Changing Lives,……..Through a Book

Changing Lives,…Through a Book

            In the education world, it is known and understood everything builds from the foundation of reading.  Reading allows for understanding concepts, which in-turn builds overall comprehension of subject areas. This is not in question. We also know that students that are read to have a higher vocabulary. This also is not in question. However, I do not think we push the conversation for reading in the right direction to encourage students to read. Yes, we may say the right things to encourage parents to encourage students, but how do we truly encourage students to become life-long readers early in their lives?

            I had my nephews this weekend (who happen to be phenomenal readers). Although they wanted to plaster away at video games or wrestle with one another, my 2-year old son brought the youngest of them (who is 8) his favorite book, Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney. Although his words may sound a little skewed, he can nearly recite the entire book to you including (in his lil’ boy voice) the author as we say, “Written by Anna Dewdney. She is the author. She wrote the book”. As my 8-year old nephew read this book to my 2-year old son, they both could relate to this story! They laughed and giggled. The older boys chimed in with similar, real-life stories of when one of them had gotten upset wondering where Momma was. I could tell as the story ended, they were all comforted by the idea that “Momma Llama’s always near, even if she’s not right here.” They were then ready to read more books. Why? It was a lesson of assimilation or even the idea of imagining something better. We have to look into the lives of our potential readers and assign them an option that will support who they are. Whether you the teacher or you the parent, we have to look for those literary opportunities that can speak into the life of that particular child; almost like a pharmacist prescribing the right medicine.

            I will never forget reading Just the Two of Us by Will Smith, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (who is SO AMAZING!). Yeah, I heard the song a gazillion times, but seeing the words on paper with these amazing drawings of how I could only hope I could be with my son one day,……. WOW! It took me to another level! Yeah, I have had men in my life, but did I really want to model what I had seen? This book, in a matter of 28 pages, took me on such a realistic journey! From the time I put my wife into the car to the time I first watched him sleep, I can see me in this book. I can only imagine the deep conversations over haircuts, the first major fight, watching him play sports, and the overall idea of him becoming a man,….I gained so much insight; all in 28 pages. When I read this to my amazing nephews, do you think those same thoughts along with Nelson’s vibrant images won’t awaken a desire in them to be the most outstanding men they can be? Of course it will! This is just one example of many we could share with so many amazing authors. Examples?

  • Chris Van Allsburg using Two Bad Ants to teach others about the importance of home, family and being grateful for what you have
  • Patricia Polacco allowing her own life experiences with cultural differences, struggles, family and friends to take you on journeys like Bsbushka’s Doll  and Emma Kate
  • Major stories of those who were willing to risk everything for the rights of others like Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert’s Papa’s Mark to Marie Bradby’s More Than Anything Else
  • Lastly, loving who you are despite how different you may be such as in Judy Schachner’s Skippyjon Jones series to Patty Lovell’s Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon (illustrated by the creative David Catrow)

These are just a very small portion of books that would allow a student to choose reading because they can truly relate to the story being told. If allowed the time to intimately take written adventures, students could find a new world that not only would strengthen their vocabulary, but also provide answers to some of the social and societal concerns our world throws at them daily. One thing is for sure, we live in a world that seems to become more judgmental and stereotypical daily. As the adult genre all walk with their heads focused on screens masked behind apps or droids, so many amazing authors are making books that allow our students to see it is okay to look different, sound different, dress different; it is okay to be who you are no matter what that is. What is so much more important than how you look or what brand of shoes you wear is how you treat others. There are books that clarify to students that we will all make mistakes but how we rebound from those mistakes define who we are. If we put Pink and Say (Polacco) in the hands of a 4th grader today, there is a chance he will read The Souls of Black Folks (W.E.B. DuBois) tomorrow. If we put Angel Child, Dragon Child (M. Maria Surat) in the hands of a child today, there is a chance he/she could be reading The Road Less Traveled (M. Scott Peck) tomorrow.

            As an educator, I certainly want our children to read to strengthen their ability to understand, associate, and retain content knowledge. However, I would much rather them use literature to learn from the successes and mistakes of those before them, strive for the goals that others they admire have reached, and realize there is nothing they cannot accomplish. I want them to understand that through literature, they can take their destiny in their own hands, and as said in the book More Than Anything Else, they can “…hold it forever.”

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