Ahhhh summer. I have been immersed in all those things that patiently wait for the freedom of time and good weather—walks on the beach, water parks, reading in the hammock. I love this time of year because slowing down gives me time to look back and reflect. One of the things I did recently was reread some old notebooks where I had taken notes at conferences and I came upon a gem that I wrote down two years ago as I listened to Peter Johnston, author of one of my favorite professional books, Choice Words. He said, “I don’t want children to love books. I want children to love what books can do for them.”
As I thought about Peter’s statement, I realized how the simple juxtaposition of words makes a huge difference in meaning. Reading is about ideas. While we may love the feel and smell of books, the book alone is not why we read. We read for the inspiration and thinking that happens as a result of cracking the spine and letting the words wash over us.
As I mulled that idea over, days passed and another idea from one of my notebooks resurfaced. This past spring, I listened as Kelly Gallagher spoke about the importance of interpretation. He shared how he gives his ninth graders a short passage or sentence and asks them to think about what it means. The example he shared with us was this: Three out of four people released from jail return within three years.
I was eager to try this idea out and shared it with my fifth grade son. When I asked him what it meant, he paraphrased and said, “It means that people get out of jail and then go back to jail.” I pushed him further. “Yes, but what does it mean?” He thought about it and said, “I guess it’s saying that jail isn’t really doing a good job. It’s kind of like Bellatrix LaStrange in Harry Potter. She was bad before they sent her to Azkaban. But when she got out…she was wicked!”
In this exchange, Matthew began to interpret the text laid out before him and I think Kelly Gallagher would be proud. However, what I didn’t know is that Peter Johnston’s idea was at work as well.
Yesterday, my younger son was having a momentary lapse of behavior that landed him a cool off stint in his bedroom. Truth be told, he’s had a few of these lapses lately and is becoming more and more familiar with the four walls of his room. Disturbed by the familial disruption, my older son came to me and said, “Do you remember that thing you told me about jail and going back? Do you think that maybe sending Nay to his room is kind of like that? It doesn’t really seem to be working.”
I looked at him and was awed both by his sensitivity and keen observation. As I digested this comment, I realized that books and reading have become Matthew’s dress rehearsal for life and because he reads, he understands his own life better. As a reading teacher mom, I love that this has happened, but what’s more, Matthew loves it and I think that’s what Peter Johnston was getting at. Matthew sees value in reading and THAT will keep him coming back to books for his entire life.