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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Growing A Reader with Katie Lawrence, Teacher Librarian

Growing A Reader
by Katie Lawrence

It’s difficult for me to remember when stories were not a vital part of my life. From the time I was a small child, I recognized that the written word had power - to help me understand other times or people, to connect me with others, to allow me to escape the real world for a while. I owe much of this to my parents. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home filled with books where reading was encouraged and frequently discussed. 
Revealing my bookworm nature at a young age

When I was small, I often would get so engrossed in a book that I would pretend to go to bed, only to sneak out later to read by the hallway night light. On several occasions my parents would find me asleep in the hallway, my nose in a book. Before these “hallway moments”, before my memories of books read aloud by my parents (picture books, classics etc.), one of my first memories of “story” is of my dad. Dad is an excellent storyteller. Has been and always will be. When I was a little girl he often told me stories about Katie O’Lawrence and her magical popsicle. The Katie in the stories often went on magical Irish-inspired adventures where her popsicle frequently aided her and she always returned home to her parents. I loved that “story-Katie” and begged Dad to tell me stories about her over and over again. Those stories were personal. They made me feel connected to my Dad as well as to the literary world in a new way. A story could teach me things about myself and was something that could change depending on the storyteller, or where I was in life. I love thinking about those stories and my Dad’s delightful leprechaun-esque lilt as he told them. What wonderful memories! 

Katie and her Dad... maybe he's telling a Katie O'Lawrence story!
At 9 years old, I read Little Women for the first time. The March family was so real to me. I celebrated their successes and, from what I can recall, I cried several times at sad moments as well. I loved Jo in particular, she was so strong and funny and independent too. I had been prompted in this reading by an invitation to a girl’s night out. My mom, Nana (grandma) and Auntie Aaron were all rereading Little Women while I read it for the first time. We were preparing to go see the movie version of Little Women in the theater followed by a special dinner out. What an incredible shared reading experience this was! For me, the experience was made all the more special because I was treated like an adult. I sat at a table with my grown-up relatives and we actually discussed Little Women, both the movie and the book. I still remember how special I felt. It was one of those moments where you realize as it’s happening that it’s important. 

Katie reading with her grandmother, Nana
I was a rather nerdy high schooler and found early on that English classes were my refuge. I was fortunate enough to have an incredible, creative teacher my freshman year, Wendy VanProoyan. She went beyond our staid, dry textbook to make learning engaging and memorable. My favorite thing we did that year was reading Macbeth as a whole class. Everyone had a part and we read the entire play out loud, dissecting the psychological and political intricacies of the play. We all memorized Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy and recited it in class, blowing out a lit candle while we did it. This was the first time I discovered Shakespeare’s brilliance. His stories carried a weight, a humor, a commentary on the world that transcended time. It blew me away. Because I was given that window into the brilliance of Shakespeare, I went on to take a community education class on Shakespeare and then studied abroad in London during college to study Shakespeare’s works further. Currently, I have season tickets to the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and have been known to read his plays even while on vacation. This moment connected me with a larger reading world, it showed me that reading could tie me to the past and future too, and it provided me with a key facet of my being as well. 

Me as a little kid. Not sure why I have a sombrero haha.

There are so many more moments I could have selected, moments where reading revealed parts of myself, connected me to others, enlarged the world. To me, reading is vital. I feel so fortunate that I have a career where I can help ignite the joy of reading in my students on a day to day basis. 

About the Author
Katie has been a teacher librarian for five years. She worked in Chicago schools for four years and she was very involved with the Illinois Bluestem Award steering committee. Currently she works at a K-4 elementary school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As a lifelong bookworm, she feels it is a privilege to share her love of reading with her students and staff everyday. She is an active trivia team member, a flailing Zumba aficionado, reviews books for the Library Journal and is a huge fan of her coworkers Kurt Stroh and Carrie Davies. Katie will appear on the 2016 ALSC ballot as a candidate for the 2018 Newbery Award (she still can’t believe she’s writing these words). If you are a member of the ALA and the ALSC please consider voting for her! You can follow her on Twitter at @lawrenka. 


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