Monday, August 27, 2018

Raising a Reader

A heartbeat ago, at least, that’s what it feels like, a little boy was born to two parents who loved him very much.

This boy had a mom who loved to read, and she wanted to raise a reader.

When he was born, his grandparents gave him copies of the books his mom had loved and read as a child. Mom was worried the books would get beat up, so she bought him board book versions of the titles she loved the most because she wanted him to love the books as much as she did.

He started with cloth books and board books, and she listened to the advice of the experts to read for as long as the child would listen.

Every Saturday morning they would go to the library together. Mom would let him check out any book he wanted, and each night they would read at least three books, but sometimes as many as ten. Ok, maybe sometimes even more. Mom loved books as much as he did, and she loved being able to snuggle up close and spend this time with him. 

As he got older, he would spend more and more time on his own in the library on Saturday mornings and mom would have more time to read the bulletin boards and the brochures that were at the checkout counter. Sometimes mom would come back to the library during the week for community meetings that were held in the library. (This is where she first learned to write grants.)

The advice mom got was to read for as long as the child would listen. As he got older, mom realized she simply couldn't read as much as he wanted to listen. She started checking out more and more books on tape and books on CDs each week, and one day the librarian told her about the online audiobooks.

Online audiobooks were a gamechanger. Instead of the library limit of three CD titles per checkout, they could listen to a different book every day. Overnight the little boy's vocabulary exploded. When his mom was growing up she had plenty of awkward moments when she used a word out loud that she had only ever seen written. Since the boy had heard the words in context, he not only knew what the word was, he knew how to say it. This magic thing called autocorrect could figure out what he was trying to say and spelled it correctly in his typed assignments.

Another thing that was awesome about audiobooks was that he could do other things while he was listening to a book. While mom was folding laundry or cooking he would sit quietly in the kitchen and play with blocks while listening to a story. They had lots to talk about, and sometimes mom would stop a story and tell a story of her own that the audiobook had reminded her about, or add something to the story that they were listening to. One day they even skipped school and went to meet the author of one of the stories. That was so cool because the author told the boy about how when she was in elementary she used to put her head down and hide a book under her table and read during class and sometimes got into trouble too.

By this time the little boy was in elementary school. He would read books that were “too old for him” all the time. He would tell the grownups that he knew the story inside and he would just read the parts in the book he already knew and talked them into letting him check the books out. The audiobooks had shown him the magic inside the covers, and since he couldn’t listen to books at school he always had a book in hand even if he wasn’t in a reading class. At the beginning of second grade his teacher announced that she was retiring at the end of the year. She had a poster with high scores of readers from different years, and he set the goal to be the most read student of any student she had ever had. After all, she was retiring, so if he read more than her top scoring student no one would ever beat his score. He had the highest score on her board before the end of second grade.

The little boy kept reading and growing up. Just before he graduated from high school a really bad storm damaged a lot of libraries around him. He and his friends gathered a lot of books that they and their younger siblings read and liked. They ended up collecting boxes and boxes of books and they gave the books to a library that didn’t have any books after the storm.

One of the things his mom loved about the audiobooks was that they helped build her son’s attention span. He would listen to a story for hours and he would follow complex plots and storylines. She saw these skills put to work as he did the research for his senior project and interviewed primary sources. Mom watched as characters in stories moved him to tears sometimes, she saw that caring for fictional characters become empathy for the people in his life.

And one night his mother and father sat in the audience and held hands as they heard their son’s name read out as the Dux of his school.

They had raised a reader. 

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