martha mathilda otoole January 05

How a Character Named Martha Matilda Created a Life-Long Reader by Christie Beving

As we prepare for yet another new year, I reflect on how, as a teacher and a reader, I can help instill the love of reading in my students.  I spend a lot of time reflecting on what has gone well, what I need to change in the last few months I have them, and what I am already looking forward to next year.   One of my favorite days each year is the day I share the beginning of my journey as a reader with my students.

I choose to start each school year reading some great trade books that also teach lessons about how to treat others, how to be comfortable with who you are (not easy for 6th graders), and how to be a leader.  The last book I share is by far the most meaningful, at least for me, personally.  The last book I share has no hidden message, but rather is a message from me, a life-long, avid reader, to my students in hopes that they, too, will develop a passion for books and reading.

I’ve always been a reader.  I grew up in a time before Amazon and e-readers, so like all children of my generation, I spent many afternoons at the public library with Mrs. Dunn patiently waiting for me to choose my books and check out.  One book, for no particular reason, stuck with me and was checked out week after week.  After a while, there really was no reason to check the book out as I had it memorized forwards and backwards.  At the time, Martha Matilda O’Toole (Jim Copp, 1969) was just a funny story that I enjoyed immensely and the predictable opening lines, “Martha Matilda O’Toole went skipping off to school” gave comfort and confidence to a beginning reader.martha mathilda otoole

My life as a reader continued; I devoured books through adolescence, high school, and even in college.  I actually had a public library card that I regularly used during my undergraduate years.  When I married and had kids, I carved out time to read.  As my kids have gotten older and busier, I make sure that I spend the end of each day with a book.  If a day passes and I do not pick up a book, that day feels incomplete.  I mentioned to my mother-in-law once how Martha Matilda O’Toole had influenced me as a reader.  I even checked with the public library in my home town to see if the book had been pulled from circulation.

Sadly, for me, it was still on the shelves, and it was rather expensive to purchase online.

I moved on as a reader and simply enjoyed my memory of Martha Matilda O’Toole until one day a package arrived in the mail.  That package contained one of the best gifts I have ever received; the librarian in my home town remembered my love of the book and when it was pulled from circulation, gave it to my mother-in law.

That gift set off a yearly tradition of reading a silly story about a girl who forgets everything in the hopes that my love of reading will be shared by at least some of my students.  In sharing my own reading story, I hope they, too, will begin their own journey (if they haven’t yet begun).  Seeing even one student embrace books is the best gift I could ever ask for as a teacher and gives me hope that a simple story like Martha Matilda O’Toole can, in fact, be life changing.

Christie Beving is a 6th grade English Language Arts teacher at Norwalk Middle School in Norwalk Iowa as well as the 6-12 lead ELA teacher for the district.  She enjoys being a wife, mother, teacher, and avid reader.