouldn't have had the perseverance and the desire to read despite the unpleasantness it created for me in school. I try to remember this as I open books for children in reading workshop, invite them in, and wish them Happy Reading. Beyond any good teaching I myself can give them is their desire to dive into the world of books itself. Creating that desire may be more important than the skillful reading strategies we so diligently teach. So, how do we create that love and passion?