Paying Forward the Love of Reading

Thinking of how to write a Nerdy Book Club post on the topic of “pay it forward” required some thought of what that meant. First I thought of how literacy impacted my life as a child. I had wonderful teachers, specifically my first grade teacher, Miss Tuck. I wrote once that she was my “Miss Stretchberry.” She encouraged me to do more, be more. But truly, while all of my teachers and librarians were wonderful people, none of them were asking me what I read outside of the classroom, what I was enjoying. The most I can say they did for my growth as a reader was to look the other way as I hid a book inside a desk or inside my textbook to squeeze more reading time in the day.
So while I don’t credit any specific teacher for my love of reading, I absolutely give that credit to my parents. First and foremost, they were reading role models. There are always stacks of books on either side of their bed. I’ve always assumed everyone reads for thirty minutes before bed. The one thing I could always purchase was a book. And a library card was required and visits were encouraged. (Especially as my mom was the president of the library board.)

My mom also had her own reading program with me, albeit unofficially. She wasn’t very impressed with the books I would read on my own, but never forbid me reading them. Instead every quarter she would ask me to read a book she had enjoyed growing up. We’d start them off together and I was allowed to abandon it at page 50 if I wasn’t enjoying them. Some great conversations developed as a result. I read Little Women, Secret Garden, Daddy-Long-Legs, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and more.

So, how to pay this love of reading that was instilled in me forward? Starting with my own children I repeat what my parents do. My side of my bed has a stack of book. Bookshelves in our house are filled. My boys know that a trip to the bookstore or the library will never be turned down. We discuss books daily. I recommend books to them, they recommend books to me. I’ve pulled Luke out of school to drive three hours to see his favorite author, Rick Riordan. I try and live my life as a role model to them in all ways, including as a reader.

In my classroom I am very aware of the fact that not all of my students love to read, have access to the books my boys do, or have people at home telling them how important reading its. This makes our environment at school, along with my presence in their life as a reading role model, all the more critical.

In our classroom book talks are given daily, sometimes several times a day.

I purchase books constantly, often with specific kids in mind. If I have a reluctant reader I try and find a book I think they might enjoy and then put it on their desk with a post-it on top that says the book made me think of them. And the kids talk to me about what they are reading – in their journals, on our blog, and via email.

The room is alive with words – in quotes that I have printed and hung around our room and on our “literacy graffiti wall.” This wall was something I had heard about on Twitter from Donalyn Miller and Kate Messner. I took an unused chalkboard and put colored chalk next to it. They may lift quotes from the books they are reading and record them on the wall. They may also draw a scene from a book and put it up. We have to erase it each week because it fills up and they can’t fit any more quotes in.

I connect the students to authors – via Skype and in person visits. The students are allowed to use my iPhone to send tweets authors when they have questions. Twitter has helped to make the world smaller for us. In our tiny classroom in the middle of cornfields in Central Illinois, we don’t have many authors come in. But Twitter has allowed them to “meet” many people. Gae Polisner sent bookmarks in for me to pass out to the students. I’ve had advanced copies of books sent from authors. As a side note, publishers – students will be a fan of an author for life when they think they are one of the “first” people to read their books.

All of these things I do in my room are not unique. I know many other teachers that have similar classrooms. It is just my way of trying to create for them the same environment my parents created for me. In doing so, I have more and more kids fall in love with reading each year.

And in the spirit of “Paying it forward” I’d like to give a way a copy of one of my favorite books. When thinking of what book to pick, I was torn. So, these are the books I have recommended the most in the month of April. The winner may pick which book they would like and I will mail it to you. Enjoy!

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  • Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  • Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman

Giveaway Rules

1. The giveaway will run from April 20 to 11:59 PM on April 25.

2. The winner will be contacted via email and asked to pick one book from the above list.

3. This contest is open to people living in the continental United States.

4. You must be at least 13 to enter.

5. If you can, please pay it forward. Thanks!

Katherine Sokolowski has taught for fourteen years and currently teaches fifth grade. She is passionate about reading both in her classroom and also with her two sons. When not recommending books to strangers in the library or the bookstore, Katherine can be found writing at her blog: and on twitter at @katsok.