Reading Family

I was born a member of Nerdy Book Club. My parents imparted the joy of reading on me at an early age. As elementary school teachers, both of my parents freely shared their love of children’s literature. I have vivid memories of bedtime stories. My mom read to me from Little House in the Big Woods and Charlottes Web, and she shared her own stories of growing up on a farm with little money but lots love. When my mom introduced me to Ramona the Pest, I felt an immediate connection to the quirky, misunderstood little girl. It was like Beverly Cleary was describing my life. My dad read aloud Stuart Little, The Hobbit, and stories by James Herriot. He nailed the voices of each character perfectly. When it was time to turn off the light, I begged him to read just one more chapter.

My parents and I were frequent patrons of our local library. I grew up in rural Maine, and our public library was only open on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. I know exactly how Lil Spicer and Doug Swieteck felt in Okay for Now as they waited for the library to open each Saturday. We also frequented a used bookstore in our town, The Paperback Exchange. The owner was a lovely woman who accepted books in exchange for store credit to purchase more books. I spent hours searching through the shelves of used paperbacks looking for treasures. I would cheer if I found a book by Judy Blume or Madeline LʼEngle.

sure it was no surprise to my family that I chose a career as a school librarian.

After a dozen years as a classroom teacher, I followed my dream. Yes, I know it’s cliché, but it’s true. Today you’ll find me surrounded by thousands of children’s books and groups of eager readers. In addition to teaching children how to be savvy researchers and ethical consumers of information, I get to recommend books to children and teachers all day long. What I’ve learned over the years is that readers do not exist in isolation; we are part of reading families in classrooms, in our schools and in our communities. The small, reading family that I was part of while growing up has become an extended reading family of thousands.

I work in the same town where I live, so I have the privilege of getting to know my students and their families outside of school. Kids and parents naturally associate me with the library. They make book connections with me everywhere I go, and I love it! During bus duty at the end of the day, a 4th grade boy stopped to tell me that he wrote a poem based on Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, a book we had read during library class. A girl stopped me in the hallway to update me on her progress with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. She gave me a hug and told me she couldn’t wait to read more. Did I tell you that I love my job?

When I attend school events, I find that parents often ask me for book suggestions or talk with me about their children’s reading habits. At a PTO family night last year, I pulled up a chair and joined a group of moms deep in conversation. I quickly realized they were discussing children’s books, specifically books from the Mock Newbery reading list. Many parents were reading the selections with their children, and a couple of parents told me they waited for their kids to go to sleep at night so they could read ahead. One title in particular, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, had an emotional impact on both kids and adults. By the time the Mock Newbery Book Club members voted for their favorite books, Out of My Mind had been read by the superintendent of schools, the principal, the physical education teacher, the technology integrator, many classroom teachers, and dozens of kids and parents. It won the Mock Newbery Award at my school last year, which was no surprise.

My favorite book connections with my extended reading family have occurred at the baseball field. One Saturday, I was sitting on the bleachers watching my son’s little league game. A boy in left field shouted my name and waved. In between innings, the boy came running over to ask his mom if they could stop at the public library on the way home to pick up The Red Pyramid. I had booktalked the title to his class that week, and he really wanted to read it over the weekend. Seeing me in the bleachers had triggered a reading connection that had temporarily interrupted his focus on the game.

On a sunny June afternoon, I attended another little league game. As my son and I arrived at the field, a game had just ended. One of my students came running over in his baseball uniform. I figured he would tell me about hitting a double or about his success on the mound. Instead, he shared that he was really enjoying Chasing Lincoln’s Killer.

I am fortunate to have such a rewarding job that impacts children and their families. My parents helped me become the reader I am today, and now I have the opportunity to share my passion for reading with my community. Each time I put a book in a child’s hand, it helps shape who that child will become. So, if you see me pumping gas, standing in line at the grocery store, or sitting in the bleachers, come over and say hi and tell me about what you’re reading. After all, we’re one big reading family!

Cathy Potter is a school librarian in Falmouth, Maine. She coordinates a Mock Newbery book club for 4th and 5th grade readers at her school
(http://fesmocknewbery.blogspot.com/) and serves on the Chickadee Award committee in Maine. Cathy co-authors the Nonfiction Detectives blog along with her good friend, Louise. http://nonfictiondetectives.blogspot.com/
Look for Cathy on Twitter @cppotter .