Finding Your Own Reading Community: It All Started with a Book … by Jill Culmo, Robin Johnson, and Micheal Kessner

Micheal Kessner:

My reading life changed after hearing Tina and Mandy, aka Red and Black, speak about their book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!  Their book is written from their string of emails and text messages as one sister helped the other learn “a real approach to personal finance and prioritizing your life.”  Emails and text messages?  I shared this idea with my two best friends, Jill and Robin, and The Literacy Triad was formed.


Thousands of emails and hundreds of texts later, we have each grown as readers and writers and created a reading community that has shaped our own reading lives.


Not only are we working on writing skills daily, but we discuss books, literacy, writing, and teaching strategies that enhance my abilities in my job, pique my interest, and challenge my thinking.  I have read more books, personally and professionally, since we started this daily communication. Jill and Robin continued in the literacy world while I took a little hiatus, but since returning, I am constantly seeking advice and ideas while learning all I can from them. They have introduced me to the work of Donalyn Miller, Teri Lesesne, Jeff Anderson, Kylene Beers, and so many more, and these are impacting my work with teachers and students.  My personal reading has picked up greatly. From romance novels passed on from my aunt to young adult to a wide variety of other books suggested from Jill and Robin, I am constantly seeking new books and reading all of their suggestions.  After devouring Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, I had to read her other books, and after reading If I Stay, I had to read more from Gayle Forman.  I now have favorite authors to suggest to others. I love being able to talk about characters as if they are real people, discussing books like they are real events, and deepening my love of reading.  This interest has led me to be more involved in book discussions at work, starting a little library in my office to share with co-workers, and thinking of ways to engage students in reading too.


Robin Johnson:

Without The Literacy Triad, my personal reading life would still mainly consist of murder mysteries written by serial authors, because outside of professional reading, I was what could be called a “book snob.” I read picture books daily to my students and always had the latest thriller in my hand for pleasure, but I was missing out on a wealth of books known as YA. I had read articles about the importance of YA storylines and how students needed to find themselves in characters and had even recommended a few to other teachers, but I just had not ever opened one up for myself. Then, in a series of emails, my two best friends, who knew me and knew my interests, picked out two YA books that they thought would be just what I liked. Those books were We Were Liars and Thirteen Reasons Why, and I was hooked. I wanted to know more and read more. I was behind in this category of books in so many ways. The Divergent series was not even on my radar before Jill introduced me to Tris and Four. I can now talk about Eleanor and Park and Fangirl because Micheal helped me connect to the characters and the storyline before I even opened a page. Some of these titles I loved, and others I didn’t, but I read them because I trusted the people who recommended them to me. In my own reading life and reading community a personal connection is what matters most. Because my best friends suggested books for me to try that I never would have chosen for myself, I am no longer the “book snob” I once was. You will still find me with the latest James Patterson or Harlan Coben novel tucked in my bag, but you will be just as likely to see a YA book or two right there as well – ones I’m sure were mentioned in an email from my friends!


Jill Culmo:

As soon as I finish a great book, the first thing I always want to do is to talk about it with my two best friends, Micheal and Robin. If a book has moved me, I want them to have that same experience.  I frequently wonder if they are fed up with me “forcing” them to read books that they may have never intended to read. I’m not sure how many times I’ve said, “You two have GOT to read this book!” like I did after I devoured The One and Only Ivan. Or how often I’ve called them screaming, like the time when I was in a state of shock after reading We Were Liars, and I emphatically implored them, “Hurry up and finish the book so we can talk about it!” And I hope that they are thankful that I begged them at the Exhibit Hall at the IRA conference to purchase their own copies of Eleanor & Park.


Being the good friends that they are, they oblige and indulge me, reading much of what I suggest. We have spent countless hours discussing these common reads of ours–why we were either “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta,” attempting to determine which of the Divergent factions each of our family members would join, or making a pact that we would read anything Rainbow Rowell ever wrote. These common literacy experiences are the glue that holds The Literacy Triad together.


Just like I need to read, I need my two best friends. Not only can I count on them to read wonderful books and discuss them with me, I can also count on them to suggest great books to me. They have persuaded me to keep reading past a certain point in a book because they knew the pace would definitely pick up. And because they’re such great friends, I knew they wouldn’t talk about the ending of Allegiant in front of me until I picked it up again after abandoning it.


Readers need many things. They need access to books. They need plenty of time to read. They often need the opportunity to respond to these books in writing. Readers need other readers—to discuss books, to get reading recommendations, to hear others’ perspectives, to challenge them, and to support them. Readers need community…and that’s precisely what the Literacy Triad provides to all three of us.


The Literacy Triad is made up of 3 friends with 53 years teaching experience, 3 Bachelor’s degrees, 3 Master’s degrees, 3 Doctorates between them and a great love of literacy. Jill Culmo is the Literacy Supervisor for K-2 Curriculum and Instruction in Dallas ISD.  Robin Johnson is an Assistant Professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Micheal Kessner is an Instructional Specialist with Mesquite ISD. See what else they have to say about books by following them on Twitter @motivated2read (Jill), @timetowrite_rj (Robin), @MKessnerEdD (Micheal), and @literacytriad (The Literacy Triad). Their website can be found at