Being part of the World Read Aloud Day has really made me reflect on my whole life of reading. I had never sat down and considered what a huge and positive influence, growing up in a house with books and alongside passionate readers had really done for me until I started thinking about what the opposite means for a small number of my students.
This isn’t a snapshot but a movie…
I think life was simpler in the 60’s and 70’s – by that I mean there were no devices or computers and in my house no television for many years. When friends came over after school and it was apparent that we didn’t have TV I would feel embarrassed, now I understand why my parents thought it unnecessary. When my family finally succumbed and bought a television, black and white children’s programmes were only available for an hour per day (Lassie) and aside from Doctor Who and Coronation Street on a Friday night, and on Sunday nights, Disneyland (with dinner on a tray on knees) we followed fantastic historical dramas from the BBC (Fall of Eagles, Edward the 7th). If we ever stayed at my Nana’s on a Saturday night she would let us watch Bonanza in the afternoon – a real treat. If you wanted entertainment you had to make it yourself – there wasn’t anything available to watch for hours on end. I remember playing outside for a big part of every day, riding my bike everywhere, playing without adult supervision and spending most of my free time reading.
If I ever found myself without a fiction book I would read anything else that was available, often my mother’s copy of the Australian or NZ Women’s Weekly (my Mum is Australian and so we had both the Australian and NZ versions each week which was regarded as pretty extravagant by our local newsagent). As I have mentioned in another post my parents bought a lot of books and firmly believed in the value of an excellent collection of non-fiction, so if I had finished all the fiction I had taken at my weekly Public Library visit I would have to read the atlas, the encyclopedia, or the Time-Life book sets on Ancient Civilisations or famous artists. I would often re-read books I had read many times before. Some of my favourites were the Princess Tina and Pink annuals I had been given at Christmas but I worked my way through classics like White Fang and mysteries by Wilkie Collins. My parents must have heard me say from time to time that I was bored, but I was never truly bored as long as I had something to read.
I remember going through phases of liking a particular genre or author and would then read everything avidly but strictly in order or publication. I still read that way today especially with series, and am probably quite anal about reading in order. I did work my way through the public library collection of fairy tales from many lands – this must have been a shelf from the 398.2s in the children’s department. When these were exhausted I graduated to a Young Adult card and earned extra privileges: I could now borrow from the childrens, YA or adult section. In my mid teens I devoured every book of short stories I could get my hands on from the adult section. I vividly remember reading a thick omnibus edition of Jewish Short Stories, I found it fascinating. I have zero recollection of the child/teen appropriate titles and authors from the YA section. I wonder if the collection was poor, or whether I just read so many titles that they have all blurred with time? I certainly feel envious looking at the YA and Teen books available to my daughter and our older students today. On the other hand I read a lot of classics without thinking it was strange or special. These days it takes a special kind of reader to embrace anything smacking of ‘classic’ and most teenagers I meet and suggest these to can’t believe I would expect them to consider something so ridiculously old fashioned.
I don’t remember my parents discussing my reading with me or even talking about the books I was selecting – I was pretty much left to my own devices to choose what I wanted to read, it was just assumed that I would read whenever there was an opportunity. My teachers never had to raise any issues around my reading or writing so my parents didn’t have any cause to intervene. My only regret is that my reading life would have been even richer if I had someone at home to share my enthusiasm with. Thank goodness for my wonderful high school English teachers, who were happy to discuss books for hours on end. How I loved those lessons where we pored over a set text and discussed it – this was the best part of school. The Librarians at the Public Library were reserved and aloof and didn’t talk with the young patrons. I can’t remember them recommending anything to me, but I was probably too scared to ask for help.
Now I feel I have come full circle – it is my turn to help children find books they will love. I find it easy to read and recommend the sorts of books that appeal to 9-12 year old boys and find myself wanting to help reluctant readers struggling well below their reading age. This week one of my successes was a boy who had taken a year to read one book – Harry Potter and the half blood prince. In our summer holidays he read the whole Ulysses Moore series and book one of the Infinity ring. Yesterday he ran up to me saying how much he had loved Gods and warriors by Michele Paver and was halfway through it and how glad he was that book two of the Infinity ring was waiting for him on the hold shelf because he was sure he would finish the Paver book that night. I found myself high-fiving him and punching the air as I felt genuinely excited along with him.
So why do I find that my biggest challenge in readers advisory work is relating to the earnest, serious girls who are reading well above their age/year level and meeting their needs consistently? – I can’t help but think that this is the girl reader I must have been at the same age? Why do I feel slightly more self conscious, awkward and sometimes ineffective with this group? Does part of me subconsciously feel that these girls, like me, will always find something to read and don’t need as much help as the others? I now read widely across a wide range of genres and year levels, but is my personal ‘reading gap’ reading better ‘quality’ or more literary fiction, finding great things and sharing more with that cohort of girls?
I think so.
My inner book geek needs re-nurturing.
I am prescribing myself a reading diet of more Hattie Big Sky and slightly less Percy Jackson.
Snapshot (picture) to come….