Building a Love of Reading – Praise for the Teachers and Librarians

This weekend is the 2010 Midwinter ALA Meeting for the American Library Association.  It is the place to be, should anyone be able to go to Boston.  The Newberry, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, and Printz Awards will be awarded this Monday morning, with a heavy national media presence covering the ceremony.  Ultimately any children’s or YA author would LOVE to receive one of these special awards.  Plus any book that receives one of these wonderful awards will reach even many children across the country, through additional sales to bookstores and libraries, as readers will clamor for these titles.    It’s the perfect formula, a good book + recognition from the American Library Association = an extremely positive book publishing experience. 

Yet, we’re forgetting one of the most important reasons for this conference.  Teachers and Librarians are the people on the figurative frontlines who reach the children.  Within the walls of their classrooms and libraries, students are introduced to exciting literature, new ideas and concepts, and a new world of possibility (due to those books and ideas).  The ALA represents these educators, as well as their desire to share books with children and teens.

Approximately ten years ago, I decided to find my first-grade teacher, as she is one of the inspirations in my publishing life.   A  favorite memory associated with this classroom included the hour before lunchtime everyday.  She’d pull out an exciting chapter book, reading aloud from it to the class for nearly an hour.  The entire class would sit there quietly, heavily absorbed in the story and her engaging reading voice without a complaint.  In fact, my first-grade teacher was the individual who introduced me to “The Phantom Tollbooth,” which is still one of my favorite books of all-time. 

Imagine the excitement of realizing she was still around, writing a letter, AND receiving a letter back in less than two weeks!  It made me feel like a 6-yr-old child all over again.  Not only did she remember my year in first-grade, there were stories to tell.  Between her and my mother’s stories, I know my personality added some “spirit” to the daily classroom life.  There were the notes pinned to my coat every day, informing Mom of the daily antics.  The grades were always As, with a few Bs, but the Conduct grades were usually a U (as in Unsatisfactory).  Yet, I knew she liked me, and she knew I adored her.   I simply got “bored” after finishing the classroom assignments.  🙂 

Today, we are now pen pals, to which life, books, and more are discussed via written correspondence.   Major life events have happened over the years, to which we’ve shared the experiences in our letters.   Truly words cannot describe how special that correspondence has become; as every letter with her handwriting brings a smile to my face.

Here’s where my first-grade teacher changed my life, along with Mom’s help.  Both knew I loved books; hence there were more trips to the public library with Mom, i.e. more books to bring to school during those “bored’ moments.  Over a period of time, the bad behavior ceased (I moved to an S!-Satisfactory conduct), with more trips to the school library (with a classroom pass) once the books from the public library were finished.  The librarians knew me well, and I would often try my darndest to find a way to regularly visit them.

This LIFE of reading continued into Middle School, High School, and Adulthood.  Much like first-grade, I always have a book with me.  Plus, this love of reading resulted in Red Sofa Literary (and all the paths that led to it).  Interestingly, the figurative icing on the cake occurred several years ago.  Mom was cleaning out the file cabinet at home, and believed it was time for the elementary school files (w/ report cards, letters, etc..) to come into my possession.  Receiving these documents was an exciting walk down memory lane. 

In that pile of papers was the BEST gift of all.  An award certificate for the McGowan Award, which recognized a student’s “use of free time by reading good books” at my elementary school.  Attached to the award was a personal note from my first-grade teacher:

“This is a very special honor given to the one who always has
a book to read at their desk. I have only awarded two in the
three-year existence of this award.”

Stumbling across this note, long after building an entire life around books and reading was incredibly special.  Yes, it brought tears to the eyes, as I don’t believe my first-grade teacher, the school & public librarians, or Mom would realize how they influenced my life.    In an effort to support an overly active imagination, while dealing proactively with the bad classroom behavior, they influenced my ADULT life at the age of 6-yrs-old.  If that doesn’t prove the value of teachers and librarians, as well as good parents, what doesn’t?

Getting children to love books requires ALL of these people – the parents, teachers and librarians.  If one isn’t able to support a child’s love of reading,  the other two have a duty to share this passion for books.  Honestly, all the teachers and librarians I know bring this passion into their classrooms and libraries.  Sadly, they sometimes don’t get the needed recognition for this accomplishment, in the form of government educational funding .  At least there are national organizations, like the American Library Association, who recognize their accomplishments.  As citizens, the best thing we can do is personally thank the educators in our lives, and in childrens’ lives today. 

This weekend, as we celebrate the wonderful children’s books of 2009, take the time recognize your local educators.  Support them in whatever way is possible, through volunteer work, financial donations to their libraries & schools, and recognition for inspiring children and teens.   While the final results of their work may not be immediately evident, assume there will be a life-long impact, one that could forever influence every child’s life.

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