I am officially back at work. I was dog sitting this past weekend at a cozy, cabin at Mount Baker and savouring the time to “read with abandon. This is something I had reserved for summer times… On the beach. At Kits Pool. In a cabin. In bed. On the red leather chair with a pot of tea. Time devoted to reading books of various quality and copious quantities. At least one Oprah magazine, foreign newspapers, a thriller, a book on politics, some professional sources and as many “fat, sad books” that I can digest are required.
The books I planning on giving for gifts, I read in one sitting – without bending pages or leaving any trace of this stolen pleasure. I trusted my son with an Elon Musk book, prior to my reading it, only to be denied access until he has read it. The worst. I’m sure it goes back to the time when he won the draw to read the family copy of the last Harry Potter book in the series, FIRST. I may have “bent the rules” by staying up all night to read it. Apparently I need to pay! A confirmation that my “read first” strategy must prevail.
My children were destined to love books. They were surrounded by a wealth of quality books, trade books that interested them as well as positive, shared reading experiences before bed, after skiing, at the park, at the beach or en route anywhere. They had a good understanding at a young age that fiscal restraint never extended to the book store. We would always be lured in, breathe in the smell of newly published books, and they would always get to choose a title to buy. This is often the case with children of book-lovers. My cousin’s kids opted to go to the book store and starting to read their selections BEFORE we headed to Kits Pool this summer. These aren’t the kids we need to captivate at the beginning of the school year. They have already morphed into readers and they will continue to read for a variety of purposed throughout their lives.
As a little girl, I was not surrounded with books. My Mom struggled financially and was too exhausted for bedtime stories at the end of the day. In summer holidays in Los Angeles, my father and step-mother were not in the habit of children and books and bedtime stories continued to be elusive. I entered school and was promptly put in the slow reading group. I lived in fear of my turn to read aloud during “Round Robin” reading. I learned the mechanics of reading. In Grade 3, that changed.
My sister went to live with my father in L.A. and I was terribly lonely. My mother weakened and I was finally talked into letting me get a puppy and then adopt two baby gerbils from the most recent litter in my Grade 3 class. I proceeded to memorize the books about pet care and researched all there was to know about cock-a-poos and gerbils. I began to prepare for my life as a veterinarian. The next year, my sister came back home with the first volumes of Trixie Belden and Donna Parker. That together with the “Now” section at the Marpole Public library (for the cool kids) and my cousin’s huge collection of comics, I was catapulted me into the world of readers.
Long ago, I bought into the belief that: “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” (Joseph Addison 1672-1719). Our role as educators is to support our students in not only becoming readers but also becoming thinkers. Teaching the mechanics of reading to our students is an easier task than inducting them into a world where they can feed their interests, question the sources of what they read, empathize with characters and discover new possibilities. I found another kindred soul in Donalyn Miller this summer. Her book inspiring book, Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits, resonates the same desire for our students. It provides a wealth of ideas and strategies to do just that. My “reading with abandon” is her “wild reading.”
As a teacher, I took the task of being up to date with Children’s Literature seriously. I read new releases of Children’s literature and I talked about them with children in the classroom, in the halls and on the playground. I also maintained my life as a reader and “read with abandon” throughout the year. As a school vice principal / principal, my reading world narrowed. Most of my reading became professional reading, online and offline. I stopped participating in regular book clubs unless they were related to a professional goal. I started to focus more of my time on professional writing. Lots of blogging and tweeting. More purposefulness. Less abandon. I continued to talk about books with students but no longer had a finger of the pulse of new releases in Children’s Literature. There have been fewer conversations about the great book I’m reading.
As the busy life of school takes off, my goal is to allow more of the times where I “read with abandon”. I want to engage more in conversations with adults and children about current releases and share our responses. Goodreads has served to be a tracking mechanism or online reading log, than an opportunity to share in a reading community. Donalyn Miller opened my eyes to the potential of developing an online reading community and reminded me that my enthusiasm for reading is contagious. My new book club met in August and it will NOT include professional reading. I will devote a chunk of time to becoming more current in my knowledge of Children’s Literature by doing more shared reading with my students and bringing more authors into the school. I will allow my mind to be fed with the rich ideas that come from “reading with abandon.” Perhaps this will be the thing that keeps me from getting lost in the demands of the job. Perhaps this is one of the missing keys to the elusive “work-life balance.”