Monday, March 6, 2017

6 of 31: From drool to the very uncool.

Meet Wyatt.

  • He's hilarious. 
  • He's a baby of a thousand facial expressions. 
  • He's able to crawl and pull himself up on furniture to a standing position. 
  • He's inquisitive and quite contemplative.
  • He's a studious little guy trying to figure out the world around him.
  • He's mastered waving, clapping, high fives, and raising his dimpled arms above his head when we coo, "How big is Wyatt? Sooooo Big!"
  • He's my newest nephew.
  • He's completely stolen my heart.
  • And he's already a reader.  
You might have read that I love spoiling my nieces and nephews with books...whether they want them or not!

Last Friday, I couldn't wait to pull out of my school's parking lot and zoom over to my youngest sister's house to deliver a bundle of baby books for Wyatt. I had all the bases covered, numbers, colors, opposites, animals, trucks, boats, bees. You name it, I had a cardboard, drool-proof book about it.

My sister and Wyatt greeted me at the door and she thrust him into my arms. He and I immediately sat down to look through his new books. As he carefully turned the pages (in the correct direction I might add) and studied the pictures, I desperately wished to crawl inside his tiny brain and figure out what he was thinking. I wasn't reading aloud to him yet. Instead, I sat in awe and watched as he figured out how to lift the flaps on each page. Suddenly, it occurred to me that he was reading. I mean, really reading. It was obvious that he was trying to make some sense of the pictures as he turned the pages. Clearly, this was something he was used to doing. His mama, a former fourth grade teacher, had done a terrific job incorporating books into his earliest moments making them a regular part of his life. When I had to take the book away from him and pass him back to his doting mother, he signaled his displeasure by reaching for the book and knitting his tiny brow together as if to say, "Why Aunt Liz, why?"

As I drove home I started to wonder what kind of reader Wyatt would grow up to be. My thoughts then drifted to my current seventh grade students and their personal reading lives. I know some were as privileged as Wyatt and owned books before they were even born, but many were not. Regardless of the myriad of literacy experiences these little human beings encountered in their earliest years, they all began school and were expected to reach certain benchmarks at certain times. It is not their fault that they were or were not read to. But I wonder if somewhere along the way we didn't make them feel that it was. Perhaps this might explain why I battle book haters year after year in seventh grade.  

I'm thinking of one of my students in particular who assures me on a weekly basis that she still hates reading and always will. No matter the book talks I give, the bits I read aloud, the suggestions of her peers, previewing books of every genre with her in the library, despite asking her tons of questions trying to tap into her interests, I cannot find the magic bullet book. In truth, I'm desperate to find that pivotal text that will sway her to the "dark side" where books are worthy of her time. 

I looked at the odometer and realized I was speeding.  I gently eased my foot off the accelerator and I continued to wonder. 
  • I wondered if she was read to as a baby.
  • I wondered if she ever loved reading. 
  • I wondered if we intervened too early and unintentionally stole the joy of reading from her. 
  • I wondered if she has made it through eight years of school hating something that is so integral to her development. 
  • I wondered if she thinks reading is uncool.
  • I wondered if she never received a new smart phone if she would have more time to read.
  • I wondered in what ways her life might be different if she opened herself up to books.
I gripped the steering wheel tightly as I drove. She is a talented, strong student, but I can't help feeling like I'm failing her. If only it were as easy as sitting down with her and pulling her onto my lap with a cardboard baby book. 

But I will not despair, I will not give up. I have many more days until the end of May. I will continue scouring books with her in mind. I will continue to try to draw her into a reading life where maybe, just maybe, she will eventually admit that she hates reading just a little bit less.  



  1. Oh, I love this. What a beautiful piece. I love your two lists and the comparison. You're such a great teacher, and your dedication to your students is truly admirable.

  2. Love the comparison! My daughter loved books up unitl she had to start reading them herself. Then my work began. Luckily I'm a librarian and teacher so I just started throwing all kinds of books at her until graphic novels drew her in. Now she loves reading and reads everything.

  3. It is so beautiful how your little nephew got you thinking about your seventh-grader. Love your line regarding him, "I desperately wished to crawl inside his tiny brain and figure out what he was thinking." I feel this way with my preschoolers all the time.