Looking for a Home, Our 5th Nerdversary by Donalyn Miller
As I child, I thought I was born into the wrong family. My mom and stepdad fought a lot, and worked multiple jobs to pay our bills. My brother, Wendell, was born with cerebral palsy and needed help with daily functions. My sister, Abbie, was retained in second grade for kicking a teacher during a parent conference. My baby sister, Robin, was eight years younger than me, and followed me like a duckling until she went to kindergarten. I was the oldest and (by birth order or temperament) designated the responsible one.
We were a tough sell for babysitters, and eventually my parents ran out of neighborhood teens and church ladies willing to watch us. As soon as I could lift my brother, change a diaper, make a sandwich, and call 911, I became the babysitter when my parents worked nights and weekends. No one liked this arrangement. My siblings thought I was mean and I thought they were hellions. I loved my brother and sisters and resented them in the same breath. My desire to run away from my own family filled me with shame, but I secretly worried I would never leave.
I couldn’t get away from my life for even one day, so I escaped one page at a time. Night after night, I sat on the couch and read while my siblings watched TV. The people I met in books became another family to me and taught me a different way of looking at my circumstances and the world. No matter how bad I thought my life was– it could be a lot worse. The little match girl had it worse. Ponyboy Curtis had it worse. Danny Torrance had it worse. Books built my empathy and pulled me out of my self-absorption with my own problems.
I also learned that no matter my fears about my future—it could get better. Beauty transforms the Beast. Meg Wallace saves her brother. Frodo lives. I wasn’t a helpless passenger in my own life. I could write a better story for myself.
Over time, I taught my siblings to read. We passed many books between us, but not all. We wanted different things from our books. Besides, we were always together. Reading gave us space in our heads. Together, we were readers, but we built personal canons from books that mattered to us individually. Books provided the fuel and privacy we needed to build internal lives.
My siblings formed my first reading community, and this experience shaped my understanding of what reading communities can offer. Reading is a solitary act, but we read more when we have other readers in our lives (Krashen, 2004). Lifelong readers choose books for their own purposes and preferences, but we benefit from discussing books with other readers (Nystrand, 2006). Communal reading experiences provide models and support, but individual reading experiences influence our identities.The best reading communities provide room for individual voices and a place to be quiet inside our books.
I have participated in many reading communities since I left my parents’ living room behind. I married a reader and we raised daughters who read. I have built reading communities with my students and found reading communities with college classmates, friends, and professional colleagues. When I became a published author, I discovered more reading communities with the educators and authors I met online.
Long before Nerdy Book Club had a name, a Twitter account, or a hashtag, we had a community with many members. We talked about children’s literature and teaching young readers. Every day. For years.
Five years ago today, Colby Sharp and I ran the first Nerdy Book Club post to announce the inaugural Nerdy Book Club Awards, our annual people’s choice award. Each year since, I have written an anniversary post retelling Nerdy Book Club’s origin story, but how we began isn’t the best part of the story. (We wrote an essay for Horn Book this year if you’re really interested.)
The best part? What happened the day after that first post and every day since. Thousands of you joined us and contributed your voices. While Colby, Cindy, Katherine, and I manage Nerdy and keep it running, the blog, Nerd Camp, our conference presentations, the new Nerdy Bookcast, and any initiatives we create in the future depend on Nerdy’s supporters. Thank you to everyone who reads the blog, creates content, attends events, and shares information and support with others. You are Nerdy Book Club. We are stronger for your contributions.
We are book family inside and outside the pages. Reading has changed our lives. It’s a debt we can only repay by passing the gift of reading to the next reader.
Thank you for making Nerdy a home for so many. I look forward to what we accomplish together in the years to come.
2016 Nerdy Book Club Award Ballot Opens!
In the beginning, Nerdy was a community-driven book award blog, and we still hold the Nerdy Book Club Awards, the Nerdies, each winter. Each year’s list provides an overview of our readers’ most popular recommendations. The Nerdies look like a handpicked children’s bookshelf—a current mix of genres, formats, and styles; diverse books with high literary merit and kid appeal; family, librarian, teacher, and kid-tested titles; books you want to own and share.
It is time for the sixth annual Nerdy Book Club Awards. In a sea of end-of-year book lists and awards, the Nerdies honor the new children’s and young adults’ titles that teachers, librarians, authors, booksellers, caretakers, and most of all, young people, have loved reading this year.
You’ve been reading and sharing books all year. What have your reading communities enjoyed?
Here is how the Nerdies work:
The Nomination Ballot is open until December 20th at midnight Eastern Time. Nominate up to 5 books in each of the following categories:
Picture Books: Fiction
Picture Books: Nonfiction
Early Readers/ Chapter Books
Poetry and Novels in Verse
Middle Grade Fiction
Young Adult Fiction
You do not need to nominate books in every category or nominate a full slate of 5 nominees. All nominees must have been published in 2016 and written for children or young adults. In order to prevent ballot box stuffing for beloved titles, we have restricted the surveys to one response per computer.
After tallying the ballots, we will announce the 2016 Nerdies list in daily category posts beginning December 26th.
Join us in honoring the books that matter to you and the children you encourage to read. No matter which titles wind up on our final list, the ongoing conversations about these books will benefit every member of our community. Thank you for participating.
Let the Nerdies begin!
Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy Book Club co-founder, Colby Sharp), and created the annual Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.