word craft


Early Reading

It was pure­ly a coin­ci­dence, but the oth­er day I met up with two peo­ple — both adults — and the chat got around to ear­ly read­ing. They both rem­i­nisced about some­thing impor­tant that hap­pened to them some forty, fifty years ago — when they were in ele­men­tary school. They were recall­ing when a spe­cif­ic teacher had read a spe­cif­ic book to their class­es. In one case, it was Black Beau­ty (writ­ten by Anna Sewell).  The oth­er book was Where the Wild Fern Grows (writ­ten by Wil­son Rawls). These folks remem­bered the books and the teach­ers — and the read­ing — and con­sid­ered them mem­o­rable moments in quite young lives, a sense that some­thing changed for them.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Where the Red Fern Grows by
Your Title

When I asked what had changed, they were rather vague, except they knew it had been a deeply felt experience.

I have heard of such expe­ri­ences many times, an adult recall­ing both a spe­cif­ic book and a teacher from forty or fifty years ago. Nev­er forgotten. 

What had happened?

I am nei­ther an expert in read­ing nor psy­chol­o­gy, but I sus­pect what occurred was a sud­den open­ing of the world, a shift from an inward-look­ing sense of young self to an aware­ness of a vast­ly big­ger world. An exhil­a­rat­ing shock. Mind, it was not just the text being read, but a teacher giv­ing life to that text. Because no doubt the teacher was capa­ble of read­ing that text and bring­ing it to vibran­cy bet­ter than the child could do at that time.

If you are read­ing this blog of mine, I think I can assume you are inter­est­ed in books and read­ing. So, we all know the val­ue of books, from sim­ple (won­der­ful) enter­tain­ment to pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion, even to just a nice way to pass the time. And more. But I don’t think we pay enough atten­tion to what such a book read­ing does for the young. 

Books can pro­vide an explo­sive awak­en­ing, shift­ing the per­spec­tive from a self-cen­tered vision to being oth­er-cen­tered, mak­ing the world vast­ly big­ger than it was before that read­ing. I sus­pect the shock of that thrilling dis­cov­ery is what makes that teacher-book moment so remark­able. And it is remem­bered as such.

I fur­ther sus­pect that it is not ful­ly grasped at the moment. Yes, both the folks I was speak­ing to, described that it was “excit­ing” to hear those books read. But there is some mys­tery to this. Why this par­tic­u­lar book?  Why that par­tic­u­lar teacher? Why that par­tic­u­lar day? 

I don’t think such events can be planned, much less antic­i­pat­ed.  But they hap­pen. Life-alter­ing moments — brought on by a book.

Have you had such a moment, such a teacher, such a book? I invite you to share it with us.

3 thoughts on “Early Reading”

  1. I was in third grade. The book was JRR Tolkien’s The Hob­bit. We had an absolute­ly won­der­ful sub­sti­tute teacher for sev­er­al weeks while our very cut-and-dried reg­u­lar teacher was out. She read to us every day. It was mag­i­cal. After Mrs. L- returned, it was, alas, busi­ness as usu­al, so no more hob­bits for us. I was most curi­ous to find out what hap­pened to Bil­bo Bag­gins, but could­n’t remem­ber the name of the book. Even though, that book lit a fire of inter­est that set me on a path to devour every bit of read­ing mate­r­i­al in sight. When I was in junior high, and I told my beloved librar­i­an the main char­ac­ter’s name, and of course, she pulled it from the shelf for me. The mag­ic was still just as strong, and my joy was complete!

  2. My ele­men­tary school in Brook­lyn, New York did not have a library. Mrs. Fein­berg, our librar­i­an, would wheel a cart of books room to room. In 6th grade I remem­ber her read­ing Lor­na Doone. Don’t remem­ber any­thing about the sto­ry. Just remem­ber wait­ing for her to come in and read chap­ters. I guess I need to reread it to find out why it gripped me so. When I became a teacher, I real­ized as a child I was a lit­er­al read­er. Did­n’t infer much while read­ing so that’s prob­a­bly why I did­n’t real­ly enjoy read­ing. (Except for Bev­er­ly Cleary books and Pip­pi Long­stock­ings). But lis­ten­ing to sto­ries … mag­i­cal. I real­ly looked for­ward to when she walked into the class­room. (Ah, my rem­i­nis­cence of the 1960’s.)

  3. My explo­sive book was A Wrin­kle in Time because I had nev­er read such a thing. My sixth grade teacher read it out loud and he was a mar­velous read­er. I liked the book and Mr. Rausch so much that I want­ed my moth­er to mar­ry him! I still remem­ber him with great fond­ness all these years lat­er. And I re-read that book every year.


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