October is just around the corner. Technically, it’s already fall, but while September clings to the fading wisps of summer, October is the real deal. October means pumpkins and apply picking, shorter days that begin and end with a familiar crispness in the air. October means the energy and excitement of Back-to-School is now replaced with the reality of 168 more days until summer.
What exactly makes Back-to-School so magical? And, how can we capture that magic and sprinkle it across the year? Part of the wonder of Back-to-School is the newness—new teacher, classmates, classroom and (be still my heart) new school supplies. And part is the discovery of new friends, interests and territories. That’s what makes the reading and writing identity work that we do at the beginning of the year so critical. It’s important for us teachers to discover who our students are as readers and writers. However, if that work begins and ends in September then our kids lose out on the opportunity to discover who they are becoming as readers and readers.
At TCRWP’s August Institute on the Teaching of Reading, Katy read “What Reading Means to Me… Snapshots from an Avid Reader.” It is perhaps one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve read on the power of books across one reader’s life. I already love Katy for the amazing friend and writing partner that she is, but this post, this post makes me love her even more because by sharing the reader she was, is, and is becoming, Katy invites me into her library, her mind and her heart. Her writing about her reading identity also inspires me to remember my own journey as a reader, to explore new authors and titles, and to celebrate my identity as an avid reader.
So, think of this post as a reminder, a reminder to make the magic of discovering who we are as readers and writers happen across the year—not just in September.
What Reading Means to Me… Snapshots From an Avid Reader by Katy Wischow
The landscape of my childhood, the landscape of my life was built with books.
I lied to my mother. I told her I didn’t know how to read, even though I could, until she promised me that she’d still keep reading aloud to me even after I could do it myself.
When I was left, age two, overnight with my parents’ friends, they came running in to comfort me as I screamed “I want to go home! I want my mother!” I wasn’t homesick, I was reciting my favorite book, Are You My Mother?
I read Harriet the Spy for inspiration, and began squatting on the sidewalks, recording in a notebook every time the neighbor’s curtains twitched. The Tormeys, across the street, invited me into their backyard to spy on THEIR neighbors.
I began writing Louisa May Alcott on the tops of my spelling tests, instead of my own name, so I could be closer to Louisa.
I took my strawberry scented notepad to the library and copied pages of notes about chimpanzees when I had fallen in love with Jane Goodall.
I scoffed at the frequency with which the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew encountered mysteries, and secretly, desperately longed to stumble over a stolen fortune of my own.
I haunted the children’s library, borrowing my favorites over and over, the way you don’t ever get tired of seeing your best friend every day at school.
I whispered the secret spell words in The Egypt Game and Witch’s Sister, then whipped around to see what I might have accidentally summoned.
I finished The Devil’s Arithmetic in the front seat of the car and then cried so hard that my nose bled.
I finished The Best Christmas Pageant Ever after bedtime, and laughed so hard that my parents could hear me from downstairs.
I finished Bridge to Terebithia at school, and fought so hard with Katherine S. about the ending that we never quite made up.
I got older. Books held my hand as a teenager and whispered to me that I was not alone, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike terrified me, waking me at night to lie very, very still in bed, wondering what was just outside my line of sight.
I passed notes to friends and crushes in school; at home, at night, I passed notes to the books I loved, dialing up the creaky modem to email authors who changed me. Some wrote back.
Toni Morrison’s Beloved changed me, changed my whole eleventh grade class. I still can hear the echoes of her words.
I spent a series of house-bound high school snow days writing a thirty-page modern version of Antigone, because Antigone changed me.
I read Audre Lorde and felt kinship, felt power. Audre Lorde changed me.
I got older still. In my first year of teaching, overwhelmed, exhausted, I still did not tire of my best friends. Harriet. Louisa. Jane. Antigone.
I read with my students and cried at Frindle, laughed at Bud, Not Buddy, loved every word Jacqueline Woodson penned, learned from Seymour Simon and Melissa Stewart. I met my kids’ book best friends – Walter Dean Myers, Julie Ann Peters, Gary Soto.
I made new best friends, loved beyond reason – zombie books by Mira Grant that speak to my heart, time travel by Connie Willis that makes me cry. I laughed at David Sedaris, pondered with Jeanette Winterson, dreamed with James Baldwin, got lost in the beauty of Julia Alvarez’s words, looked into the future with Octavia Butler.
I made wizard best friends – Harry, Hermione, Ron. And Professor McGonagall.
I absorbed murder mysteries, one after another after another, each one painting a picture of a world that made sense, a world of justice served.
I have nightmares before each and every trip that I step on the train, climb in the car, settle on the plane, and open my bag to find no books.
Christmas, 2014. My father cleans out the attic and pulls out a stack of Babysitters’ Club books, and they feel like old friends. I can’t bring myself to say goodbye to them.
The landscape of my childhood, the landscape of my life is built with books. Books gave me doors to new worlds, books gave me windows on other lives, books gave me mirrors – kind, forgiving mirrors that showed me a future for myself that was good, hopeful. This is what reading means to me, this is what I want for every reader. The landscapes of our shared, beautiful world, built with the words that matter.