Janet Sheridan: Ramblings on reading
I pour a cup of coffee and prepare to immerse myself in a library book — until Joel wanders by.
Reading is not his idea of entertainment, so he doesn’t understand my inability to concentrate on a book while carrying on a conversation about his missing socks.
Though his teachers taught him to read with skill, they were evidently unable to inspire him to love doing so.
And that’s OK.
During my career, I worked with various committees on curricular goals for literacy. Frequently we had heated discussions about an objective frequently found in such documents: “Students will read for pleasure.”
I remember a stern fellow who taught middle school arguing against the inclusion of such a goal in the literature curriculum: “Only English teachers would think everyone should love reading. What’s wrong with learning to read so you possess a necessary skill? Math teachers don’t expect their students to solve equations for pleasure.”
He had a valid point.
Educators and child-rearing experts advise that when children see their parents read for entertainment or information, they will do the same. When I was teaching, I often heard parents lament, “I don’t understand why my child doesn’t like to read. I read all the time.”
I’d tell them about my brother, Blaine.
Both my parents read. Mom favored novels, poetry, and children’s literature; Dad rode with Louis L’amour: “All I could hear was the sound of my horses’ hoofs and the creak of my saddle.”
Most of my siblings and I agreed that a good day included a good book.
But, despite the incessant reading going on around him, Blaine never ventured much beyond a fifth-grade love of the stalwart dog in “Bristle Face,” a book that broke his heart and made him cry.
Perhaps he gave up reading because blubbering over a book unmanned him.
Yet, Blaine can disassemble anything not working and reassemble it in working order. He bounds over mountain peaks and spots antelope where the rest of us see nothing but wind-swept plains.
He tells entertaining stories, values his family beyond all, and works hard to support them. He’s lived happily and successfully without his nose being stuck in a book every free moment.
Perhaps I should have pulled mine out from time to time.
Most of our grandchildren, capable students all, don’t turn to books for entertainment. When they were toddlers, I managed to capture their attention with picture books and word games, but as they entered school, their interest warped to math.
Now when we visit, they ask me to quiz them on math problems. There are things I’d rather do, but I gamely ask, “What’s 42 minus 16?” and praise correct responses — when I know them.
I’m not thrilled with this game. Their grandfather, a former math teacher, is: “Did you hear how she broke that problem into groups of tens and ones to solve it?”
So I slink off to find Walker, one I managed to influence beyond the early years. He visited us in Craig when he was 3. He and I dragged picture books off a shelf, chose the best — though I never did discern his toddler’s criteria — and I read them to him every time he asked.
I heard somewhere that little ones like to be read to because of the physical closeness and undivided attention they enjoy.
But this tyke seemed to find the same pleasure in words used well that I did. The book he chose most often was “The Jabberwocky” which “with eyes of flame came whiffling through the tulgy woods and burbled as it came.”
We read together until age and computer games diverted his attention. But still, when I sit chatting with him in his room, I notice the well-thumbed books that line his shelves, and we often talk about what we’re reading.
Those of us who read for pleasure shouldn’t look askance at loved ones who don’t. But, oh my, it’s fun when they do.
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