How My Reading Life Has Been Influenced by My Three Readers by Aileen P. Hower
I started my career as a high school English teacher. At first, I re-read the classics, so I could teach the courses to which I had been assigned. After a few years, I started to “assign” New York Times bestsellers, or Oprah book club books: I was a rebel! When these some of these titles started to appear on the Advanced Placement open ended essay, I thought I was ahead of the curve – advanced – open minded.
Then I became a mom. So much for curling up with a “classic” anymore.
My oldest son has Asperger’s. He always read more advanced books due to being hyperlexic. But he couldn’t read everything at his lexile level, just because he “could” read it. Many of those books were too complex socially, or introduced ideas that were more mature than I believed he could handle. I do not consider this as having censored his material reading. Rather, I had him wait to read those books until he was older. The Harry Potter series is a perfect example. I determined that we would just wait until he was older to read it. He started the series in sixth grade and had less questions than he would have, had he started it earlier. We started the series together, so I could gauge his take on events and characters. This helped me learn what he was and was not ready for. Reading together helped me learn his tastes and what books he enjoyed. For instance, it was Cam Jansen early on, not A-Z Mysteries. His wonderful third grade teacher recommended Roald Dahl to help him learn to visualize less realistic characters and events. In fourth grade, when he brought home Old Yeller, we spend time playing Oregon Trail to establish background knowledge for the book. In fifth grade, when he started The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo, he could not follow the structure of the story or connect with the characters. He needed to develop his critical and fiction reading skills more before he could tackle this text. By the end of that year, he was reading The Mysterious Benedict Society and Winston Breen series. During the summer, he was engrossed in Kate Messner’s Silver Jaguar Society mysteries.
I am happy to report that he has enjoyed many books this year. I have been able to step back as well. When he picked up the Maze Runner series at the start of this year, I was hesitant. He read through two books. When he got to the third, he told me he didn’t think he wanted to read it. It wasn’t his type of book. I know now that he can read with a critical eye for what he likes and understands. Don’t get me wrong. He can read complex books. He fell in love with The Giver this school year, as well as The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming, and The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart. He is going to give Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys a try. On the side, he reads graphic novels; most recently, he tore through Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel. He loves “funny” books, but is also reading Maus. I am proud to say that I have read most of the texts alongside him (or afterwards, due to his hearty recommendation).
Then I have a 10-year-old son whose penchant is to (literally) have four books going at once. Early on, I tried to break him of this habit. Then I read a blog post about someone else who reads this way. I thought, who am I to tell someone how to read? He continues this trend to this day. This guy loves his fantasy. He started with the Yoda Origami series. This led fiercely into Tui T. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire books (all of them). This, of course, drew him to everything Rick Riordan has ever written (it seems). When he’s reading a new, difficult book, that’s when he tends to add in his favorites, and graphic novels. He’s read El Deafo by Cece Bell at least 10 times. The One and Only Ivan tends to be carried around in his book bag for months on end. He reads Wonder every summer. He, too, has an affinity for reading Harry Potter. He just started reading Book 7. While I cannot say that I appreciate fantasy as much, I have read at least the first book in each series. It’s good that my kids stretch me out of my reading zone. At his strong recommendation, I will be reading Savvy by Ingrid Law at some point this summer. He will be reading her other two texts before long.
To totally mix things up, I have a daughter who will be starting third grade. While she has certainly liked a few of the early books the boys did, she was more of an A-Z Mystery girl. Scratch that. She was always a Junie B. gal. So, from that start, I branched her out to Ivy and Bean, Clementine (after a teacher invited me to teach this book to her guided reading group), Piper Green, Marty McGuire, Ranger in Time, and Shelter Pet Squad. I appreciate that there are many books with strong female characters that she can read. Donalyn Miller recently recommended a graphic novel with an African-American female lead: Princeless: Save Yourself, by Jeremy Whitley. (My middle son picked it up and commented, “Mom, I didn’t understand a thing. It’s really for girls.”). This was a wonderful recommendation, as my daughter is from Ethiopia. In my job, I am often asked to recommend books. Thanks to reading these books with my daughter, rising second graders are being given all three Piper Green books this summer (one to be released in August). I will also be making sure that all first and second grade classrooms in my district have access to these books next year.
I am very grateful to my three children’s diverse reading lives having informed my own so powerfully.
Dr. Aileen P. Hower is the K-12 Literacy/ESL Supervisor/Literacy Coach for South Western School District, is the coordinator of the Eduspire and Penn State York Summer Literacy Institutes and teaches graduate level reading courses for Penn State York, Cabrini College, and Eduspire. In addition to teaching, she is the vice president elect for the Keystone State Reading Association. You can find her on Twitter at (@aileenhower) or on her blog (aileenhower.wordpress.com).