Reading Life Choices by Nancy Jo Lambert

My reading life has been marked by choices. Choices in what I read, when I read, and why I read. When I am not given these choices, my reading life suffers.

Books and reading have always been a part of my life. My grandmother and mother always read to my brother and I as kids. We always had books and enjoyed a rich life of words and print even though money was scarce. I loved escaping into great stories as a young child. The choices on what was read to me was always up to me.

Over the course of my education I attended 3 elementary schools, 2 junior highs, and 2 high schools. Every one of those was in a different state because my dad worked for the railroad and got transferred, a lot. At my second elementary school, it was discovered that near the end of 2nd grade, I could not read, at all. I was put in a special reading class for the rest of the year. I have few memories of this, but I do remember learning to read 1-on-1 with a reading teacher and using some kind of story cards to build my fluency and comprehension. I remember missing getting to watch Reading Rainbow with the rest of my class twice a week because I had to go to my “special class.” I came to dislike reading through this process. It was a lot of work, and the things I was being made to read were not interesting, and not my choice.

I was always in the low reading group, the green book. It took me years to move up even one level. In 4th grade, I got to move up to the purple book, which was not the lowest anymore. However these terrible reading workbooks were not my choice. They continued to work with me and it was in the 4th grade that I had my reading life breakthrough. I desperately wanted to read The Secret Garden, but the librarian would not let me check it out because she knew I was a “struggling reader.” I distinctly remember the day she wasn’t there, and I checked it out. This was my choice, and I was going to read this. Another girl in my class, a much stronger reader, had read it and told me about the magical garden, and I desperately wanted to read it.

It was hard for me to read, BUT it was the first big book I had ever read by myself where I saw “the movie in my mind” that my teachers kept trying to explain to me. That moment when I realized the joy in reading and I saw the world through Mary’s eyes and experienced other places and people and the magic of that story, it changed me. It changed me forever.

I became a reader in that moment, and I truly believe it was because I chose to become a reader. I wanted to read that magical story, and I made it happen.

I taught 7th grade English Language Arts and Reading for 5 years, and this is my 4th year as librarian. I hate being told I have to read something. Anything. As soon as someone forces me to read something, any interest I may have had in that text goes out the window. There are books that I am just not interested in. No matter how much someone else may love it, I know when a book is not for me.

(I have a rather unusual reading tool for fiction. When I start a book, sometime early into the rising action, I flip to the end and read the end. If it is a really good book, I will flip around and scan parts of the entire book before I even get 50 pages in. I always read it sequentially, eventually. If I get 100 pages in and have not employed this reading tool, I know the book is not a good choice for me, and I will abandon it.)

When I was in the classroom choice was a huge part of our reading ways. We still had to read certain things, but I allowed for a lot of choice in my classroom because I understood how much that mattered. I try and employ the same philosophy in the elementary library I share with K-5 students. I have learned that there are some restrictions that must be placed, but overall, student choice is allowed.

Every child, every student, every reader that I encounter in the library, is in their own place in their reading life. I know that some need to be handled with care. My elementary reading life was plagued with reading obstacles. I try and nurture those kiddos as much as possible. I know how important those moments can be to their reading life. I try and help them make good choices, but also try and provide the books that will provide them with great reading choices no matter what stage they are in as a reader.

In order for readers to grow and start making genuine reading choices, they have to be allowed to decide what they will read, when they will read, and why they are reading. Choice is the vehicle through which real readers grow. Will you make the choice to let your readers make their own choices?

Nancy Jo Lambert is a K-5 librarian in Frisco, TX. Her students sometimes wonder if she is crazy about reading or just crazy. She is passionate about reading, technology, and helping kids with both. You can find her online at and on Twitter @NancyJoLambert.