The Connections of My Reading Life by Virginia Pratt
Reading is such a natural part of my everyday life that, at first, I struggled to do any writing about my “Reading Life.” I was afraid it would seem quite mundane –doesn’t everyone have a Reading Life? Upon reflection, I realized it probably isn’t all that usual to spend more money every year on books than on shoes and clothes (which I do). Likewise, not many people would spend an entire summer weekend indoors making Harry Potter- inspired wands for a new generation of readers, but that’s exactly what I did recently! So, I realize that not everyone’s Reading Life is like mine, and sadly, some people who don’t have much of a Reading Life at all. The truth is, I can’t imagine living without books. Books make me think, and feel, and wonder. They provide me with answers, and often with questions. Over the years, one thing I’ve come to truly appreciate is the way books help me build connections and be part of special communities.
From the earliest days, mommies and daddies bond with their infants over repeated readings of Goodnight Moon and Guess How Much I Love You. The children grow, and then parents begin the ritual of reading bedtime stories, and connections continue to grow. I still fondly remember how, every evening, my younger sisters and I would gather in one bed, and Mom would come in to read before we said our prayers. The three of us marveled as she read stories to us about Charlotte’s love for Wilbur, and the webs Charlotte built pronouncing that Wilbur was “Some Pig” and “Terrific.” When Mom read us Marshall Saunders’ Beautiful Joe, we cried as we wondered how anyone could ever be cruel to a little dog, and later rejoiced when a kind owner took Joe in to care for him for good. Years later, I followed tradition and read bedtime stories with my own son, John. We were mesmerized by the adventures of Peter Pan and Wendy (and sometimes my pronunciation of some of Peter Pan’s vocabulary!). We both laughed until our sides hurt when we realized what was happening when Sophie and the BFG drank frobscottle – that fizzy drink that causes soda bubbles to travel downward instead of up! To this day, even though John is now twenty, a mention of that book can make both of us giggle!
As a teacher, I’m very aware of the power of a book to build a sense of community and connection in our classrooms. I start every year with Peter Reynolds’ The North Star in an effort to create a shared vision that celebrates and nurtures our different needs, desires, and strengths. Class read-alouds often bring us closer together. We empathize with Augie in Wonder, hold our breath along with Mr. Terrupt’s class as we pray his surgery is successful, and laugh at all of the crazy things that lead to the great misunderstanding of Rumpelstiltskin in Rump. Books not only help me to build community within my classroom, but also to personally connect to individual students. Those personal connections are often the advantage I need when I’m trying to help a student learn a difficult concept, or dealing with a student who has learning or behavior difficulties.
Amazingly, books help me to connect with people I’ve never met, and make the connections with those I do know even stronger. I have never personally met Terry, Elisabeth, Earl, or Carrie—but I feel as though I have! Through our blogs and Goodreads we’ve shared book titles, ideas, recommendations, and opinions about what we’ve read. These are people I go to when I’m considering a title for my classroom, or even for myself. I’ve even noticed that among my family and actual “face-to-face” friends, the ones I tend to stay in contact with are active readers. As we discuss what we’ve read and confer on book titles, my relationships with them continue to feel fresh and current regardless of the miles between us or the time that has passed since we were last together.
Beyond connections with other readers, I’m most fascinated with the connections I begin to feel to some of writers whose works I read. This winter I read Brown Girl Dreaming, then reread and studied it with my 4th and 5th graders. Through my reading, I developed a new perspective regarding the Civil Rights Movement because of what Jacqueline Woodson experienced in her early childhood years. Hers was a very different South Carolina from the one my students and I know, and though only a percentage of my students are African American, all of us felt a connection and empathy with Jackie. I realized the power of that connection only months later when nine members of the Emanuel AME church in Charleston (just up the road from us) were murdered. I felt angry—angry because experiences like Jackie’s could still occur today—40 years later. Still, as horrified as I was by the event, I was appreciated the perspective I could bring to it because of my connection to Jackie’s book.
Interestingly, I’ve felt a similar connection to some of the regular writers for the Nerdy Book Club. I’ve read many of their books and articles and felt a strong affinity to them. When you read someone’s writing you feel you “know” them on some level. For that reason, being able to write this post for the Nerdy Book Club is kind of like being a teenage girl who gets to meet Ansel Elgort (the hunky star from “The Fault in our Stars” that I’m assured is a current heartthrob). As I contemplated writing in the shadows of some of my “reading” heroes, I felt pretty star struck. I realized that I, too, want to be able to make connections with my words for other readers. I know the connections I make because I live a “Reading Life” make my life richer, and in turn, I strive to use those experiences to help ensure others around me, especially the young people I teach, have Reading Lives, too.
Virginia Pratt is a teacher of gifted/talented students at Red Cedar Elementary in Bluffton, SC. This school year marks her 27th year of teaching. Virginia has always loved stories, books, and reading, and counts reading as one of her favorite hobbies. She is a huge Harry Potter geek, and was thrilled to receive an authentic Ravenclaw robe last Christmas. You can follow Virginia on Twitter- @virginiagp, or on her blog- www.learnerinspired.com.