The Evolution of a Reader by Jessica Rosak
I am a reader who has evolved. As a child I attended story hours and never fought my mother over her required summer reading. I received books as part of my Christmas and birthday gifts, and I liked them the best. I went through phases where I read everything I could get my hands on by Agatha Christie or Lucy Maud Montgomery. I recall discussing the newest Babysitter’s Club book with a fellow elementary student, and I could not understand how people could not like to read! Fondly, I remember the first time a book really had an impact on my life: I rushed up to my room to finish Bridge to Terabithia and found myself crying at the end, wiping my eyes, thinking, “Why am I crying for a book?” I had never read anything that evoked so much emotion in me, and I liked it. My childhood was immersed in literature in every way.
Then junior high school happened, and I hid my reading habits. It was no longer “cool” to tote around a book or chat about a title with fellow classmates. What if a boy saw me and knew I was a book nerd? Gasp! I occasionally “snuck” a book into study hall or read at home if I had nothing else to do. I no longer had conversations about books or relationships with authors. College came and changed me as a reader again. I was poring through chapters of required textbooks, highlighting my heart out so I could tackle the fifteen-page paper that would inevitably be due. I rarely read for pleasure. I do remember missing it but not having much time to be upset about the loss. In my classes we discussed books that were required reading, but that was my only interaction with text and other readers.
My first full time teaching job threw me into the world of Accelerated Reader (AR). I was at a loss of how to respond when kids said they had NOTHING to read because there were NO GOOD BOOKS (if you ever taught middle school, you understand the use of all capitals). Some of my students were also failing AR tests to the shocking point of male adolescent tears, so I started skimming books on the AR list to make study guides for them. The reading specialist was relegated to the elementary school, so I was on my own. Sadly, my book recommendations consisted of handing kids college reading lists because I was reading again, but reading things like an unabridged copy of Les Miserables, something that was completely for me, not them. I was not discussing literature, not getting involved in it like I had in my youth. I loved Les Mis, but I did not tell anyone. I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the first time and kept the warm feeling I felt when it ended to myself. What a sin! At least these struggling readers influenced me to begin earning my masters and reading specialist certification.
My new husband and I moved and changed jobs a few times, and I earned my masters. During my practicum, I promised my growing belly and baby one that he would know his letters and be a reader, unlike the children I was trying so hard to help every day, and I read to him even before he was born. At one of my jobs, I made friends with some teachers who were fellow readers. One of them handed me Twilight and forced me to read it. Much to her joy, I clambered for book two and the rest of the series. I had discovered the joy of Young Adult (YA) literature and, more importantly, the rewards of sharing that joy with my students. Amazingly, I read pretty much everything and got myself to the point where I could ask a student a couple questions and match him or her with a book pretty darn successfully. “Do you want death? Zombies? Love? Fantasy? Can you handle weird stuff?” When kids told me, “I hate reading,” I told them, “That’s because you haven’t found the right book yet!” I squealed with teens and preteens over the announcements of sequels and had boys fighting over who got to check out a book they knew I had just ordered. I was in heaven! Technology brought me sites like Goodreads, and I set a goal to read 100 books in a year; I read 123 instead. I started to go to author events and met amazing authors who signed my books. I told Katherine Patterson how Bridge to Terabithia changed my life as a reader by making me cry and connect. I told James Dashner I wrote in my copy of The Death Cure so kids could see where my favorite part is. I brought back stories and pictures from the events to my classroom to share with my students.
Now, my three boys (ages one to seven) get books as gifts. We read and talk about books. My oldest son Asa read Wonder with me and got to meet R.J. Palacio who signed his book. I saw his eyes light up when he met her! My family makes references to books we have read during conversations. I have since become a Title 1 reading specialist in my son’s school, so I have evolved once again. I still recommend books to former teenage students and my nieces on Goodreads while I laugh and talk about how silly Amelia Bedelia is and how pigeons should not be allowed to drive buses with my elementary students. I beam with pride as my son reads bigger and better books, and I rejoice when my Title 1 students include inflection during oral reading and make inferences and connect to characters and talk about good books, things they could not do two months ago. I read every night, and I will never be an isolated reader again as I have truly evolved.
Jessica Rosak is a proclaimed book nerd who sneaks in a chapter or even a page of reading every chance she gets. She is a Title 1 reading specialist at South Side Beaver Elementary School and a mother of three awesome boys who devour books (the youngest one literally).