Reading Sentry

07/06/2013

 
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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?”

Yes. 

Yes. 

 I am.
 
 
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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.