Growing a Reader
by Carrie Davies
When I was 7 years old, I received my very own copy of Chris VanAllsburg’s The Polar Express for Christmas from my Aunt Catherine. I remember being captivated by the story, by the very thought that children could be swept off on a magical train that would take them to the North Pole. I believed with my whole heart that I would always, always, always hear the ringing of that silver bell, no matter what. I vividly remember the beauty of VanAllsburg’s illustrations, and how they felt as warm and comforting as a cozy blanket; how I longed to walk right into them. I recall my mom reading it aloud to us, as we sipped hot cocoa. I remember pouring over the pages as I read it by myself. I loved that book as much any reader possibly could.
Until I was shown I could love it even more.
My mom delivered news that was just about as magical as taking that train ride to the North Pole – Chris VanAllsburg would be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, doing a book signing at Schuler Books, and she was going to take me. ME! (I smile even as I type those words now as an adult.) When we arrived, the line already seemed to stretch on for miles, as it snaked back and forth through the store. We waited…and waited…and waited…which is an awful lot of waiting for a 7-year-old! But all that waiting seemed to fade away instantly as I approached Mr. VanAllsburg at the signing table. I could feel my heart racing. My mom told him how much our family loved his book, and what a treat it was to meet him. My 8-year-old self could barely find the words to speak, and I just nodded eagerly. I somehow managed to get out the words that he was my favorite author and illustrator, and then he thanked me. ME! I’m fairly certain I floated out of the bookstore that day, my feet never quite coming back down to touch the ground.
Little did I know my love of all things reading and books and authors was soon to be tested.
But two words changed all that: Book. Reports.
My 3rd grade teacher assigned us book reports. Every week, we had to fill out a story elements sheet, and then write a summary of a book we had read, and then read it to the class. They were dry; they were boring; they were lifeless. Not only did we have to write them, but we then had to endure listening to every single one of our classmates read their report aloud! I absolutely hated everything about them. I hated how they sucked the fun out of reading. I hated how they cut in to my actual reading time. I hated how often we had to do them. Most of all, I hated that I couldn’t finish The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder in a week, and therefore I wasn’t allowed to do a book report on such a book. My mom still tells the story of being devastated as she watched her child who loved to read start choosing books by flipping to the back to see how many (read as: few) pages the book had, and then looking at the size of the print to make sure “there weren’t too many words.” My love of reading barely had a pulse after that year. I had entered 3rd grade as a voracious reader, who couldn’t get enough of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and left as a reader who would only read the bare minimum I could get by with for a class requirement.
Thankfully, the story of my reading life doesn’t end there.
*****Resuscitating my reading life after my 3rd grade year was no small task, but I was sent a miracle in the form of Mr. Scheidel, my 4th grade teacher. Mr. Scheidel made it clear from Day 1 that curiosity, creativity and learning went hand in hand, and would be part of our daily experiences in 4th grade. He had a passion for teaching that made learning fun and exciting.
Reading was no exception.
I remember counting down the minutes until it was finally read aloud time in our classroom. Each day, a story would unfold with such drama, action and excitement that an entire class of 10-year-olds would literally be on the edge of their seats.
The book that sealed the deal for me as a reader, though, was The Indian in the Cupboard. Mr. Scheidel read that book with such animation and commitment, I hung on every word. He had a different voice for each character, and even now, I can still remember what those voices sounded like all these years later.
I suffered a fairly significant injury my 4th grade year, and had to miss a week of school. I was devastated that it meant I had to miss a week of Mr. Scheidel reading The Indian in the Cupboard. He sent the book home with me, and I’m fairly certain I read the remainder of the book on my own in a matter of days and loved it, but it just wasn’t the same as hearing him read it aloud.
Thankfully, that love of reading spark was still there. Mr. Scheidel nurtured that spark, and slowly but surely, fed it until it was a roaring fire. I once again considered myself a reader, and read for fun every chance I got. I adored The Great Brain, The Bridge to Terebithia, and Charlotte’s Web amidst many others that year.
I am forever indebted to my mom and Mr. Scheidel for not only surrounding me with incredible books, but also for showing me how to love those books. It was an invaluable gift they gave to me, and I now do all I can to pass that gift on to the children in my life.
As a mom, my own kids have books spilling from their bookcases and covering their bedroom floors. They have gone with me on countless journeys to meet authors, here them speak and obtain their coveted signatures. They both still snuggle up with me to here me read aloud to them every night, and then dive into their own books before nodding off to sleep.
As a teacher librarian, I do my best every day to help every reader find a book they can fall into and fall in love with, as the world falls away. I am continually seeking to find ways to foster their love of reading. Equally as important, though, I am very aware of the things I may unknowingly say or do that could potentially squash a child’s love of reading. I try to help a child trust their book choice, not question it; build their love of any genre or format, not dismiss it; support their jump into a book just beyond their reach; not hold them back. I have come to realize how critical my words and actions are in fanning their reading spark or extinguishing it.
Books, and the people who put them in my life, have most definitely shaped the person I have become today. To this day, I spend a lot of time with my nose buried in a book. For that, I am eternally grateful.
|Two students read I Will Chomp You!|
|Carrie reading with her son.|
|Carrie's daughter reading.|
|Carrie's son reading Comic Squad: Lunch!|
|The kids meeting author Josh Funk.|
|Carrie and her daughter meeting Katherine Applegate.|
|The kids, years later, meeting Chris Van Allsburg!|
|A new book (and memory) to cherish!|
About the Author
Carrie is in her 2nd year as a Teacher Librarian in a K-4 elementary school in West Michigan. Prior to that, she taught 4th grade for 10 years. Carrie loves that her days are spent surrounded by kids and books, and feels fortunate to share her passion for reading with students and staff every day. She is also the mom to two self-proclaimed Junior Book Nerds, ages 5 and 7, and couldn't be happier! You can follow her on Twitter at @readwithdavies.
Learn more about the Growing A Reader series here!