Have Books, Will Fish by Natalie Rogers
Fresh out of grad school, sitting in my first job interview for a teaching position, I’m told something like this:
We are all fishing. All of us—teachers, principals, parents, guidance counselors, volunteers [I’ll add children’s authors and illustrators]—we all cast our lines in the proverbial student pond. It doesn’t matter which one of us hooks them, just that one of us does.
Bookworms make excellent bait.
Nothing quite compares to looking out upon a sea of smiling faces, bright eyes, and eager hands waving frantically in the air and knowing your words, borrowed from books though they may be, brought to life by reading aloud, are the cause of such amazing energy and excitement!
Being a volunteer reader in K-5 classrooms is not a simple act. It’s an interaction, a give and take, a transference of energy and emotion that creates connections, relationships, and communities. The “show” begins as a demonstration of love for written and spoken words. Then this enigmatic energy (1 part great book, 1 part devoted reader) wafts out into the audience. And these young charges inhale it, absorb it, until it becomes part of their essence. Imagination ignites the spark—the twinkle in their eye, the grin from ear to ear, the imaginary light bulb hovering above their head—and ah, there you have them! Reading magic is shared, not bestowed. You (along with the help of some clever authors and illustrators) create something magical. And the children recreate it, with their questions, their comments, their connections, their synapses firing to and fro. A beautiful reciprocity. And every visit, every book, every word, is anticipated, enjoyed, and quite fondly remembered.
And it’s not at all that difficult. The magic is already written. You just have to let it come through you. Find the books that matter (so many of which are discussed right here in the Nerdies), books that speak to you. And then let them speak through you. Let the children see and hear what reading magic looks like, sounds like, what it feels like.
And every once in a while, you may even hook one and reel him in. One 1st grader’s desk was situated in the back corner of the classroom, away from his classmates’ clusters of desks. He was not permitted to sit on the floor with the others during my readings. He sat alone, fuming, thumb twiddling, barely listening. During one reading, I caught his eye and smiled at him. He looked baffled. When I asked the class a question about the book, I looked him in the eye again, held his gaze, and silently encouraged him. He blurted out an answer. I acknowledged, gave another warm smile, and gently asked him to please raise his hand next time. A visit or so later, he asked the teacher if he could sit on the floor, next to me. She hesitated, but agreed. Each visit thereafter, he sat right in front of me, listening intently, remembering to raise his hand, ever eager to share. Something magical happened to this marginalized student. He became an active member of our community of listeners, thinkers, questioners. With the help of some ingenious authors, I had caught him . . . in the line of an imaginary book hook.
I was caught, too. Hook, line and sinker. I became the new kid in 2nd grade and held that title every two years until high school graduation. Books saved me. They were—and still are—a steadfast thread that weaves together all the seemingly fragmented scenes, activities and events in my life. They fill the gaps with love, excitement, healing and depth of understanding. They are like an old friend, at once comforting and enriching my quality of life. So I jump at the chance to steal an hour or two a week to be part of this enchanted exchange—one that allows me to share poignant and profound, whacky and whimsical literary experiences with children. Hoping that thread, that fishing line, that old friend, will be there for the young charges who need it, want it, seek it. Every classroom—every child—deserves a reader. For great books and a cause worth believing in, I encourage others to open themselves to the adventure. Every time I share a great book with willing listeners, this is what happens. This magical, mystical exchange of energy. Thousands of my BookPALS colleagues across the country volunteer to read aloud year after year because they feel it, too.
Say yes to reading aloud to children. And then be open to the myriad adventures that await. The gifts these kids give back are endless, boundless, beyond words. Shout “Yes!” You will be richly rewarded in ways you cannot yet fathom. Come! Grab a line of good books, and let’s go fishing!
Natalie Rogers earned her degrees from Syracuse University, but she’ll be an English major for life. She worked in book publishing and taught writing at several schools and universities before becoming the Florida director of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation’s national outreach program, BookPALS: Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools. When she’s not recruiting, training, and placing volunteer readers in public schools, hosting book drives, writing grants, and reading Nerdy blogs, you’re sure to find her in one of her three favorite places: in the classroom reading aloud to children, at her desk writing PencilPALS letters to children, or engrossed in a literary adventure with her own two children: the bookworm boys. You may also find her at www.bookpals.net or www.facebook.com/SAGFoundationBookPALS.