Paying It Forward (with a little help from some friends) by Cathy Blackler

 “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” ~ George Eliot


A new school year begins this week, and with it new opportunities to share my reading life with students & staff alike. While each school year brings with it new students who possess all the possibilities & challenges of their predecessors and then some, this year’s group is a little different. For many, it is the second time we will journey together as a learning community. Five years ago I had several of this year’s students as sixth graders. This week they will enter into our classroom as high school juniors.  I am doubly blessed, and doubly committed to rekindling many of those sixth grade hopes & dreams that have somehow become deferred.

Recently I heard Lois Lowry speak and she was asked why she writes for children. She replied, “because when you are twelve, a book can change your life.” I believe this life-changing experience can happen beyond the age of twelve, and very often does, for the students in my classes. Far too many have stalled somewhere around a “reading age” of twelve; possibly the last time a book mattered to them. I am privileged to help them find a way to change their lives.

I could not share my passion for reading without access to books and to the stories behind the stories. Throughout my teaching experience this has been accomplished in a variety of ways: MANY books have been purchased with my own money (not a complaint, just a fact), I have coerced my son into volunteering at the Scholastic Book Warehouse Sales in order to earn book credit, and I have attended countless conferences and author signings so that I can make those invaluable connections that come with knowing how a book comes to life; connections that help me put the right book into the right hands.

More recently however, I have had a little help from some friends. The unselfish desire to “pay it forward” on their part has allowed me to touch the lives of students beyond my classroom. For this I am forever grateful. These tireless devotees to the reading community make my work all the more rewarding:

  • Andrew Smith, who selflessly signed his personal copy of Stick so that I could give it to a student who needed the story more than I can say.
  • Kazu Kibuishi, Garth Nix and Sean Williams. All three graciously allowed me to videotape them sending words of reading encouragement to a friend’s classroom.
  • Andrea Vuleta and her staff at Mrs. Nelson’s Toys & Books in La Verne, Ca. Their friendship and support of my passion is a constant source of inspiration. My students and I are indebted to their generosity.

And finally, I thank my students for allowing me to share with them the benefits of a reading life. I love their passion, their excitement, and their buy-in when we make that reading connection.  Reminding me time and again “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” ~  George Eliot

Cathy Blackler teaches High School English in Southern California. A proud, card-carrying member of the #nerdybookclub, she is the current President of the Foothill Reading Council and is serving a three-year term on the California Young Reader Medal (CYRM) Committee. She truly leads a reading life, and still owns the first book she purchased with her own money.