When I said the final goodbyes to my students in June, it was goodbye to a group of children I have shared a classroom with for two or three years. A reading community with a culture of reading that was well established. At 2:30 p.m. on our last day of school, what were we doing? Reading! Books connected us and enriched our lives.
We had the reading groove going on. There was back and forth trust with our recommendations. We breathed in deep as we settled into read alouds. We communicated with wide eyes, arched eyebrows and raised shoulders as we listened. We craved daily independent reading time. We were readers.
These children were discerning when it came to new books. They were as apt to gush ” I LOVE that book,” as to comment “Well, it was mostly good but . . ” We knew certain books would be loved by some and other books would be treasured by all. I chose what I shared carefully. Generally, I delivered amazing choices because what I shared was based on the recommendations of a wise, appreciated group of book lovers (yes, I am talking to you Nerdy Book Club members) who want to deliver the best on the page to the children in their charge. Best for the best.
But this fall, I will have a brand new group of students. A younger group with fresh interests and experiences. My challenge? To win them over to the land of reading.
The impatient part of me wants to do this instantaneously. Let’s fall in love at first sight and embark on our journey together as book lovers. But I have learned. The 9 and 10 year olds I sent off surrounded in words, images and book love were 7 and 8 year olds two years ago. I began then at the beginning. I remember when they first arrived, things felt slightly off kilter. I bemoaned that I couldn’t dive deep into heavy, heady picture books and richly written novels. I had to begin differently. Start where they were. I learned that when you find the right match – the right books for the readers in front of you, the reading experience becomes instantly rich. Thankfully, I learned this quickly and we began to discover new books to love together.
Now, a few years later, I need to dust off my patient self and approach this new group with more experience, deeper commitment and careful and best intentions. I want to do it right. Wrap them in book love and let them settle. Not squeeze too tight. Let the books do their thing. Build a literary nest in which to nurture these new readers. When we fly, we will soar. But first there is going to be a little bit of bumbling about. Some falls. Some reading journeys that need more lift off. The right wind. Smoother landings. We will get there. One book at a time. Shared together. Shared between us. The love of reading doesn’t need to be found. It just sometimes needs to be switched on. The stories, the connection, the communication, the sharing; reading brings all of these things to a community.
What is my plan? To keep certain things in mind. Patience. Humour. Celebration. I will read daily and often. I will reveal the huge part of me that is a book lover. A brazen book lover who shares books in big, booming, leap about ways but who is also a sharer of stories and lets there be silence, pauses and time to absorb.
I will be deliberate.
We will be book explorers. We will learn how to navigate each and every part of a book. The end pages, the pattern on the spine and the under the jacket surprises. We will read every name: the author, the illustrator and the dedications. Books have little secrets. There are mysteries tucked away in all kinds of places if you look carefully.
We will laugh and giggle. Through humorous books we will begin associating reading with fun and joy. We will become quickly addicted. The power of a funny story with little readers can never be underestimated.
We will honour visual literacy. Through wordless titles we will participate in “tell alouds.” We will learn that experiencing a story doesn’t have to involve reading a single word. For beginning readers, this is all powerful.
We will create shared experiences and chances to share. Guest readers will be invited in. We will write and post book reviews. We will connect with authors and illustrators. We will give the gift of reading to our kindergarten buddies.
We will let nonfiction books tease out questions, awe and first ever discoveries. We will put down the books and talk and wonder together. In various ways, we will try to catch all of the new knowledge that happens in the room
I will read books that will make them mad. Books that make them sad. Joyous. Safe. Confused. I will honour the feelings. We will sit with these emotions together quietly. Or we will rage and shout. All of our reactions will be accepted and allow us to make our worlds bigger.
We will find books where they can find themselves. Other books will introduce them to lives and people they have never imagined.
We will develop listening stamina through reading chapter books. We will get lost in the characters. We will feel stories deeply and fully. We will let our thinking be transformed.
In our classroom, we will have time to read, time to talk and time to read aloud.
I will watch the impact of certain titles on certain readers. When I pay attention, I will be better equipped to find the right books for the right readers and make sure that every reader has many books to love.
All of this won’t happen week one.
Maybe not even month one.
But I will know the moment it does.
My tightly woven nest won’t be empty. But it will no longer be the place where I gather children and ready them for reading journeys. It will, instead, start to expand and grow, becoming the place where readers land and take flight.