Fellow Travelers by Donalyn Miller
I have packing rituals—habits I follow each time I prepare for a trip. I can pack my carry-on suitcase, Little Red, like a racetrack pit crew—quickly slotting my clothes, computer cords, and shoes into their proper places. After packing the essentials, I examine the available remaining space in my bag and fill it with books. Paper books weigh a lot and take up suitcase room, but I have to bring them. I live in a house brimming with books. I need a piece of it with me. It’s a comfort.
**I love paper books. I’m attached to the physical book as object. I like the weight and smell of books. I like their solid but portable shape. I have carried the same black purse for six years because I can cram three or four paperbacks in the side pockets. I don’t know how to wander the world without books in my daily luggage.
My packing formula is one book for every day of my trip, plus an extra for delays. I always have a few audiobooks on my phone and journals or magazines in my bag for more reading options. Flying provides me a rare opportunity to power down and just read without distractions. I cannot write or type on planes because of motion sickness, but for some reason, I can read. I am lifted from the plane and transported somewhere else for a few hours.
The books I carry become my traveling companions. They keep me company while waiting for flights or eating alone in restaurants. Stacked on nightstands, they break up the monotony of another bland hotel room. Carrying books introduces me as a reader and often sparks conversations with restaurant servers, families in airports, taxi drivers, and airplane seatmates. These conversations often end with me pressing one of my books into my new friend’s hand or exchanging book recommendations scrawled on Post-Its. I have occasionally used books as shields to shut down conversations with obnoxious people. An open book and earbuds communicate, “Don’t talk to me,” loud and clear.
Traveling scrapes my edges raw and I become less kind, tolerant, and patient with each passing day. Reading soothes my nerves and adjusts my attitude. Minor inconveniences like flight delays and smoky rental cars pale in comparison to what the people in my books endure. They are fighting epic battles between the forces of good and evil. They are racing to cure cancer. They are trying to find their place in the world—just like everyone is. Reading reconnects me to humanity and gets me out of my own head. As my friend, Jennifer LaGarde says, #otherpeopleexist. I know reading about imaginary or notable people has made me a better human. Books offer an endless course in self-improvement and empathy. Every book I read influences my social comprehension. Books taught me how to interact with other people better when I was a kid. They still do.
I have read and listened to some incredible books this summer. Here are ten of my favorite plane reads. Please add your favorite summer reads in the comments.
Ten Books I Read on Planes
After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018)
Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar (Tu Books, 2017)
Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension
by Sara Ahmed (Heinemann, 2018)
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu
Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018)
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books, August 2018)
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
by Ed Yong, narrated by Charlie Anson (HarperAudio, 2016)
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, October 2018)
Pride by Ibi Zoboi (Balzer + Bray, September 2018)
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga Press, 2018)
Looking back on a busy, but gratifying summer, I am thankful to the educators and families who invited me to your conferences, schools, and literacy events this summer. I am honored to be your colleague and supporter. I hope you enjoyed a restorative break and I wish you a wonderful school year.
**With technology, readers have so many ways to read now. Please stop calling paper books “real books.” If we value all readers and all reading, we must value any tool or platform that gives readers more access.
Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author or co-author of several books about encouraging students to read, including The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009), Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013), and Game Changer!: Book Access for All Kids (Scholastic, 2018). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy Book Club co-founder, Colby Sharp). Donalyn launched 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.