Sam Asks: What Does It Mean to “become” a Reader?

rnfk“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’ He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have read that opening a thousand times and thought long about that second part, the no judgement part. Less frequently I think about the first part, the idea of someone older and wiser giving you a tidbit of information that is lasting and meaningful. I have had this experience a few times, mostly from my parents and other mentors.

A few weeks ago someone said something to me that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. He certainly didn’t mean to give me so much to consider; he was merely stating a fact. Yet what he said to me has left me to think even more deeply about a topic that I already think deeply about: reading.

The statement was made by a student of mine. I was getting ready for the day and so were my students. From above the usual morning chaos of unpacking backpacks and hurried conversations between friends I heard him say, “Oh good you’re here.” I didn’t know whether he was talking to me or not, but I took a shot and looked up. Sure enough I was being addressed, “I just wanted to tell you that I’m tied up in a book series now,” he said excitedly, “I’m a reader now.”

Call me over-emotional, but I almost dissolved into tears right there in homeroom. Because that’s the goal right? Get kids to identify as a reader? To give them a lifelong love of books?

I mean, yea, it is…and two years ago I would have thought he was “done.” He loves books. He’s a reader. Mission accomplished.

But just being a reader…that’s only the beginning. I was so overcome with emotion not because this student had come to the end of his journey to become a reader, but because for him this was the beginning. Saying out loud, “I’m a reader now,” is in many ways the first step to someone’s entire educational and intellectual life. To be a reader is to question, explore, challenge, seek, wonder, and change. To be a reader is to say yes to the world, to accept the failures and successes of others as your own, to take others, both real and imagined, in and make them part of your life.

From that first admission of “I’m a reader now,” comes a lifetime of putting yourself in another’s shoes and thinking more deeply about lives unlike your own. “I’m a reader now,” means that soon your bookshelves will fill up and overflow. “I’m a reader now,” means spending hours in the bookstore narrowing down your pile from 100 books to the one you can’t leave the store without.

When does it happen? How does it happen? Is there a certain type of experience you need to have, like crying when you try on the perfect wedding dress? How do you know that you are now a reader?

I have personally gone through phases in my life where my reading volume is heavier than other times. For example, during college my reading volume was low, except for the required text. I was definitely not a reader. I actually thought that my reading days might actually be over.

That is, until I met Maximum Ride. And Katniss Everdeen. And Thomas…just Thomas. These are the main characters of Maximum Ride by James Patterson, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and The Maze Runner by James Dashner. In my post grad year I read every single science fiction/dystopic thriller I could get my hands on. I couldn’t keep myself in books, which was bad because I was living with my parents and pursuing a degree in education full-time! But…I was definitely a reader. I read over 100 books that year, a feat I have not been able to match since starting my teaching career.

While I was in this high reading volume phase of my life I started thinking even more deeply about the themes and messages within the text. I began to see patterns across authors, series, and genres. I began to make theories about an author’s purpose and revise those theories as I collected evidence from the text to make my thinking more exact. It wasn’t until later that I realized these were all of the same skills I was training my students to utilize. This is what it means to be a reader, a thinker.

The best part? I was not the only person to make this discovery. All of the research on childhood literacy suggests that the more students read, the more they think about reading, and the more their little brains grow to understand, question, and comment on the world around them. We want students to identify themselves as readers so that they can read huge amounts of text and do huge amounts of thinking.

What he told me was “I’m a reader now.” What it really meant was, “I’m a reader now. I’m a thinker now. I’m going places.” I for one am happy to be along for that ride.

Sam Asks: Where Has Reading Taken You?

10006937_10100599367070623_6774052526976724838_nA few weekends ago my family and I took a little trip to Boston to visit some friends. It was a perfect fall weekend in one of my favorite cities. Just like every other twenty-something parent with a smart phone I took countless pictures of my baby girl so that all the folks back home could feel like there were with us. Plus…that face…I can’t even talk about it, she’s just…ahh!

Ok, back on track. When I was pregnant we started reading to Scarlett Liv every night, a tradition that we continue to this day. Every night my husband and I pick a book and take turns reading to our little bundle. I am proud to say that the kid has so many books that they can’t all fit in her room! We have a ton lining the walls in our basement and next to the bathtub and near the high chair. Scarlett is drawn to books. She loves to point to different pictures and words and we love to show her what they mean. It is a great joy to watch her fall in love with text and to engage with reading so early.

The best thing about being a reader is that you get to travel to so many places and experience so many wonderful or terrible things that you would not otherwise understand. Most of the time these travels are from the comfort of your own home, but on special occasions you find yourself in the setting of one your favorite stories. I got to experience a bit of that this weekend with my family.

Boston happens to be the setting of two books that have become a staple in our nighttime ritual. The first is Goodnight Boston by Adam Gamble. This formulaic bedtime story guides readers through a full tour of Boston’s best sights from morning to night, spring to winter. We love this book and all of the others in the Goodnight series. The second Boston book we love is the classic Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, a charming story of a mama and papa duck looking to start a family in the great city of Boston.

On our tour of Boston we were able to see two places from Scarlett’s reading life, and though she won’t be able to remember being at the Aquarium or Boston Public Gardens, I will. I was there the first time that a book came to life for my baby, and I have the picture to prove it!  I know this will happen to her again and again, and I can only hope she’s as nerdy as I am so that the experience will mean something to her!

The more that you read the more that you’ll know, the more that you learn the more places you’ll go! – Dr. Seuss

I’m sure Dr. Seuss meant this more so in the metaphoric sense, but I’m loving it today because of its literal meaning. Reading takes you places.

Read. Go.

Go. Read.

Where has reading taken you? Literal AND Metaphoric places welcome 🙂

Happy Reading!

Living With a Book Addict: Where Do You Read?

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Our Deck!

I know it’s been a while since my last post, so hello there! For those of you whom I have not acquainted myself with yet, I’m Todd, Kim’s husband and chronicler of life with someone (cough) who is addicted to reading. Yes, it has its ups and downs, and I aim to tell you all about them (with a healthy side of humor) here. Today my aim is a little more physical, rather than emotional or intellectual: where do you read?

It seems an innocuous enough question on its face. “Well that’s easy,” you might say, “I always read on the couch” or “I always read in bed.” Sure, this is boring and vanilla, and I’m sure it’s perfectly true. But, when you come to think of it, you probably read in many more places than just at home on the couch. Planes, trains, car trips, and white water rafting all see their fair share of reading (okay so perhaps not the last one.) Point being, if reading is a big a part of your life (as it very well is with Kim,) physical location and comfort take a back seat to reading. I’ve seen her read cramped into impossible angles in the car, or with her Nook inches from her face in the darkness of our bedroom. I’ve seen her fall fast asleep with a book tented open on her face, or rolled over a few times myself in bed on a book that’s made its way under the comforter. I’ve even seen her read on the toilet and in the tub!

However, this summer has seen the rise of a new reading location: the deck. You see, we’ve never really had “an outside” as I like to say. Our old apartment in CT did not have a porch or patio, but our new apartment does have a deck. Although it’s only about 5 feet by 10 feet or so, it’s our own slice of the great outdoors. We’ve decked it out (pun definitely intended) with chairs, a small table, and a grill! Now that we have this space, Kim has taken no time in setting up a nice reading spot in a deck chair, complete with a giant umbrella overhead to block out the sun (before the umbrella, there was much sunburn to be had.) I’ve come home from work to find her out on the deck, oblivious to the world driving by below, fully immersed in a book.

So, that brings me back to my original point: where do you read? Is it a special place that you’ve cordoned off in your home, or is it anywhere you happen to have a book? Is it a special part of your daily routine, or do you catch a quick chapter here and there on the train ride home? Whatever the case may be, we can all agree that taking some time out to connect with a good book is invaluable. It’s whether or not you can get over that kink in your neck afterwards that’s the problem. So, let us know below about your favorite reading spot!

What Are You Reading This February?

I need to first apologize for the extreme lack of blogging that’s been occurring this month! It’s been very busy here in the Denny-Ryder household. First, I’ve been job searching! I can happily say that after some stress, I’ve found a job which I think fits me perfectly – bookseller!

On top of job searching I’ve been planning a baby shower for my sister, who is due with the first baby in our family in April! I’m SO excited to become a first-time aunt and welcome my niece Charlotte into the world. As a book lover you can guess what I’ve begun collecting for her. There are books all over the house, just waiting to be read to her.

With that bit of housekeeping out-of-the-way, on to what I’m reading this month!

What Are You Reading 2-18

I’ve been on a bit of a Young Adult reading kick recently, so continuing in that vein I’m reading the second book in Eve Marie Mont’s Unbound series, A Touch of Scarlet. I literally finished the first book, A Breath of Eyre, yesterday, and found myself totally intrigued by a series in which the main character gets to live inside her favorite classic literature novels. In book one Emma gets to live in the pages of Jane Eyre. In book two she travels to The Scarlet Letter, and in book three (due out in March) she travels to the pages of The Phantom of the Opera.  It’s a really unique series and I’d recommend it just from what I’ve read so far.

Next on the list is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I know what you’re thinking – how have I not read this book yet!!?! Now that the trailer for the film has come out I realized that time was running out for me to read it, hence its addition to my list this month.

Finally, I’ve picked up The Accidental Feminist by M.G. Lord. As a big fan of old films and Elizabeth Taylor, I’m interested in learning how she raised the public’s collective consciousness about feminism through her films. From Butterfield 8 and Cleopatra, to Giant and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, she was a powerhouse performer that rocked roles about strong female leads.

Well folks, enough about me. What are you reading this month?

Sam Asks: What Do You Read To Your Children?

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source: fierceover50.wordpress.com

We had been dating for about a year when Steve asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I was an English and Drama double major after all, so I supposed it was a serious question to ask someone who you’d been seeing for such a long time. My parents have always encouraged me to “reach a little higher” to “collect as many stars as I could,” and I had made this clear to Steve in previous conversations. Therefore I think he was as surprised as anyone when I answered simply, “I want to be someone’s mom.”

It’s not that I don’t have ambitions for my life outside of raising children and running a home. I value my students and my job in the classroom. I love each story they polish and hand in. My heart swells when they write me little notes or letters that say I made a difference to them. I like doing things that will help improve my teaching and cast the widest most meaningful net in my instruction. However, I feel that this job spoke to me because above all I was meant to be a mom.

The past few months have been very emotional for me because early next year I will finally get my dream job, being a mom. Honestly, I already have it. The decisions I make now about diet and exercise don’t just impact me anymore, I have a whole other set of lungs to worry about. And worry I do. I’ve read TONS of books already from what to name the baby to what and when to feed the baby, it’s all out there! I’ll tell you all about my thoughts on “those books” some other time.

My husband and I have been doing a lot of thinking and talking about what’s in store for us in the next year. A lot of it we can’t even imagine, I think it’s one of those “you have to go through it” type of things. But some things we can prepare for, and one of those things we’ve already started to work on: this kid is going to be a reader.

Every night before bed we’ve been taking turns reading through some of our favorite childhood picture books. It has been quite a good way to learn even more about each other, and after 6 years together that’s something we never take for granted. I have loved hearing about Steve’s favorite stories growing up and have enjoyed sharing with him some of my memories of my father reading. I noticed tonight that I have even taken on some of my father’s Norwegian intonation in stories he read to me countless times.

We have both come to look forward to this nightly ritual and have been doing our best to keep it interesting. We do silly voices, act it out, dress up, the works! There has been much laughter in the Tisi house, which I think has brought us even closer.

Tonight was my turn to read to Steve, Pepper (our two-year old Yorkie), and the baby. I chose a classic story from my childhood: The Story of May by Mordicai Gerstein. This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a young spring month, May, who goes on a journey through the calendar year to visit her father December. He and her mother April simply couldn’t get along and so the family decided the months should be organized in their own places to keep the peace. What I love about this story is that it is so elegantly crafted. Gerstein personifies the months into larger than life characters that feel like old friends, or close family. His use of language is gorgeous and it’s the type of story that begs to be read aloud. I can remember falling asleep to the sound of my dad’s deep, slow as molasses rumble for August. I can remember feeling an inexplicable chill as he whispered a frail old voice for grandmother November. This book meant so much to me growing up and the fact that I get to share it now with my own family brings tears to my eyes (maybe it’s just the hormones…)

I think that reading is such a social event, we can see that each time we stop by this or any other blog. I notice that in the halls outside my classroom. I hope this baby is a social reader, as readers see the world in such a special way.

I smile thinking about how, even now, months before this baby is here it has already become a staple of my family’s evening routine. I am so excited for everything that is ahead for us. I can’t wait to grow a little library that will help inspire an active imagination and inspire this little peanut to do whatever it is they want to do! For now we will have to do the dreaming on the baby’s behalf; we will have to choose the stories.

Happiness is a house where the best question of the day is, “So what should we read tonight?”

With all that said, I ask, what books do you do read to your children? What stories impacted you as a youth?

Sam Asks: The Thing That Makes You Come Alive

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Me and Dad

On Friday, my father came into my classroom to tell my students about his Norwegian upbringing. He shared stories from his childhood, facts about his country, and even passed around a few wood carved trolls. Through it all, my students listened intently, asked wonderful questions, and absorbed what he was telling them. They were delighted by his accent and his larger than life presence.

But, no part of the presentation had them more captivated then when he read to them from a book of Norwegian folk tales. He held their attention as he acted out each story with enthusiastic facial expressions and spot on voice characterizations. They giggled and gasped, and at the end erupted into applause. The pure joy on their faces was priceless.

One student raised his hand and asked, “how did you get so good at reading like that?”

My father answered, “I have had a lot of practice, I read to my kids every night before they went to sleep.”

At this response, I could see that some of my students were surprised. As my father was packing to go, one little girl came up to me and wanted to know, “did your dad really read to you every night?”

“Yes he did,” I answered with a smile, “just like he did for you today.”

“Wow,” she breathed, “you are so lucky.”

As I looked at her awe-struck face, it was all I could do not to cry. Me? Lucky? Because my dad read to me?

Now, I am not so naive to think that all parents read to their children. I get enough parent letters about the 30 minutes of reading I assign each night to know that isn’t so. But, in my opinion, reading is a gift. There are so many people out there who have never been taught to read, who will never know the words of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.K. Rowling, or even Dr. Seuss.

Somewhere along the way reading has gotten a reputation of being “boring,” a “chore,” an “assignment.” I have always read because I wanted to, not because I had to.

In my life, some of my most important life lessons have come from books. I have become who I am because of what I have seen in books that delight or disturb me. My best memories are of reading, being read to, and sharing literature.

I will always remember the book that started it all for me. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I read it for the first time in the 5th grade. I read it for the 100th time just last week. Up until I read Ella I had been read to. Stories had been pre-selected for me by parents and teachers, and I have to say that I LOVED them all. But, Ella Enchanted was different. I went into the bookstore with my mom to look for a book on my summer reading list. As she paid for a short stack of books at the register, I continued to browse. My fingers gently outlined the bindings. I read title after title, smiling to myself at how much I looked forward to reading them all! At last, my finger landed on a brownish spine that it has landed on so many times since. I gently removed it from the shelf and opened to the first page. I was already finished with the first chapter by the time my mother found me.  It was there, with that book that I found my voice as a reader. I don’t know if I would have been able to do that if it weren’t for my parents making reading a part of the fabric of our lives.

As I think back to the little girl in my class, the opening lines of The Great Gatsby come to mind:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. 

Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.

Today I am reflecting on these words and have come to this conclusion:

My advantage in life has been having a father who read to me. If he hadn’t stayed up night after night reading “just one more page,” I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I wouldn’t be out there every day trying to spark in other young minds the same love that has been sparked in me.

I had a professor in college who said to us, “I am here because I want to help you find your passion, the thing that makes you come alive. Find that. Do that. Know success.” I will never forget those words. I repeat them to my students, help them find their passion, show them that mine is reading. Teaching makes me come alive, and I never would have known that if it hadn’t been for my first teacher, my father, who read to me every night before bed.

So I suppose, dear readers, what I’d like to know from you is:

The book that started it all.

Your advantage.

The thing you do that makes you come alive.