“The Reader At Home” (cross post from Wonderopolis’s Educator Sandbox)



“An ordinary man can. . .surround himself with two thousand books. . .and thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy.” –Augustine Birrell

It is an absolute pleasure as one of the Wonder Leads with Wonderopolis® to write to you as The National Center for Families Learning celebrates this National Day of Family Literacy. About a year ago today, I met and immediately befriended Emily Kirkpatrick, Vice-President and Jon Riegelman, Creative Director from The National Center for Families Learning, based in Louisville, Kentucky. And what a journey it has been since that first lunch meeting. I’ve presented at their spring conference with the other Wonder Leads, met the fellows from Eepybird Labs, and to close the loop on this year of friendship and working together, we will present Wonderopolis together at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference in Boston.

These are the places that literacy can take you. These are the places that stories can take you.

These are the places that wonder can take you.

Celebrating literacy, stories, and wonder with The National Center for Families Learning feels especially right today. As this group celebrates a new name, it is a ripe opportunity for each of us to recommit. . .to renew. . .or own commitment to the promotion of literacy within the family. The National Center for Families Learning does this each day, but we can find moments of literacy very near to us. Just a month ago, I presented my two-month-old nephew, Zander, with his own boxed-set of Sandra Boynton titles. These titles were always a hit with my own children and it was a wonderful feeling to have new life, new energy, new potential in my lap and to be sharing a book with this little guy.

Take a look around you. These are our families. These are our stories. These are our children. Along with The National Center for Families Learning and the Wonder Lead Ambassadors at Wonderopolis, we celebrate this day together. We celebrate this day with you.

I’d like to start off our celebration of National Family Literacy Day® with a few questions about reading. Worry not, I won’t ask you if you have read ____________. I won’t ask you to recount the discomforts of your having to have read aloud in the sixth grade. I won’t ask you what shape your teacher used for each student to measure your reading (in my work, I have heard of everything from airplanes to birds to cars. . .). I won’t ask you to defend your love of zombie books.

Just a few questions. . .

Have you found your book place yet, friend? Or, to ask the question another way, have books found their place in you?

Does your family have a book place? A place in books? Have books found their place within your family?

Do you stop to ask people around the pool while on vacation, near the center fountain while shopping, or at the couches in your local coffee shop what they are reading? If only to continue the ongoing conversation about books and reading while you are away from your book place? Or to satisfy the void within you when too many minutes have past since you last turned a page in a new story?

Do you try to intercept the mail carrier so that she or she would not have to carry the parcels too big for your mailbox, saving them one more trip to your front porch (and do you offer them gifts during the holidays in an attempt to ameliorate those times you put your shoes on just a minute too late)? Do you find yourself engaging in on-line conversations about books? Are the people closest to you starting to coin nicknames for you that have the word, “book,” within them?

Do we remember that words, like “hero,” “wonder,” and “journey” can be large words made smaller when put into portable versions we can carry and we can share with others?

Do we know why flamingoes are pink?

All of these questions could be answered “Yes” by any member of the Hankins family.

You see, Kristie, Noah, and Maddie have embarked upon this journey of wonder for the past year with me. In our work with the National Center for Families Learning, our families have become friends. We friend each other in the social media spaces. We share pictures. We send each other emails. We know when the other is not feeling well. And our love for families and family literacy deepen with our connection to The National Center for Families Learning and the Wonderopolis site. It is a friendship begun in a love for families, for literacy. . .for wonder.

And it feels natural. As books and stories and literacy have always been my brand of ice-breaker. And I am always wondering.

For example, a few years ago, while shopping in one of the larger stores, I had wandered off for a moment. I was separated from my family. Later in the day, my wife, Kristie, recounted this conversation with our children, Noah (13) and Maddie (11).

Kristie: Where is your father? He was just here a minute ago.
Maddie: I’m not sure. He was just here.
Noah: He’s probably stopped to talk to somebody about reading or a book he’s just

That’s me. The fellow that often disappears within a moment’s notice to stop to talk about reading or a book he’s just finished. I’m the one the family watches on vacation when we pass some locally-owned bookstore. I’ve abandoned my family in island fudge shops in order to sneak over to a small cozy corner book shop I had not seen in any of my prior visits. I can put down a picture book about bears and their hats to pick up a nonfiction title about the technology and culture behind the toothpick. I am a reader.

My family seems to understand me.

As a side note, I recently showed amazing restraint while visiting Petoskey, Michigan. I waited and watched while each of my family members selected books and put them into a bag I would carry for the rest of the afternoon through the Gaslight District. But, I misrepresent myself. While they were choosing books to read on our family vacation, I chatted up the counter staff about local reactions to and sales of popular young adult titles. I’ve been known to book talk in the spaces I asked you about in the beginning of this post.

Books are my home. Books are my conversation starter. Books are what I wish to share with you.

I hope–against hope–that you will be able to share them back to me.

But we know this is not always the case. Having worked with adolescent readers for what is now my tenth year of teaching English at the secondary level, I have found that not every student that comes into our learning community is well-read. Let me rephrase, I have found many students who are not well-read. . .and by their own accounts through frank interactions and narrative explorations. . .they have not been read to.

They got missed.

As I celebrate, along with The National Center for Families Learning and Wonderopolis, this National Day of Family Literacy, we cannot afford to miss our children in regard to literacy, story, and wonder any longer. The need is too great. The stakes are too high.

Some of these children missed the introduction of books so many of us take for granted. That someone would say in our presence, “I have just never liked to read,” has us clutching at the place that just started pinching a little in our heart place.

Let’s celebrate this National Day of Families Learning by recommitting ourselves to the idea that families, literacy, and wonder are important in the lives of our children. Family. Literacy. Wonder. Today.

This is a sort of call-to-action from a man who, as a child, hid copies of Mad, Cracked, and Dynamite in the inner folds of the books he was asked to read. As a child, I would wait by the mailbox for the Dr. Seuss books to arrive. As a child, I read the liner notes to my mother’s LPs to include titles like Tommy and Big Brother and the Holding Company. I was well-read. I don’t know that I read well. My eventual consumption of books was fed by the literary appetizers found within The National Enquirer, National Geographic, Reader’s Digest, People Magazine, Time, The Weekly World News, TV Guide, and the daily newspaper.

But this is not the narrative I am reading from so many of the young people I have worked with for almost a decade.

They do not come with the love for spiders who spin webs out of love for humble pigs, they do not remember seeking magic fortresses that will take them to other-worldly journeys. They missed when a Monday morning may have been brought to them by the letter “E” or the number “8.”They do not know the words to the Reading Rainbow theme song. They were not part of the club. They did not relish when their favorite characters leapt from the Sunday comics to star in their own collections. They know not of the love triangle of Archie, Betty, and Veronica that pre-dates that of Bella, Edward, and Jacob.

And, for this reason, the reader at home took out a separate residence. We created a classroom library in Room 210 (now Room 407) for the sole purpose of bringing kids to good books by way of earnest, heartfelt conversations around books that happen daily in our classroom. The shelves are full of the different genres: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, picture books, poetry, and memoirs line the shelves and available spaces. This is our book home away from home and I share it with my students as a part of my practice.

Our work is fed by thought leaders like Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Teri Lesesne, and Donalyn Miller. I call these authors the quadro-phenomenal when it comes to the subject of reading. I have read what they have had to say on the subject of reading and I continue to share in interactions with these folks as I clarify my own thinking about reading and working with teens to bring them to reading for purpose. For pleasure.

My English 11 students at Silver Creek High School participate in Wonder Wednesdays wherein we visit the Wonderopolis site to look at the daily wonders. Students choose their wonder and reflect upon it each Wednesday. We are currently in the process of evaluating these daily wonders for their use as a sort of “mentor text” that is re-shaping the way we look at nonfiction and research writing. Our students, through a free website offered through The National Center for Families Learning, are returning to wonder in a new, a novel, and a necessary manner. Our students, via Wonderopolis, are starting to wonder more than “What’s for dinner?” at the end of a school day.

We engage in activities around reading that goes well beyond the comprehensive level still found in so many classrooms. Recently, in Room 407, we celebrated World Read Aloud Day over the course of two days. Our students enjoyed the SKYPE interaction that came from no fewer than seventeen authors over the course of two days. We brought these authors in to celebrate the ability to interact with authors in real time, an approach unheard of when I was growing up and going to school.

In my book home away from home, I wanted to impress upon my students that we can have relationships with the authors we read. We are bound by the story. We’re brought together to share. And, by story and by sharing, we are shaped. For the better.

During a time of proposed education reform, it is now more important than ever that our young people read. That they are read to. This is a call to action.

We must go back in an effort to collect and to celebrate those elements that instilled within us a love for reading. I love that many are referring to their library’s children’s section as “the read box.” But I shudder to think that the circulation at the Red Box outside of the grocery store far exceeds the visitation to our local libraries that stay open after school and on the weekends (our local library offers Sunday hours during the school year).

We must go back in order to remember the literary approaches and strategies offered by the people and the muppets of Sesame Street. Just yesterday, I sat at home and watched Cookie Monster’s Crumby Pictures do a wonderful sendup of Les Miserable called “Les Mousserable. The muppets are still relevant. And with this kind of timely pop-culture driven example, a child may be led to wonder from where this installment came. Kristie and I fondly remember how one of Noah’s first “tricks” as a toddler was to go and collect stuffed versions of the muppets upon request and his love for Elmo. We must be cognizant that while we have grown and moved on, the street is still in its place. The neighborhood is still inclusive. The street is still inspiring. The stoop is still inviting.

We must stop and watch the newly-developed ad campaign from Reading is Fundamental. Go to the site and print off the lyrics. Point to the characters that appear in the music video. Go to the RIF site and watch the behind-the-scenes making of the video. Literacy can be fun. And the wonder of how Humpty Dumpty rides a bicycle will have you shaking your head over what a little wonder and a little technology can do. “One book can make a difference.” We should be giving to RIF with the earnest that RIF has given to us for a number of years. RIF is still vibrant. Programs like RIF are vital.

So many students writing about Scholastic’s Book Fair program make it so I cannot fail to stress their importance in the literate lives of our children. Teen after teen write about their trips to the Book Fair. They write about their anticipation of the day and they talk about their inability at times to choose a book for the many that they would have carried off.

Befriend a classroom teacher who works to put books into a kids hand. Yes, they probably appreciate that gift certificate to Bath and Body Works or The Olive Garden, but I know many who would appreciate the ability to go to the Book Fair themselves to get more books for their classroom libraries. That a number of teachers I know spend the amount they do on books for their own classroom libraries is a comment upon their passion to connect kids with books. And it is comment that we, as a culture, could do more to build a community of readers by our purposeful gifts of books in the places we know kids are going to be Monday through Friday some one hundred and eighty days a year. Perhaps our focus upon textbooks could be replaced by the notion of the “next book” our kids would read.

We should be aware of local efforts to promote books and literacy. The Student Council at Silver Creek High School recently did a book drive for the children’s hospital in Indianapolis. It was a joy to be able to make a small donation to their efforts. I am encouraged when I see the Little Libraries popping up in the form of red boxes attached to store fronts in plazas where I live. I take books from these. I put books in them. We should be aware of efforts by organizations like The National Center for Family Literacy to promote literacy within our families. We should never assume that it is too late to get involved or that our contribution is not needed.

We must work to make books accessible to kids. We should be championing independent reading and choice. We should foster authentic interaction and feedback with and for our readers. We should be suspect of programs and platforms designed only to assess comprehension and award points for reading. The kids will read. As Donalyn Miller might say, “They read what we bless.” And, as I have been known to say, “Student will not read 100% of the books we don’t share or don’t recommend to them.”

We should be striking up relationships with our local independent booksellers who will come to know more about our families as readers than could any larger box store or a box that drops upon our front porch. We must take them to the local library. Our kids should be library card holders. The checking out and returning of library books is where many of us learned the life lessons of responsibility and accountability.

Give books as gifts. As I sift through stacks of books at our local Goodwills and thrift shops, I almost always walk away with titles that my colleagues would deem classics of the genres I am finding. Books. They are readily available. They still satisfy.

Because you are my friend by way of sharing. Because you are my friend in literacy because of caring. Because you are my friend who I sense innovative and daring in your own approach to teaching, whether within the nursery or the learning community. I invite you to take a look at Wonderopolis.org today.

On National Family Literacy Day, this is a call to action. It’s a call to action that comes from one who is putting this call into action. This comes from my heart. The heart of a reader. The heart of a reader that has been changed not only because of a book I have read but the books I have shared. And the books I share each and every day with my Room 407 Readers.

I invite you to think about how and why we celebrate literacy and stories today. Because, one day, I gave a copy of Cheryl Rainfield’s SCARS to a student who later told both Cheryl and me that she had not been given anything in a very long time. Our families. Our children. They need us to renew our efforts to promote reading and literacy.

I invite you to think about how and why we celebrate literacy and stories today. Because, one day, a student told me that the twenty-five books they have read so far this school year is helping them to put behind a tragedy that would keep many of us from even coming to school. What if the whole school knew your story? Where could you go? Stories. We are using books to help in this journey of self-discovery and healing. Our families. Our children. They need us to remember that reading, as C. S. Lewis would tell us, “reminds us that we are not alone.”

I invite you to think about how and why we celebrate literacy and stories today. Because the gift of one book signed by an author friend of our learning community has made another student pick up their chin in the front row. They have been thought of. Kindly. They have been thought of. Story. Sharing. This student was seen as worthy by just one person giving them the gift of a book. We can recreate this story. Today. And we can make it our own.

Our families. Our children. Our children. We celebrate them today and it is a most wonderful celebration. I can hear it on the laps of grandparents sharing that read-aloud one more time. I hear it from the carpeted steps of a elementary school library somewhere in America. I hear it in the voice of a passionate first grade teacher I know from the Grand Rapids, Michigan area who is certainly doing this today. I see an elementary school principal in California who visits each classroom to share in the read-aloud experience. I hear a soft whisper of a book share coming from Texas. I see a secondary teacher in Florida talking about the newest Young Adult title. And somewhere up on the eastern seaboard, another teen is learning to experience book love, perhaps for the very first time. I see it in the baggie book that comes home this weekend. I hear it at the bedside of a child who has already fallen asleep while a father finishes the story anyway.

The least we can do by way of encouraging literacy in our young people is to bring literacy to them in earnest. Through our hearts, by our hands, from our hearts.

Books. Our book place. We need to return to them. And we need to share the route with our young people. As a culture, families are our foundation. Literacy is our legacy.

A call to action should be brief. And this is becoming not-so-brief. As I draft this post for National Literacy Day, Maddie and I have been home all day. We did not go to school. We were not guided through the day by the ringing of bells. We did not hear the announcements. We did not eat in cafeterias or lounges. We don’t know if tomorrow is spirit day. We don’t know who is dating who now.

But, we DO know that the mail carrier dropped off a copy of Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett’s BATTLE BUNNY (your younger readers will absolutely love this). We shared this one together. We laughed. We marveled at the imagination that went into this collaboration. Noah will be excited to know that the latest GUYSREAD book, OTHER WORLDS (a collection of sci-fi stories by today’s top writers and one story by classic sci-fi author, Ray Bradbury) has also arrived. I’ve read two new middle grade novels on my Kindle app and I will finish the new young adult novel by A. S. King that I started over the weekend. Kristie will come home from work and read from her I-Phone screen (I am still not sure how she does this). We are a reading family. We are in a place full of books. A book place.

And we are home.

– See more at: http://wonderopolis.org/wonder-year-2012/the-reader-at-home/#sthash.ds0WSsDp.dpuf

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