brown girl dreaming December 08


Reading Comfort by Amanda Swerdlow

We all seek comfort from many things—food, shopping, even exercise. Giving comfort to others gives both the giver and receiver a sense of peace. For me, that comfort has come from books.

I became a reader who seeks books for comfort at an early age. When I have felt like I have failed at anything, reading has been there. I remember spending one summer visiting my father and stepmother trying desperately to impress them by making a lemon meringue pie while they were both at work. When my stepmother tried a slice and immediately held the pie in her mouth as to not swallow, she asked, “What utensil did you use to make this?” We realized I used a plastic spoon that was now melted off at one end, potentially poisoning the pie with 1970’s era Tupperware. With a pat on the head to my failure, I told my family I was going upstairs to read. That early evening it was Norma Fox Mazer’s Babyface. Finished by the time I curled into bed that night, the pie debacle was over and long forgotten. I was able to jump into Toni’s crumbling world and feel comfort at the same time.

As a student at the University of Florida, the competitive spirit among teachers-in-training got the best of me more than once. I felt I had to prove myself through high grades. It took reading The Art of Teaching Writing as a junior to give me the sense of confidence around “this work.” Lucy’s lesson came in many ways, to learn that it is about the readers and writers we teach, and their success, not our own.

As a young teacher, I continued to comfort myself through great works I had the pleasure of reading.  I devoured Debbie Miller’s Reading with Meaning and continued to be inspired by Lucy Calkins and her family at TCRWP and the first Units of Study publication. The comfort I feel when I read a professional book gets better each time I read, just like a great cook’s recipe improves with each application of their prized recipes.

As I moved into the role of teaching teachers, my first instinct for supporting a teacher’s growth is to give them a text. Need a strong read aloud for building a sense of community in your class? Mockingbird is my go-to. Caitlin makes us all want to reach out and connect. Can’t quite reach your readers in your conferences? Conferring with Readers. Gravity and Jennifer are like a warm bowl of soup on a rainy afternoon. You will want to run to your classroom to ask your students, “How’s it going?”

As most of you will agree, the best thing a book lover can do is to read AND talk with others about our reading. How many of us spent our summer talking over Twitter about Brown Girl Dreaming, wondering how if Jacqueline Woodson did not win every book award that has ever been created something is wrong with the world? The experience of talking with peers about great texts is something that has no equal, and the immediate gratification through Twitter makes my appetite for the next great read even greater. There is a sense of comfort knowing other readers feel the same when they read the brilliance behind the poetry that is Jackie’s journey.

I am not starved for a community of readers or craving a treasure of texts. Luckily, my plate if delectably full.

Amanda Swerdlow is a K-12 Humanities Program Specialist for Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, GA. She has loved sharing her reading appetite with her 2nd and 5th grade students when she was in the classroom. Connect with her via Twitter @aswerdreader.