May 11


96 Years Old and a Kindle by Jennifer Hendrix

As a teacher of reading, I understand the importance of matching readers and books.  It is a crucial practice I set into motion the first day of school.  Not only do we need to understand readers’ likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, it is imperative to keep the conversation with readers going throughout the year as their interests and needs change.  It is a challenge that reaps huge rewards, both for readers and teachers.


This past year as I read aloud Lois Lowry’s beloved Number the Stars to my class, I noticed that a student went straight to the World War II shelf in the library each week.  He poured through every book our library had to offer.  So, I fueled the fire and offered every age appropriate book regarding WWII I could find.  Not only was he reading the books, he was passing the books onto his mother to read as well so he would have someone in which he could share the experience.


As a class we delved into an American Revolution study.  Another student became enthralled with Sybil Ludington, the American heroine who made a famous midnight ride warning towns the British were coming.  He, too, tried to find everything he could put his hands on regarding her intriguing life.  I, too, joined in the search and tried to find books and articles he could read to keep building background knowledge.


Not only do teachers come to know their students as readers, students come to know their teachers as readers.  When a fifth grader was deep in The Matched series one day and suddenly burst into tears, the entire classroom of readers began to flood her with voices of concern.  All she could say was, “I thought he was going to die, but he didn’t!”  I had not read the series, and I was curious what would cause a ten-year-old to break down into tears.  As soon as I inquired about the series, her response was, “Oh, Miss Hendrix, you would love this book!”  So, what did I do?  I went to the library and checked out the first book in the series.


As a teacher of reading, I know the importance of making sure I keep current with books that will interest children.  It is kind of my job, right?  It wasn’t until recently that I realized we do this for all the people we care about in our lives.  My grandfather, who turns 97 in August, has always been a reader – a slow methodical reader, but a reader none the less.  Four summers ago his body went into kidney failure.  As a result, he now goes to dialysis three days a week.


He took his newfound condition like a pro and found ways to make it a positive experience.   Just like he always does, he quickly made friends with the entire facility’s staff and marched through the doors each trip armed with his suitcase of essential items: a blanket, the crossword puzzle of the day, headphones, and his flip cell phone he has had for ten years.  Unfortunately, for a reader who finds himself with hours of down time bound to chair, a book became too heavy to hold while one arm was occupied with needles.  We all knew his plight so a family member decided to give my grandfather a Kindle, hoping he could read it each day he goes to dialysis.  Secretly, I thought what in the world is he going to do with a Kindle?  How in the world is he going to upload books?  Good grief—that was the worst idea ever!


Little did I know that I would learn something from this sweet man who was given a Kindle.  What do you do when your grandfather asks you to help him get started?  Well, you help him get started and use every ounce of patience it takes to teach a nonagenarian with arthritic hands to navigate the foreign icons and touch screen.  Not only did he think it would be easier to hold with one hand, he was determined to use it.  Who was I to doubt such a gift would be useful?


I set him up with two Louis L’Amour books, and he was good to go.  Six months later, I was visiting him, and he said, “Jenny, I need another book.  Can you help me?” Knowing his means to find new books was not as easy as it used to be, I immediately began researching books I thought he might enjoy.  I knew he also loved biographies, so I checked the bestseller lists to find some possibilities.  Just like I do with my students, I did book talks with five books I thought he might enjoy.  He made his choice, and I went to the computer and uploaded his next read.


I kept that list knowing I would probably be doing this again!  A few months later I got the call, “Jenny, would you help me with another book?”  This time I had moved 1500 miles away, but we made it work.   My mom got the Kindle, I uploaded the book, and sweet Granddaddy was good to go with another great book to occupy his time while sitting in a dialysis chair for hours on end.  It has become a family effort, yet we have found a way for him to pass the time quickly with a beloved book in his hand.


You see, we are all a community of readers.


Matching books to readers extends beyond the walls of our classrooms.  It reaches the important people in our lives who we think can make it on their own.  The 96-year-old grandfathers in our lives may need us to support their reading life.  I should have known that, and I should never have doubted the gift of reading the Kindle afforded my sweet grandfather.


His latest comment,  “I am really going to like this new book…”


I am glad, oh so glad.


After teaching in Alabama for 18 years, Jennifer Hendrix moved across the country to Colorado.  She is currently a teacher at East Elementary in Littleton, Colorado.  When she is not learning and laughing with her fourth graders, she is reading, running, and trying to keep up with friends and family scattered across the country.