I’ve always been impressed with people who can remember the first book they read, and even more impressed when they can choose a favorite book. The books I’ve chosen as my “favorite” have changed as I’ve changed and are now specific to genres, an age group, and authors.
A dear friend of mine not only keeps a leather-bound journal of all the books she has read but also notes her opinion of each one. She has extended her love of books by obtaining advanced degrees in Book Arts and Book Conservation and now works for a nonprofit that brings authors and illustrators into under-served urban schools. Participating in book clubs with her has taught me not only to look at the basics of “is it a good story?” but things like “how does the typeface affect the story?” or “why did the author number the chapters instead of title them?”
I have always been an avid reader despite growing up in a town with no public or school library. I had no idea this was unusual, as we relied on a Book Mobile that came to town once a month. That day was always like a parade for me. Our teacher would line us up and we’d watch as it pulled into the parking lot. I could hardly contain myself. I’d wave to the driver as if he were driving the President’s limo. And like all great things, it was over way too quickly and I’d start counting down the 30 days until it returned.
Although I cannot tell you the first book I read, I can tell you which one made such an impression and I have now declared as “my favorite”: Watership Down, by Richard Adams. This book took me on an adventure with the rabbits that frequented the empty fields behind my house. To this day it still pains me to see an area cleared for development as I think of my furry friends Hazel and Fiver and their struggle for freedom.
When I work with students, I try to recreate this fun and excitement I feel for books. The characters in a story are like new friends, and the settings in which they live are new places to visit. Many of my students have never experienced a book in this way. Instead they’ve seen it as a task, or hard work, because they struggle to comprehend the vocabulary or storyline. So I ask them questions. “Do you know anyone like the main character?” “Have you ever experienced something similar?” “Why do you think the author chose to tell this story?” This seems to help them dig deeper into the story and possibly, understand a character.
Of course, my hope is not only for them to tell me “I loved this book!” but that they might also feel confident enough to say if they didn’t care for it. Either way, I hope they’ll add one word to their declaration: “because”. Adding “because” tells me they understood the book, they have an opinion, and that they can now identify the supporting evidence to fully express their feeling. Every kid – every person – deserves to feel like every new story is their personal parade of a new adventure.