Setting Them Up For A Lifetime Of Reading by Clare Landrigan
Do I have a library card?
I stop typing, hit save, and turn around to face my son.
I know I had one, but I don’t know where it is or if it is still active.
Why do you ask?
I want to reread the Harry Potter books this summer. I thought I could get them audible for my train commute to work and then use the copies we have here for evenings and weekends.
I fight back the tears as I open my desk drawer and retrieve his library card.
My son, now eighteen, was an avid pleasure reader through eighth grade. In high school, he was an avid reader and he did enjoy many of the books he read but reading for the pure joy of reading left his life. His academic course load and the volume of reading required for the types of classes he selected did not leave much room for choice. He made plans for his reading. He read on vacations, on weekends, and in cozy spots. I even found him many mornings having fallen asleep reading with a book in hand. The volume of reading did not decrease. Choice and voice in his reading life are what changed.
His reading journey has now landed him in a place between high school ending and college beginning. He has two months ahead of him without a summer reading list; course requirements, or his one school, one book assignment. He is at a point in his reading life journey where he must determine his direction. I would be dishonest if I said I was confident that when faced with this decision, he would find his voice in reading once again.
I spent years modeling how to make a reading plan, how to always have a book on deck, and how to choose books to match your mood. In the past four years, I have continued to give books as gifts, stack books by his bedside, and booktalk during family dinner. In the past four years, I have tried to see the strengths in his reading journey – new genres, new authors, quality texts, and moving beyond one’s comfort zone. In the past four years, I have watched his books for pleasure reading gather dust, I have allowed him to wear earbuds so he could do work in the car rather than listen to our family audiobook on trips, and I have silenced my worries about his reading life. I did not know if he would find his reading life again.
All those years, all those bedtime read-alouds, all the books we listened to as a family, all the traditions around books – these kept a flame aglow and nurtured that flame to spark once again. When I think about that flame, his journey, and the choice he ultimately made for the next step in his reading life, I realize how many lessons there are to learn from his story. What did he consider as he chose to rekindle the spark? What helped him navigate his journey back to reading for pure joy?
First, he went back to the familiar. We read these books together and listened to all of the Harry Potter audiobooks on a two-month cross-country trip when he was in elementary school. Creating memories around reading – not just making our kids read for a number of minutes each day – is what will help them build habits for a lifetime.
Second, he planned for his reading life. He thought about his summer and the spaces he would have to read. He chose something he could access both audio and print. He considered the quality of the audio and chose a text he knew he would love to listen to again. If we teach kids to plan for reading, they will use this plan in various ways along the journey. At different stages of life, reading may bring us in different directions, but planning will always bring us back to reading.
Next, he went back to his comfort zone. Fantasy was his first love. Fantasy has not been in his reading life for the past four years. By choosing the genre he loves and feels comfortable with, he is ensuring he is reading for pure joy. We need to remember it is okay for our readers to be comfortable and even get in a rut from time to time. This is how we develop interests and passions in our reading life.
He considered his mood. Having watched him over the past four years, I am pretty sure he is tired. He worked harder than I have ever worked, and I am pretty confident his next four years will be challenging as well. I think he wanted something that made him feel good, that made him laugh, and that reminded him of care-free days. These books perfectly match his mood of letting loose and being a bit more playful in these months between high school and college. We need to remember to create space for the moods of our readers. We need to recognize, honor and support them in the life they are living both within and outside of the school day.
He didn’t worry about complexity (and neither am I)! So often when we confer with readers about the type of books they like, we hear big, long and hard. My son chose easy, familiar and fun. While these books are long, he created a scaffold by setting up an audio/print option, so he could optimize his time. As a teacher of reading, I am not worried that he chose a middle-grade text as a rising college student. I am confident he will connect with this text differently than he did as a ten-year-old. Complexity not only resides in the text – it resides in the interaction between the reader and the text.
I learned how important it is to never stop creating a culture of reading. Even though he is an adult, I did plant a seed – (some may even call it nagging). I asked about his plan for reading when school ended. I reminded him of the stack of books gathering dust in his room. I showed him a slide deck shared by educators who blog on YA and adult books. I then created space for him to make his next step. It did not happen that day or even that week. When I least expected it, he came to me and asked for his library card. Sometimes we need to remember to coach from the side and then get out of the way to create space for them to navigate their reading journey. All readers need a community to nudge, inspire and maybe even nag now and then!
He knows how to access the texts he wants and needs. While I rent a storage space to house all of the books I own, my son still looked to the public library to get what he needed. When we take the time to teach our children how to access books we are setting them up for a lifetime of reading. Our students need to look beyond our classrooms and our homes to access books. School libraries and public libraries provide choice, voice and easy access for text selection. The right book at the right time can make all the difference in the life of a reader – libraries and librarians connect readers and books every day.
As I watched him leave for work this morning, quietly laughing to himself, all of the memories of our shared reading life came rushing back to me. I have always believed in Lilian Katz’s research, “Dispositions are not learned by children through formal instruction but are nurtured by people, contexts and the environment that surrounds them – dispositions are caught rather than taught.” (Dowling, 2006; 92) For the first time, I lived her research. As educators, parents, and readers, we must trust the process and the journey. If we build it, live it and nurture it, they will find their way to it. The journey may not be direct, easy or predictable, but I believe once a person has truly experienced the joy of reading they will find their way back to a vibrant reading life. The challenge is making sure every reader has the opportunity to experience the joy of reading.
Clare Landrigan is a staff developers who is still a teacher at heart. Her newest book with Tammy Mulligan, It’s All About the Books, is filled with ways to get more texts into the hands of readers. You can find them on Twitter as @ClareandTammy and online at www.teachersforteachers.net where they blog about books and the art of teaching.