December 09

Powered and Empowered by Books and Reading By Anonymous

Imagine after nearly 50 years, having a close family friend reach out to you to share their amazement that you are a positive, successful, and happy person after having watched how you were treated growing up. Recently, that happened to me. The friend also expressed regret for not standing up and speaking out against how my family treated me at the time. She shared how painful the memories still are. This family friend was not the first person to let me know that it hurt to see how I was treated as a child. Twenty plus years ago, an extended family member shared that after every visit, she had wanted to offer to take me home. However, interfering with family dynamics was not done back then. 

I grew up one of four children in a suburban family. At the time, I thought my life was average and normal; it was all I had ever known. When I felt things were not fair and occasionally expressed that feeling, just like nearly everyone else, I was told, “Life isn’t fair.” Over the years, I have seen  that it is not uncommon for one child to be treated differently from the other children. However, in my case, the uneven treatment was somewhat extreme.

When asked how I overcame the way my family treated me, I immediately knew the answer to the question. I lived in books. They nurtured and raised me. Also, if I was reading, my mother would say, “Leave her alone. She is reading.” Books were my sanctuary and my joy. Characters like Jane Eyre, Sara Crewe, Martitia Howland (Kathryn Worth – They Loved to Laugh), Edmond Dantès , and later Terisa Morgan (Stephen R. Donaldson – Mirror of Her Dreams) showed me how to be resilient and that how others treat you doesn’t define you. While life isn’t fair, it doesn’t change who you are inside and you can become who you are meant to be and who you want to be. 

My struggles were not limited to my home life. School was a challenge and a frustration. Because of years of extremely high standardized test scores, I was expected to be an “all A, no effort student.” I did not meet those expectations. At a time when phonics and round robin reading were common, these daily classroom assessments did not reflect that I was an insatiable reader who devoured and comprehended chapter books. Instead, frustrated teachers thought I chose not to learn to read well and I was labeled a lazy slacker. While I did not feel lazy, I was definitely seen that way.

Once again, it was my reading that saved me. My ability to read, understand, make connections, retain, and recall led to my becoming successful in school. With each grade level, the focus slowly shifted from basic skills like phonics, spelling, and handwriting to content; reading filled my head with content. While my spelling and handwriting continued to be disasters, there were some teachers who persevered and saw past the messy writing and creative spellings. These teachers realized that I did more than regurgitate; I understood, applied, evaluated, synthesized, and moved beyond the original works. I even began to have teachers who recognized that spelling and handwriting aside, that I had worthwhile things to say and was an exceptional writer.

Why did I struggle? It was not until a close friend was taking graduate classes in special education, that someone uncovered what was really going on and I was referred to an expert on learning disabilities. Initially, I was told I was too successful in school to be learning disabled. After elaborating on my struggles relative to my successes, it was suggested that I might have a minor learning disability and when adult testing eventually became available, I should arrange to be tested. I was a third of the way through a masters when I went through a multi-factored evaluation. I was identified as gifted with multiple severe learning disabilities. Later, in my fifties, when working on credentials in gifted education, I learned that I am not alone. There are many gifted people who also have some kind of challenge like learning disabilities and we are called twice exceptional. In addition I discovered that high levels of creativity are frequently associated with being both gifted and LD. As I read those 2e text books, I once again found myself in books.

How did I overcome being learning disabled and gifted without any specific professional support? Reading saved me. Reading turned me into a successful student, teacher, author, and speaker. Reading brought me to where I am in life…socially, emotionally, and professionally.

Looking at students, I try to keep in mind that not all of life’s scars and challenges are visible. As a librarian, I work to make a wide range of resources available so my students can find themselves; follow their passions; meet their learning needs; plumb the depths of topics; and expand their worlds. Just like the librarians who helped empower me with books and reading, I seek to do the same for my students. There is power and joy in books and reading.

The author has been an educator and librarian for forty years. During her career, she has worked with a range of learners from toddlers and preschoolers in public libraries; students in grades pre-K-12 in public schools; and adult learners as a colleague and adjunct. Over those forty years, she has yet to meet an average learner/student. The writer has also given workshops, keynotes and other presentations at the local, state and national level. In addition to being a book lover and insatiable reader, the writer is also the author of several professional books and numerous articles. A true lifelong learner, she is lover of words; “joy” and “esemplastic” are two of her favorite words. 

Due to the traumatic nature of her family experiences and their longterm consequences, the author has asked that her name be removed from the post and biography.