"When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does." This is one of my all time favorite movie quotes, said by Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in You've Got Mail.
The importance of reading was ingrained in me at a very early age. Growing up, my stay-at-home mother did not drive, so my sister, my mom and I would walk to the local library once a week. We would fill our backpacks with as many books as we could carry and walk the mile home.
I LOVED to read as a kid and I loved our public librarians. My school librarian, on the other hand, well...I became a school librarian to break the stereotype. I wanted to share my excitement for reading with students in a way I did not experience at school.
The Kathleen Kelly quote became my mantra. I wrote it on the cover of my lesson planner each year to remind me of the lifelong impact I was making by introducing children to a wide variety of books. Independent pleasure reading obviously improves reading and writing skills and positively impacts students rate of learning, even in math! Beyond the academic, independent pleasure reading builds character by fostering imagination and creativity, improving the capacity for empathy and increasing vocabulary for emotions, helping students better communicate their own feelings.
I have been thinking a lot about the Kathleen Kelly quote and about Donalyn Miller as it is the season for the "best of" book lists.
I love the "best of" book lists and I pour through them as a reader, as a mother, and as a librarian. I cannot read a "best of" list without thinking of specific current or former students. I find true joy in being a "book whisperer." It is important to me to get to know students as individuals with personal interests and hobbies to help me make those connections. I love when a student enthusiastically returns a book, can't wait to tell me about it and then asks for more.
Last month I returned to the elementary school where I worked for 19 years for a meeting. It was bittersweet when a group of 6th grade boys chased me down the hall and before even saying "hello" asked "what do you have for me to read?"
After my meeting, I went to the school library. It was still during the school day and the library was unstaffed. I left a stack of books on a desk in the library for those boys and let their classroom teacher know. I loved that the boys were so hungry for something to read that they chased me down but it broke my heart that the library program in my district has been destroyed by last year's budget cuts and that now students no longer have access to a certified school librarian on a regular basis.
My usual excitement for the "best of" lists is dampened this year. I am worried about my former student readers. The current elementary librarian now services 3 school buildings and only directly works with students in grades 4-6. I worry that the K-3 students are not receiving the independent reading support and encouragement to create foundation for the love of pleasure reading.
I am blessed that my current students were my former students and I am able to build upon the relationships I had with them when they were younger. They already know me and trust my judgement when they ask me for a recommendation. They also know it is okay to disagree with me. It never hurts my feelings if they hate a book that I love. They know I appreciate their honesty
Some may argue that parents can just take their children to the public library. I hear you. I do. I am a full-time working mother and I love books and libraries. Instilling a love of reading is a top priority for me as a mom. But life is busy and I am lucky if I get in two visits a month with my son. This was another reason I wanted to be a school librarian, I knew as a school librarian I would be able to make an impact children whose parents could not or chose not to take their sons and daughters to the public library. I also wanted the opportunity to build a reading relationship with students over several years, helping them grow as readers and as people.
"When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does."
If there are no school librarians, who is guiding our children to discover books that will become part of their identity? School librarians are essential to instilling a love for independent pleasure reading in children, ultimately creating not just better readers but better people.
"Is your school staffed by a full-time certified school librarian who is uniquely trained in helping students, teachers, and other school and community leaders develop the knowledge, abilities, and attitudes that are crucial to their success in the 21st century?" For more information to help advocate for certified school librarians in your schools, check out the American Library Association Parent Advocacy ToolKit.
For more information about the importance of independent reading, please read Independent Reading and School Achievement. The manuscript a part of a national study, Assessment of the Role of School and Public Libraries in Support of Educational Reform, Westat, Inc., 1998–2000.