Friday, October 24, 2008

Me as a Reader...

There are so many things in life that we learn as children that we take for granted as adults. We often cannot even remember learning simple everyday tasks like zippering, riding a bike, holding a pencil, etc. I think few people recall the frustration they may have felt when learning to button our own clothes or tie our shoes. And, what about learning to read? Reading is something we do all the time--often without even realizing it. (Could you walk down a street and read nothing--no signs, license plates, or store fronts? It'd be difficult). Reading is something that we learn and once we've got it, we can't just "switch it off" or stop, or forget, right?

Earlier this semester on my classes required me to write my own "Reading Autobiography." This paper included my earliest memories of learning to read or being emerged in literacy. It was an interesting task, one that perhaps you may want to think about too. It may seem nerdy, but I'm OK with that. Here is what I wrote:

"I love to read. I am usually in the middle of quite a few books at once. I actually just finished the last of my “summer reading” books last Thursday in anticipation of the start of the semester. Growing up, reading and education were valued in my home, though this could stem from the fact that my parents are both educators. I also would see my mother reading for enjoyment, she was (and still is) into mystery novels—she grew up reading Nancy Drew. She and my grandmother would often trade books with each other after they read a particularly exciting thriller. My dad was also always reading something, even today there is a stack of books on a shelf behind “his chair” in the family room.

My earliest memories of reading are of sitting with my mom with a bedtime story, my favorites where Hop on Pop, Are You My Mother?, and Goodnight Moon. Even today, when I read those stories I get wonderfully nostalgic. As a child I would spend hot summer afternoons at least once a week at our local public library, which was in walking distance to our house. We would listen to “story times” and then get to check out our own books, as I got older, I favored “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels or the “Babysitter’s Club” series. I remember getting my first library card—I felt so grown up carrying that little plastic card in my thin pink wallet.

I remember learning phonics in first grade. I was excited to be able to read but nervous at the same time. I recall doing a worksheet that had pictures on it and we were supposed to write the first letter that the picture started with. There was a picture of a coin. I did not know what coin it was so I had to ask my teacher. “Quarter,” she said, saying the Q-U sound more like a hard K sound, “Korter.” “Korter?” I asked in my budding Chicago accent. She nodded and I wrote a messy version of a K beneath the picture of a quarter. I was really sad—probably why I still remember this today—when she came back to my desk, pointed at the K and said, “No. That’s wrong, erase it.” She then proceeded to repeat “Quarter” repeatedly, this time really trying to enunciate the Q-U sound. I wrote “qu” beneath the picture though I still had not heard the difference. After school, I told my mom about what happened—I may have even believed the teacher was wrong. However, I could hear the difference when my mom said “quarter.”

In elementary school when there was a Scholastic book fair or book order or a magazine drive, my mom would always make sure I had picked out something excellent.
My sister and I would share a Highlights magazine or Dog Fancy when I was going through a “when I grow up I want to be a vet” stage. Even now when the school she teaches at has a magazine drive, I know my mom will be buying my husband and me subscriptions to National Geographic Traveler or Rolling Stone.

When I was about 12 years old, my family (including my extended family like aunts, uncles and cousins) drove from Chicago to Rochester New York to watch my grandfather run a marathon. My Uncle Joe had bought my cousin and me the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to read in the car. Today, I get carsick if I try to read in a moving car, but not then, I was immersed. That was the first book that I had ever read that completely absorbed and fascinated me. I loved Francie Nolan and the characters in the book as if I knew them. I cried when I finished that book, not because it was sad, but because I did not want the book to end.

That did it for me, after finishing that novel I was never without a book. Eventually when I went off to college, I decided I wanted to be a journalist and author. After taking a journalism class at the University of Missouri my mind changed, journalism is competitive (and, well, I'm not) and you do not always get to write about your interests. I then decided to become a teacher and Language Arts seemed to be the right concentration area for me. My original degree is in Language Arts Education. Though I was interested in teaching literature, as I few older, my passions have shifted once again...to art.

I still read for pleasure and have a few books on my nightstand and a few more on my coffee table (all of which I am usually in the middle of reading). I like to read when I run out of things to "do," and am constantly flipping through magazines. Sometimes I don’t pick them up for months; other times I can’t put them down. A few years ago at my parent’s house, I found my old copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and added it to my library. I may have to put that next on my list of books to read."