From Mother to Son and from Brother to Sister

When it comes to writing a blog post, I can usually sit down and start typing and the words just flow. I’ve long been comfortable expressing myself through writing, and often feel that I can do so better than through speaking. Of course, as an educator, that’s just not an acceptable choice. Don’t get me wrong; I am quite comfortable expressing myself through speaking! (My wife will tell you that I probably talk too much, in fact!) That’s why it surprises me when I prepare to write a post and then I just blank. What to write about? What to say? How to say it?

Do my students feel the same way about writing? I can only imagine they do! But this post isn’t supposed to be about writing; it is supposed to be about reading. Now, sure, I tell my students all the time that reading and writing are both aspects of the same process, and yes, it is true that good readers are good writers and vice versa, but it is also true that the aspects can be separated from time to time. And, if I am to be honest with myself, I was a reader long before I was a writer.

I still remember the first book I ever read completely on my own. It was Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff. Before reading this wonderful treasure of a story, I relied upon my mother’s assistance. She taught me how to read using an old copy of McGuffey’s Eclectic Reader for Young Children. Once I completed the lessons and read about Danny and his wonderful dinosaur, I was off and running! I seriously doubt that a single day has gone by since that day some 24 or 25 years ago that I have not taken time to read on my own and for myself. I almost always have a book or two with me that I am reading, which is one of the many reasons I tend to carry a bag around with me wherever I go. In middle school and high school, this was a backpack. Sometime during college I upgraded to a messenger bag (which my family and friends called my man-purse). And if I don’t have a bag with me, there is still a book nearby!

Alex and his mother with Shel Silverstein’s “Falling Up”

I have always been one of those people who can’t keep quiet about a good book. I read them and then I find others and make them read the books, too, so we can talk about them! My baby sister, who is 11 years younger than me, was a frequent target of my insistence that she read a book. One of my favourite book series is The Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. I told my sister for years that she should read these books and promised her she’d love them. She resisted because, like many in my family, she is stubborn. Then one day when I was in college she finally borrowed my worn and battered copies that I’d had since fourth grade and started reading. She called me up the next day and said, “Why didn’t you make me read these books earlier?! These are amazing!” I simply replied, “I told you so! Now, next time I recommend a book, are you going to resist?” She meekly replied, “No.” She is now in college herself, but that hasn’t stopped her from calling me up and asking me to recommend a good book. And I call her and ask her for recommendations, too. In fact, she is one of my main sources for selecting new books for my classroom library.

When I was growing up, my living room was full of bookcases stuffed with books. As I grew older, I started my own book collection that soon spread onto several bookcases. As an adult, my living room is my library. My wife and I have lined the walls with bookcases, stuffed the shelves with books (last tally was 1,894 books, but that has already increased), and we have two comfortable chairs nearby where we can quietly read and share our books with each other. And my baby sister, who at first refused to read the books I suggested? She now has her own library at home including, of course, The Dark Is Rising sequence that I got her for Christmas after she kept trying to steal my set.

Alex and his sister, each with their copies of “The Dark Is Rising” sequence

Alex T. Valencic is a fourth grade teacher in a small urban community in Illinois. Before teaching full-time, he was a substitute teacher, a small business owner, an eggs-to-order cook, a lay minister, and a newspaper carrier (but not at the same time). When not actively teaching, he is usually reading a good book or watching classic sci-fi on Netflix. He blogs about his adventures in teaching fourth grade at http://teachingfourth.wordpress.com. You can also find him on Twitter (@alextvalencic).