My Road to Lifelong Reading by Stephanie Severson
We, as language arts teachers, are often tasked with providing our students with quality literature. We are asked to make sure that our classroom libraries contain outstanding fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, and magazines. While we each can only read so much, our classroom libraries are better because of the collective readers of the Nerdy Book Club and their recommendations. But, I often think about what I read as a child and young adult, and whether I was reading quality literature. Was it quality literature that made me a life-long reader?
Did I read quality books that made me love reading? No, but I read a lot. I especially think about the summertime reading. There were only four channels on the television — not that any daytime television was allowed in our house, and my mom was always ready to give me jobs if I bothered her too much. Instead, I read all day. I read to avoid chores, often hiding in a tree or on our wrap-around porch with a pile of books. When I look at the list of book awards of my young reading years, late seventies and eighties, I don’t remember reading any of the award winners.
I don’t remember the books, but I do remember the teachers that made books come alive for me. My third grade teacher was Marilyn Irwin. I don’t know if it was her sister, or her sister-in-law — but in some way she was related to the Irwin half of Hadley Irwin. This connection, with a real life author, was important in my development as a reader. To know that a real person was a writer, a creator of magic and books, made it real to me. I still count The Lillith Summer as one of my childhood heartprint books.
Fifth Grade brought Mrs. Sanborn and Johnny Tremain. She read aloud to us everyday during social studies. I still remember her reading the scene where Johnny burns his hand on the molten silver. I don’t remember much from fifth grade, but I remember Johnny Tremain.
The librarian at school, Marilyn Coulter, fed me book after book. I remember Homer Price, and laughing so much. She gave me The Cat Ate my Gymsuit, Anastasia Krupnik, and Deenie. She is the first person I remember talking to me about the books I read, and taking my opinion seriously. She ordered books that she knew I would like and made sure each one was in my hands before it hit the public shelves.
My grandma lived with us for a time when I was a child and she also would give me books to read. Freckles and The Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter, Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright — old-fashioned when I read them in the 1980s — and yet I find myself re-reading them as an adult. She always wanted me to read Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody. I’m not sure why I dragged my feet as a kid as I’m thoroughly enjoying the short novel now. Perhaps it is even more special since my grandma, who recently turned 92, is also re-reading it this month, and we’ve been talking about it via email and phone calls.
Middle school and high school years were a blur; lots of VC Andrews and Danielle Steel. Friends passed books around when we found a good one, but there weren’t adults involved in my reading decisions.
During college of my senior year, I had an amazing class with Adjunct Professor Milly Vande Kieft. She lived and breathed children’s literature. Her own passion for reading and giving quality literature to future teachers shaped my teaching. She was well-read and gave us lists and lists of books that we should have on our future classroom shelves. I have a vivid memory of a lively debate after the whole class had read the newly published The Giver.
Today, as a middle school teacher, I aspire to put quality literature on my shelf and do my best to make sure that I bring authors to our school like Mrs. Irwin, I read aloud like Mrs. Sanborn, I order books and place them in the right student’s hands like Mrs. Coulter, I don’t forget the oldies but goodies, like my grandmother, and I most importantly, I talk to my students about what they are reading.
It wasn’t the quality of the literature as a child that made me a life-long reader; it was the talking. Talking about the books that I was reading, and listening to others talk about what they are reading that was most important. Today, in addition to putting quality literature on my shelves, I vow to find more time to talk reading and talk books with my students. They may not remember reading The Knife of Never Letting Go, or United We Spy, but hopefully they will remember talking about it.
Stephanie Severson is a seventh and eighth grade language arts teacher at DaVinci Academy of Arts and Science, a charter school in Blaine, MN. She is an avid reader herself and a book evangelist to all readers in the school. She tweets as @stephaseverson. Her class blog, Leonardo’s Bookshelf, features book reviews written by students.