READ, REFLECT, REACT by Katey Howes
I have three children in elementary school. I spend evenings with just-right books and book reports and reader’s theater rehearsals. I write children’s books – or try to – every day while they are away. I research trends in picture books, chat with booksellers and librarians, contribute to websites that celebrate children’s literature. I blog about raising kids who love to read.
I spend so much time immersed in a bookish life that sometimes, I forget to enjoy reading.
I forget to get lost in books.
I forget to let books change me.
I realized this not too long ago, when I finished reading a book – Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai – -with my ten-year-old.
“Did you like it?” I asked. “What was your favorite part? Would you like to read more books in verse?”
I got on Twitter and asked friends for recommendations. I added them to my Goodreads account.
While I did that, my daughter picked up the book, took it upstairs, and tucked it under her pillow.
“I like to have a dream book,” she told me. “I just like to spend time with it.”
She’s been doing that for years. She might stay up reading ‘til all hours. She might never open that book again.
Either way, she’s not done with it.
I know this, because I used to have dream books, too. Before I got so busy doing things with books, instead of letting them do things to me.
I know that later – maybe tomorrow, maybe in a week, maybe next year – she’ll want to talk about it again. She’ll have questions about language, or history, or about the author herself. She’ll want to learn more about refugees and start a collection box at school. She’ll write pages of free verse on the graph paper I gave her to keep her math homework neat.
I won’t get too irritated.
There is so much pressure in school to dissect books as we read them, pressure even in preschool and play groups to have extension activities and comparison titles and to talk about each picture before we turn the page. And all of these things are valuable learning and growing tools. (And I don’t say that just because I’m a sucker for a craft project!) But they neglect to acknowledge one simple thing.
Books take time.
Not just the time it takes to say the words – aloud or in our heads. Not just the time it takes to copy the title and author and minutes onto a reading log. Not just the time it takes to get 21 wiggly first graders to sit still on a rug and face forward.
Time to let the words and the meaning sink into our souls. Time to breathe the scent of paper and ink as you drift off to sleep. Time for sentences and characters and cliffhangers and commas to creep into our minds and reorganize things a bit.
So I have a new policy. I call it The Three R’s. Three R’s because that’s easy to remember, and because three is magical and because I’m corny and I love alliteration.
Read. Reflect. React.
That’s it. Read. Reflect. React. (though if 3 weren’t so gosh darn magical I could add Reread, or Reach Out, or…you get the idea.)
I will hold myself accountable for giving books the time they deserve.
I will Read – and leave it at that. Except that, figuratively speaking, I will then tuck the book underneath my pillow.
And when I happen to be ready to Reflect on it – the next morning, or the next week, or standing in line at the grocery store behind a woman whose voice sounds JUST how I imagined the main character’s voice would sound – then, I will dig a little deeper into what the book really means to me.
And when I’ve had the time I need to reflect, then I will React. Maybe that’s as simple as ordering the next book in the series. Or calling up a friend to chat about memories. Maybe it’s as complicated as changing my worldview. (Or perhaps, I’ll just make a craft.)
I’m expanding my Three R’s concept beyond my own reading life, and applying it to my children, as well.
When my first grader comes home with a Henry and Mudge and directions to “make connections to your own life,” I just let her read. I don’t look over her shoulder and I don’t make her write anything down. I also don’t make her put it right back into the Ziploc bag and into her backpack. It’s okay if the book sits on the coffee table for a while. Maybe she’ll look at the cover art and spend the afternoon drawing dogs. Maybe she’ll pick it up later and look for the funniest part. And when the neighbor’s big dog Kona gets loose again weeks later, we’ll take a ball outside and throw it and he’ll chase it right back to his own yard. And my first grader will spontaneously reference Henry and Mudge. She’ll have made those connections on her own.
Little ways, big ways, unimaginable ways. The books we leave time and space for become parts of our existence. Without force, without machination, without a doubt.
I recommend you try it, too.
Read. Reflect. React.
Katey Howes is a children’s author writing picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels. Her debut book, GRANDMOTHER THORN, will be released by Ripple Grove Press in 2017. Grandmother Thorn is being beautifully illustrated by artist Rebecca Hahn. You can find Katey on Twitter @kateywrites.