Reading Sentry


This fails to reveal the true countenance.
Glancing up from my reading on the porch, I noticed a face looking at me. A tree face!  I saw two eyes, a triangular, lionesque nose and a downward-curved mouth. I tried several times to capture the full effect but, somehow, what was perceived failed to translate in a photo. The mouth proved invisible to behold.

I thought of the nasty trees from The Wizard of Oz.  And the Ents from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Oh!, then there is the talking tree from A Tale Dark and Grimm. How thrilling!

I resumed reading. I took my steadfast tree sentry as a sign that reading must continue on.
Over the summer, I took part in Book-a-Day, an initiative launched by Donalyn Miller (author of The Book Whisperer). Every participant was asked to set a personal goal of how many books they would read over summer vacation and to keep track of it.

At first, I thought I would try for every day and read over 70 books. Yet, my count obsession began to overshadow the enjoyment so I settled for a best effort with the goal to just read everyday.

My seven-year old niece decided she, too, wanted to challenge herself.  Her goal: fourteen books. I inwardly cringed when M said she wanted to read the Holy Grail for so many early readers: “chapter books”. Although a good reader, M still had not developed the stamina to stay with lengthier text. She tended to abandon them after a few chapters.

Kicking aside my aunt persona, I launched into my Reading Specialist role and talked about: choosing just right books; building stamina; how it is not the size of the book that counts; and how we read for enjoyment, etc. M looked dubious. Against my territorial teacher instinct, I decided to lend her a stack of my recently-acquired picture books to get her started (and, I admit, to convince her that picture books were not just for babies.)

M, I discovered, had a competitive streak. She checked in periodically to tell me how easy this was for her. With glee and an eye roll, M announced her sister had only read two books. By summer’s end, M beat her own goal and logged in 25 books.

I thought I would surprise M with a book to acknowledge her achievement. When I called her father, I found M had other ideas. She told her family that I had promised her a dollar a book and that she would be getting twenty-five dollars. My mouth dropped. M then proceeded to tell my brother that “really, I should get $30 because I am worth it”.
I didn’t plan it. In the past, summer vacation always meant working in an office. But not this year. I envisioned myself floundering with all this unstructured time.

And then I picked up a book. Downloaded another. I mixed entertaining reads with professional books, contemporary with classic. I now scour websites and book stores for more titles. I’ve begun to get exasperated feedback.

“You’re still reading?”

“Aren’t you doing anything else?”

“Don’t you want to do anything fun?”



 I am.
I read a variety of genres but mysteries, especially if they are a series, are my first love. I devoured the Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames, Encyclopedia Brown, and it almost goes without saying, Nancy Drew, as a child. 

I draw on my history with Nancy Drew when I talk about reading behaviors (and/or begin a mystery unit) in school. Nancy Drew was not just a character in a book, I tell my students. She is someone who I know well. I shock the students when I start rattling off what I still remember nearly thirty years later: Nancy’s “titian” hair (who had ever heard of that?), her widowed father attorney Carson Drew:  housekeeper Hannah Gruen. And of course, there were Nancy’s best friends George, the tomboy, and her cousin Bess who was always plump. I could go on about Ned and the mysteries themselves, but I will restrain myself..

My students always ask how I remember all of this and why. I tell them as I read, I became part of these books. I was in the state that all readers want to be: inside the book. I bonded with Nancy or Ms. Marple and worked to solve their mysteries with them. Reading let me be a detective. Reading created these life-long friends.

Today when I downloaded the latest book in a series I am now following, I felt the same sense of anticipation Nancy always did when she stumbled on a new mystery.