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ReadAloudYesterday I finished my third year as a ReadAloud Volunteer in a grade school classroom of approximately 25. Next Thursday I’m going back to celebrate the penultimate day of school with a class pizza party and an opportunity to say good-bye to a very special group of people.

Reflecting on this past year’s experience induces a tearful sense of gratitude. Where do I begin to describe what it’s been like for me? Somehow the books, the kids, the teacher, the questions, and the laughter (lots of laughter) have come together to create an idyllic situation, one I have found myself eagerly anticipating each week. I enjoy practicing the reading as I try to get the voices of the characters just right. I anticipate questions that might arise and do a little research, hoping to be prepared.

This hasn’t been an experience of simply “reading books to children.” Yes, I do read books, but not to “children.” I read to lively, funny, inquisitive, and tremendously smart young people, complete human beings in every way. We’ve engaged in some of the most intriguing discussions, ranging from life on Alcatraz Island in the 1930s, to autism, inflation, Elliott Ness, ice boxes, and tooth powder. We’ve talked about the stock market, summer jobs, and even debated the pros and cons of kissing and marriage. This class has kept me on my toes all year, and I have loved every minute of the hour spent with them each week.

And so, to Mrs. Burdette’s Fourth Grade Class at Overbrook Elementary School, I say a big THANK YOU! Thank you for the smiles, for the laughter, and for the applause. Thank you for inspiring me to expect more from young people. Your ability to listen, to learn, to grow, and to share has warmed my heart. I hope you’ll always remember the fun we had with books this year and that reading will forever be an important part of your lives. I feel blessed to have been a part of your fourth grade experience.

 

 

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Photo showing various books on my bookshelf

My bookshelf

This morning I made a list of six books I remember reading. I remember the experience of reading them, not necessarily the details of the books. I remember where I was, who I was, and what was going on in my life while I was reading those books.

I remembered reading Love Story by Erich Segal. It was the first book I ever read cover to cover in one sitting. I was nestled in a purple beanbag chair in my family’s living room. It was a hot day in the summer before my junior year of high school. Mom and Dad were at work. I was completely alone. The house was deafeningly quiet, and for the first time in my life I became so absorbed in a book that I lost track of time and space. The experience opened new possibilities for my reading life.

I remembered, too, reading Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, by Dr. Susan Jeffers. It was early January of 1989; my son was two years old. During those early years of motherhood, it seemed impossible to find long stretches of uninterrupted time for reading. So, on several consecutive Thursday evenings, my husband took over, and I went out alone to a nice restaurant. I asked to be seated away from other people and told the waiter I was planning to be there for a while. Sitting sideways with my legs up on the booth and my back against the wall, I ate slowly, nibbled my way through dessert, and lingered over several cups of decaf coffee. Week after week I returned, luxuriating in the quiet corner of the restaurant until I finally finished that book.

I also remember the book I read on January 15, 2005. I missed a connecting flight and found myself stuck in Detroit’s airport for an entire day. It was bone-chillingly cold outdoors, below zero most of the day. But the sun was shining brightly and I found a gate that was closed for remodeling. I plopped down in a generous patch of sunlight and pulled out a book my friend Jean G. had given me a few days before: The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitchel Albom.

I finished the book in its entirety just before boarding my flight to Lincoln, Nebraska. I made it to the hospital by evening and had a nice, long chat with Dad. I left when visiting hours were over, and he died unexpectedly a short time later. How could I not remember reading that book?

Sometimes we read books that change our lives. Sometimes our lives are changing and the books we are reading are part of the landscape that give substance to our memories. Can you think of six books that you remember the experience of reading? Comment here or send me an e-mail. I’d love to share a memory with you.

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This morning I had my first Read Aloud session with Mrs. Landon’s class at Weberwood Elementary. It’s a third-fourth grade split classroom. Last year it was all third graders. I was delighted to see some fourth graders I remember fondly from last year. They remembered me, too, smiling, waving, and making me feel right at home. Oh, how I love reading to these kids!

It’s especially meaningful to be reading at Weberwood, where my son attended grade school. As I walk through the front door, I feel like I’ve gone back in time. It looks, sounds, and smells so familiar. The same woman sits at the secretary’s desk; the librarian, too, is the same. As children move through the hall, I expect to see my son and his little friends smiling, giggling, and trying to walk in a straight line. Wasn’t it just a few years ago I was regularly stopping by for birthday lunches, classroom parties, and parent-teacher conferences? I typeset the school newsletter and faithfully attended every Halloween parade, Christmas concert,  and spring carnival. Sigh. Nineteen years have passed since Britain first walked through those doors.

Image of book cover: The Indian in the Cupboard

Book #1

I wonder if all that remembering influenced my choice of books: The Indian In The Cupboard  series. I love to indulge in the fantasy of time travel! I read the first book last year and hope to read the second and third books this year, maybe even the fourth, if I don’t miss any weeks.

Reading to this classroom once a week for about 30 minutes is such a joy. I love the way they listen, ask questions, and beg me to keep reading. They titter when I read forbidden words like “shut up,” “stupid” or “jerk.”  They especially love learning the British English words from the books and then trying them out on their parents.

Image of Book Cover: The Return of the Indian

#2 – Just Started

I’m so grateful I signed up as a reader. I look at those eager, smiling faces and I remember how very special this time is in a child’s life. The world is still predictable and mostly safe. In this school, the children’s problems are small and their questions are easily answered. It’s a pleasure to pour love and caring into their open hearts and offer them a gift that can last a lifetime: a love for books and reading.

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