The Grey Sheep of my Family
A job that I was supposed to be working on would be abandoned part way through, not because I didn’t intend to finish it, but on the way to get a tool, I may have come across a book I’d left on a table. My mother said my actions could always be tracked by what I’d left behind.
The time I walked home, blithely traipsing across the neighbours freshly tarred driveway was only because I sometimes read while walking. Nobody put yellow tape down the side of the driveway in case I was cutting across it and the lawn to our front door, nose in a book.
These traits may have been fine in another home, maybe, but in my childhood home, the rules were black and white. There was only one spot to file a form, not many depending on the aspect you focused on. Jobs had specific protocols, and my way didn't follow them. If we had a family job day, after about a half an hour I was asked if I wanted to go read. I was usually more work than the job itself and quite happy to get out of the way.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel appreciated or loved. In my final year of high school I scratched the car again and my father, who wires houses, builds perfect walkways and edges the walls when painting without tape asked me to go interview people and write an essay on how to fix scratches on cars for my punishment. Although you might not know it, this was love.
He didn’t like to write, and I don’t remember him ever reading when I was a child. If he had to write something, my mother edited it for him, but he sent me out to do what worked for me. Did he love that I found people used nail polish and White Out to fix minor scratches on their cars? No, but he laughed at their stories and only made me pay for a portion of the damage.
My Grey Sheep
As a child she loved stories, but the act of independently reading was hard. At eight, we discovered she has Auditory Processing Disorder. If you’ve never heard the sounds correctly, it’s hard to decode them. The identification clarified why she couldn’t stretch out her spelling words or why asking her to sound out a word, resulted in an arm-flailing, body-draping meltdown.
By grade three she comfortable read Robert Munsch picture books. In grade six I introduced her to Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels, which she has devoured countless times. I even managed to convince her that reading before bed takes your mind off the worries and stresses of the day. Although I've often heard, in pure defiance of me, “I hate reading,” when we traveled to our annual cottage rental last summer, I opened her suitcase to find it full of picture books and graphic novels.
She occasionally gets excited about the idea of books. When we go to a bookstore, if she asks me to buy her a novel I always do. My optimism that this might be the book that takes her through to the other side prevails.
Once she opens the book and starts it, though, she’s done in five pages. This topic isn’t interesting. She doesn’t understand what’s happening. The length, the number of words, the tiny black print streaming across page after page is too intimidating, and she gives up
Her seventh-grade teacher told her she needed to read novels and couldn’t read graphic novels in class anymore. I found this out when I asked her what she was reading in class, and she informed me she’d been fake reading a book for a couple of weeks. I sent a too terse email to her teacher, to let her know and agreed that reading a novel would be good, and if she could put one in her hands that she could read, understand and stick with I’d be grateful. I also mentioned that graphic novels have a plot, character development, story arc, flashbacks and more and I wasn’t sure why they weren’t appropriate. I’m sure it wasn’t the greatest email to receive, but she had no argument against it. My daughter continued to read and re-read great graphic novels like El Deafo, Roller Girl, Sunny Side Up, Drama, Smile, Sisters and the full-colour re-issues of the Babysitters’ Club.
Meanwhile, in my grade seven class kids that I taught, many with learning disabilities and trouble reading were also devouring these books. The images to support the story, the clarity of which character is speaking and the ability to be able to finish a book quickly and competently brings a smile to the faces of my students and, I believe, their self-esteem rises as they build their identity as readers.
You can only reread the graphic novels designed for girls this age so many times. Where to go next? The answer came to us in the form of a literature circle book assignment. Lily came home with an excellent book, Life As We Knew It, assigned to her. It wasn’t one she picked because she wanted to read it, although the topic interested her. She would never choose a book with 344 pages to complete in four weeks. How were we going to get through 85 pages a week? My stomach was in knots. I knew the vocabulary would bog her down, and I didn’t have time to read it to her. She looked at me anxiously.
One Way to Transition Past the Graphic Novel Stage
She followed along in the book as she listened to the audio. She completed the assignments and participated in the discussions. For the first time, she was in on the world of a book with her book-loving friends. She would tell me she was going to read, and I’d see her, one earbud in, iPad at her side, book in front of her and smile. I’m hoping that seeing the words in concordance with the audio will build her vocabulary and sight words even more. I cringe when her friends laugh at the mispronunciation of a word that she’s trying to use, and we both rear our heads in anger when her younger brother arrogantly corrects her brave attempts at new vocabulary.
When she finished Life As We Knew It I was wondering if I should cancel the free trial, but she asked, “Do you remember the book I wanted for Literature Circles? The one about the foster kid?”
She was talking about Lynda Mulally Hunt’s One for the Murphys. Lily had an interest in the topic of foster children. She watched Season One of The Fosters, has a new friend who has been in a foster home and a group foster home opened up beside us this year. I love One For The Murphys too. It’s a book that engages my reluctant female readers. “Do you think we could download that one, so I can read it?”
She’s been reading it every day, my girl. She’s helping me grow as a teacher and a librarian. She’s making me less judgmental. She’s making me look into the different reading approaches needed for different abilities, and she reinforces my beliefs of what students need to become successful readers. For me, reading has always been an act as natural as breathing. She’s moving me past my black and white of what reading is to the grey area it can be for my students and others around me. She’s exactly what I need.