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Fostering a Love of Reading

Merry Sorrells
It's a simple philosophy; children learn to read by reading.  Teaching our children to turn to books for pleasure enhances their desire to read, and the result is improved reading, comprehension, and writing skills. I am a believer in schools encouraging pleasure reading and one way to do this is to allow children to select their own reading materials. We need to do more of this.
As a young girl growing up, one of my favorite spots was the seat of our cushioned window well, and my favorite pastime was reading. Our window seat was the perfect place to read, and my view through the leaded-glass window framed the beauty of each season.  Reading was my window to the world. It fueled my imagination and informed my dreams. I was an insatiable reader, still am, and always had a book in my hands.  I got in trouble for having a book under my napkin at the dinner table, tripped over cracks in the sidewalk while walking to school with my nose in a book, and was punished for reading by flashlight under the covers long after my bedtime on school nights.  My parents supported and encouraged reading in spite of these transgressions.  The library in our neighborhood had a cushioned chair by a beautiful hearth.  I spent many peaceful, happy hours sitting in that chair being transported in my mind to different eras and foreign places. 
Now, fast forward about thirty years. When our youngest child, Curtis, was in the fifth grade, he was miserably failing his prescribed reading program.  The name of each student in the class was listed on a poster hung on the bulletin board.  Alongside each name was a series of stars representing the number of books read from the class reading list.  Some of the students had a trail of stars that flowed right to the end of the chart.  Curtis was the only student who didn't have a single star after his name.  None of the books on the list appealed to him, and in spite of our insisting and wheedling, he never got beyond the first few pages of any that he tried. We were at a loss. 
One day my husband Kim and Curtis were talking together about their favorite topics; airplanes, jets, rockets, and space.  They basically loved anything that could be launched into the sky.  Kim was sharing the story of retired Brigadier General Chuck Yeager, the famous test pilot who in 1947 became the first pilot to travel faster than the speed of sound.  Kim had just finished reading the autobiography in which General Yeager wove his tale of being a hot-shot fly boy; a World War II flying ace; a dog-fighter who was shot down over France, and escaped; and finally claiming fame as a test pilot flying a rocket-powered Bell aircraft (with broken ribs no less) to break the speed of sound.  Curtis was enthralled and declared that he wanted to read Yeager's autobiography.  In spite of his skepticism, Kim handed over the 435-page adult book to Curtis.  Curtis devoured it, hardly coming up for air. The morning after he finished I marched him into the classroom and asked his teacher if she could give him credit for reading it, even though it wasn't on the list.  She didn't hesitate and added a series of stars to his chart for his efforts.  This was the beginning of a love affair with reading.  In no time Curtis became an avid reader.  His book selections were challenging, mature, and typically non-fiction.
Our Jenn never enjoyed reading until, as a high school student, she discovered the classics.  Hemingway, Brontë, Alcott, Fitzgerald, Austin, and Dickens wove their way into her quiet hours.  They took her to new places, expanded her vocabulary, added to her writing ability, and stretched her imagination.  From the time they were little, we told our four children that we would not always buy them the toys that they wanted, but we would always buy them any book that they asked for.  We frequented bookstores and libraries throughout their growing up years, and spent a small fortune on books.  It was money well spent. Even though they are now young adults, we find ourselves continuing to fulfill that promise.
An article I recently read from the Washington Post ends with these words, "If I were Queen of the World, I would decree that all students be given the gifts of time and books they want to read throughout their schooling, and all pre-readers would have an adult who would read aloud to them every day. Through independent reading children gain a wealth of background knowledge about many different things, come to understand story and non-fiction structures, absorb the essentials of English grammar, and continuously expand their vocabularies. Many also remember visually how to spell words."*  Reading holds the key which unlocks so much of life and learning. Let's help our children discover this treasure for themselves.  If I were Queen of the World, I would give every child an endless supply of books to read and carve out time in the day, every day, to quietly get lost in a book.

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