March 27

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Reflections From My Reading Life by Lainie Levin

My reading teachers probably hated me.

 

It’s not that I was a struggling reader. Quite the opposite, in fact. I intuitively learned to read at age two and never looked back.

 

My reading life as an elementary school student, however, reveals a history of reading the wrong thing at the wrong time, or not fulfilling my potential. My strongest reading memories from childhood were times I disappointed others in one way or another.

 

Take Kindergarten. Two weeks into school, my teacher called my mother in for a chat. Little Lainie was acting out in class and getting sent to “time out” every day. My mother discovered that the “time out” spot was the reading corner. “Make her sit away from the books,” she said. So ended my career as a kindergarten delinquent.

 

First grade. How many of you out there remember the colored SRA cards? Read the story, answer the questions, move to the next card, graduate through the color levels. As for me, I couldn’t be bothered with the questions. I whipped my way through the entire box before my teacher reminded me I had to write answers to the questions after each card. That’s probably when I stopped doing the reading altogether. I must have been some fun that year.

 
Second grade. I found The Witch of Blackbird Pond in the school library. It sounded like a great book to read. I brought it to the check-out desk and the librarian told me I was not allowed to read it. That book was for older kids. My gut still clenches to feel the anger and resentment that welled up within me that day.

 

Third grade. Time for book reports. My eight-year-old self wondered why the teacher reacted strangely to my diorama from Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret., in which I showed the protagonist hoping and praying for her period. (Take a moment to visualize your favorite third grader bringing in THAT diorama.) My guess? My teacher was either completely horrified and aghast, or too busy suppressing her laughter until she was able to make it to the teachers’ lounge and share the latest Lainie story.

 

Fourth grade. I stayed for a time with my grandparents. Every day, they took me to the library. Every day, I chose an enormous stack of picture books – one to two dozen. Every day, they chastised me for not reading books at my level. Every day, I bulldozed through those books and made them bring me back for more. More books, more disappointed head shakes. Did I change my book choices? No way. If anything, their frustration made me double down. I was much happier retracing my steps through Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel or Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal than pushing my way through novels.

 

I now try and imagine how adults in my life may have responded to me. Perhaps some of my more generous teachers labeled me “quirky.” I must have been a frustrating, confusing kid to understand.

 

Even now, I hear both teachers and parents complaining about kids like me. Goodness knows, I have kids like me.

 

“How can I get him to choose more challenging books?”
“All she reads is fantasy/non-fiction/horse books/graphic novels/etc…I wish she would expand her views and read something else.”

 

“I don’t want him read that book. I don’t think he’d understand the subject matter anyway.”

 

I can only offer reflections from my own experience.

 

The books with mature subjects? The ideas and themes I wasn’t ready for? I didn’t pick up on them. Not even remotely. Is graphic violence or language an exception? Perhaps; we need to know our kids and be careful in that respect. But children often read these books for the plot. Hopefully, they will reread that book as an older individual and gape in amazement at how much they missed the first time.

 

The too-easy books I kept returning to? There was poetry and magic in those pages. There was comfort in those pages. With every reading, I visited old friends. I also liked the idea of stories I could swallow whole. Even now, I am a voracious reader of short stories. Children with this reading habit find comfort and discover new ideas and patterns with each new go-around.

 

We want our children to become readers. So here is what I tell others when they share complaints or concerns:

 

Reading for enjoyment is reading for enjoyment. Your child is feeding a need. Let them feed it, and they will grow to become lovers of words, lovers of books, lovers of reading.

 

Who knows? One may actually become a teacher, too.

 

Lainie Levin is a teacher of gifted and talented students (are they ever!) for Northbrook-Glenview District 30 in the suburbs of Chicago. When not busy embarrassing her teenage boys, Lainie enjoys spending time with her husband, writing poetry, being a freelance storyteller, and trying to keep up with the teetering pile of books on her nightstand. You can follow her teacher blog at https://edsoapbox.wordpress.com/, her writing blog at https://lainielevin.wordpress.com/, or find her on Twitter at @mrslevin11.