It’s the start of a new school year for many schools across the country. I live in the South, where we are already well into our second week of classes. But other parts of the country are just now gearing up, and I’ve seen a lot of social media posts, as to be expected this time of year, from teacher and librarian friends and colleagues who are settling back into teaching.
And here’s what I see that makes me happy:
Teachers with carefully curated classroom libraries, filled with books of all genres …
Librarians with displays of new books to catch the eyes of readers of all ages …
Teachers and librarians who know precisely which books they plan to share with students in the form of read-alouds or writing prompts or book clubs or for just stopping a student in the hallway to say, “I think you will love this book” …
Teachers and librarians with so much passion for reading and sharing books with children that they nearly GLOW.
These educators get it. They know that reading aloud to children lays the foundation for language and literacy and that research shows that students who have someone read aloud to them at home or school (or both) have higher academic success rates. But even better than that, they know the joys of sharing stories with children. They know that it can build trust and intimacy between educators and students, and they know that good books of all stripes can make us laugh, can teach us something about being good humans on this planet, can encourage us to explore our feelings, can teach us about diversity, and can prompt us to think deeply about the world we live in. They know that falling in love with books at a young age can develop in children a life-long love of stories and reading, and they know this is a true gift. They know they are there to foster this and that it’s a massive responsibility—but it’s one that is a pleasure for them to take on. It’s why they do what they do. (We sure as hell know they don’t do it for the money.) Building active and engaged school reading communities is their jam.
“My job as a reading teacher,” writes educator Colby Sharp in last year’s Game Changer!: Book Access for All Kids, which he co-wrote with children’s literature expert and legit national treasure Donalyn Miller, “is to make sure that my students have an opportunity to fall in love with reading, and one of the best ways to support them is developing a classroom library that evolves to meet the students’ interests and needs.” Colby, who is passionate about teaching, noted this week on social media that, on the first day of class, the shelf of graphic novels in his bustling classroom library collapsed. (No problem, he wrote. When they were scattered all over the floor, it was easier to find just the book the student wanted.) May all teachers have so many classroom books that they face the same kind of disruption. If you haven’t read Colby’s and Donalyn’s book about book access (and the lack thereof) for children of all socioeconomic backgrounds and the joys of creating reading communities in schools—and tips for overcoming the challenges—I highly recommend it.
I salute the teachers and librarians who keep up with children’s literature—who read reviews, keep abreast of issues in the field, and seek out the writings and voices of those who have been historically marginalized. I salute those who understand the best ways to match students with just the right books for them and why it matters. I salute those who give students, despite all kinds of institutional obstacles, time in the classroom for independent reading. I salute those who let children read what they want, understanding that, as Colby and Donalyn write in their book, “requiring students to read books ‘at their level’ at all times derails intrinsic motivation to read, which is driven by interest, choice, and reader’s purpose” and that the “’right’ level varies from reading event to reading event, and from reader to reader.” And I salute those who know that stories themselves, and the intimacy that comes from sharing them together, are the rewards of reading (not merely trinkets—please, no more trinkets).
These educators inspire me. They give me hope during a time that, quite frankly, often leaves me feeling hopeless about this country’s future. I’m aware how rah-rah, over-earnest and have-you-hugged-your-favorite-teacher-or-librarian this all sounds, but … well … I mean it.
No, really. Have you hugged your favorite teacher or librarian today?
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.