I often think about my first memory of being a reader. I was about 4 or 5 and I picked up the bright yellow cover of The Lucky Glasses and asked my mom if could I read it to her. This was the same story that my mom read to me every night so I'm sure she was just "thrilled" to hear it yet another time. I took that book, opened the cover and began reading about Tippu the mouse. The story began with Tippu being proud of the gold star he received in school for knowing all of his colors until that dreaded day... when Tippu's teacher asked him to identify a number on a card and Tippu had trouble recognizing it. And you guessed it, Tippu needed glasses (trust me, at 5 this was a page turner). Well, I got to the end and proudly proclaimed "The End." I had memorized that story and read those pages like nobody's business. But, was I a reader?
Webster's Dictionary defines a reader as simply, a person that reads. The broader definition elaborates on the object being read such as a book, magazine, newspaper, etc. Another source defines a reader as a person who reads or is fond of reading. If a reader is simply one that reads or is fond of the act of reading, then I often question why we often exclude so many that fit into this category. When we see the four year-old reader loudly and proudly reading The Hungry Caterpillar that s/he loves but perhaps adding their own interpretation to it, do we proclaim them as a reader or will they only be a reader when they learn how to identify the words correctly? I'm sure if my mom would have said, "No, no Kanika. That's not how the words go." I would have been completely devastated. She would have crushed my love of books. She would have crushed the very idea that I was in fact a reader.
I can remember years when in the first weeks of school, I set out to determine which of my Kinders were "readers". In my mind, the readers were the ones that could read simple books. You know, the ones that could at least pass the Fountas & Pinnell Level A benchmark assessment. But, weren't they all readers? Growing readers, mind you, but readers all the same. Weren't they all on the edge of their seats when I read during Read Aloud? Didn't they all make predictions about what would happen next, ask questions about what was happening and write about their reading? Didn't they all beg to bring their favorite book to read when they realized this was "a thing" in our classroom? I wonder in those early years, whose hopes did I possibly crush or hinder from sharing their pride of their reading abilities because of what I thought a reader should be.
I was recently at a session facilitated by Kathy Collins. She asked participants to think about the characteristics of adult readers we admire. Just like many others, I jotted down characteristics such as, an avid reader, one that shares and talks about books often and reads for pleasure. She then shared some quotes from students about characteristics of readers they admired. They stated things like, "They're in the blue reading group. She reads fast. They don't have to to to Mrs. Reilly's room. She reads chapter books" I wonder how many of these kids were shut out of our cool group at an early age.
Don't get me wrong, a proficient reader MUST be able decode and comprehend the words and messages that the author intended. My goal is not to redefine what skills a reader must possess. Just simply, broadening the circle of those we include in the coolest group of them all, "Readers". Don't we want more readers who are excited about reading? Don't we want more readers who love the way the pages of their book, magazine, kindle, iPad or any other tool used to access text turn? Don't we want to start that love as early as possible and to continue for as long as possible? Just like those enticing, sugary cereal commercials that come on during your child's favorite shows, we need to build brand loyalty as early as possible. So help that 2, 3, 4, 5 year old fall in love with books and proclaim, they too are readers.
Until next time,
Let's Get Kids Reading
I was rummaging through some of the books that were donated to an old colleague. I came across this book and my face lit up. I tried to explain the story about reading it to my mom, but I don't think she quite got it but realized how excited I was about this book. (I'm sure I looked pretty crazy talking about a book that was published before she was even born.) She thoughtfully gifted it to me and I must have read it dozens of times to children from Atlanta to New York. Thanks Beccca!