Monday, January 6, 2014

The Gift of Reading

As frequently happens when I’m reading Facebook posts, I clicked on a link and traveled off in a whole new direction. A teacher friend posted a link to Terry Heick’s article “Why Students Hate Reading–And Often Arent Very Good At It” on Heick points out that in our fast-paced Instagram world, students are not encouraged to connect at a deeper level with the people and situations they are reading about. I heartily agree. By emphasizing reading as a decoding process, by breaking it into its parts of main idea and details, students are not able to stop and reflect on how the lives in the story connect to their lives.

His article caused me to reflect on how I came to love reading. How was I, a middle-class white girl raised in a stable two-parent home, able to empathize with Huck Finn's being abused by his drunken father or with Helen Keller's struggle to communicate despite being blind and deaf?  These were not my experiences, yet as I read these stories, I was able to imagine myself in their shoes. Clearly these were well-written stories, but there's more to it.

My love of reading has a lot to do with the people who loved me enough to read to me. Night after night either my mother or father would snuggle up next to me and read from one of my favorite books. There were books of poetry as well as stories. I requested some poems, like Rachel Field's "General Store," so often that I began to recite them on my own. Then there was
Betty MacDonald's Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm which I inscribed with my name and this succinct review, "This is a very funny book." How could it not be considering it had characters named Fetlock Harroway, Freda Workbasket , and Crystal Mallett, not to mention a cow named Arbutus and a horse named Trotsky (Hmm, a Cold War message here?).

These people who loved me more than anyone else on earth wanted to share reading with me, and by doing so, they showed me how I could connect with mere words on a page. Then when I was in fifth grade I had a wonderful teacher--Mrs. LeBel. She was exceptional for many reasons, but, not the least of them, was that she read to us. For years I've been trying to remember the name of the book about two orphan girls that she read to us a chapter at a time. Today, thanks to Google and Amazon, I have a copy of Nancy and Plum wending its way to me, and, ironically, I discovered it was also written by Betty MacDonald.

Had Mrs. LeBel presented MacDonald's words as tools, or had she asked us to strategize how to understand the story, I am sure that experience would not have stayed with me these 60 years. Instead, we stopped whatever we were doing, and she shared with us not only the story, but her time and her love of reading. What a gift!