Thursday, December 31, 2009

Letting Books Get Under Your Skin

Yesterday I talked about actively making images in your mind when you read. This is a learned skill, and children need to develop it.

Here's something wierd - when we are children, we feel instinctively. There is no Ho-hum attitude in life. I am reminded of this daily with Nick, my almost 2 year old. When he feels something, he expresses it intensely. Huge peals of laughter or tantrums on the floor with tears streaming down his face...he makes it known how he feels.

But as we grow up, we tamper it...yes, it is appropriate that we don't throw ourselves on the floor when we are upset (although we may feel like it sometimes), but we numb ourselves in some ways.

When I read books with kids, they are often surprised. Not because I am sooo fabulous at reading aloud to kids, but because I REACT. I laugh, I cry, I question why -- I FEEL. "Hey, you're crying!" I hear them say, astonished. I ask them if they have ever seen someone cry over a book, and many of them say no. "My mom cries at Extreme Home Makeover," they may say, but not books. Hmmm....what do they see? What are we modelling? Do they see YOU read? Again, a subject for later.

Nothing bugs me more than seeing blank stares and hearing crickets as I am reading a book aloud to kids. When that happens, I know they are numb...not allowing the characters to touch them. Now, I am not saying they need to be bursting into tears at every turn of the page, but when a pet dies and they look at me with no reaction, I have to say, "Isn't that sad, ya'll?" It's funny, because once I ask those kind of questions, they suddenly feel like they have permission to feel. "Boy, that makes me mad that the boy was bullied -- how about you? How do you feel?"

Allowing yourself to be affected by books means you are engaged with it. That is foundational to enjoying reading.

Here's the thing. Remember I told you about The Yearling. It is the first book I remember tears and sobs. I remember thinking, "No, he can't have to do what I think..." I was completely engrossed. And I'm a city girl. I have no real connection to living in the woods and hunting, the main character is a boy, and I have never had a deer. But I connected to loving a pet. To nurture, to caring. That book was a lifechanger for me. There are only a few lifechanging books in one's life. I call those landmarks. You can remember them forever, and they have made a difference in you in some way.

I have a landmark author too. Eve Bunting. I can't wait for you to hear about her.

There are other ways besides sadness...laughter, anger, anticipation, wonder...any emotion.

If your child is struggling, you may want to get texts that they can feel about. Humor is always a great way to start. Laughter is awesome. Then move to something deeper.

Here's what I do with my Third Graders: I begin with author studies and we enjoy and laugh with Mo Willems. I move into Mark Teague who has a wild imagination and characters about their age. He also has a great series Dear Ms. LaRue, that has some intense vocabulary imbedded (I do some work on using context to understand tougher words). From there, Kevin Henkes' mice have adventures kids can relate to that are lighthearted, and then we take the leap into Sharon Creech's LOVE THAT DOG. If you haven't read it, it is a must. I love that book. We will hit on that later. That is the book where I see so many breakthroughs in feelings.

So, go ahead. It's the New Year...make one of your resolutions to allow yourself to let those feelings flow - and teach your kids.

You all didn't guess I was a Psych major in college, did you????

Blessings on a Fabulous New Year. I am hoping that it brings amazing opportunities for you!


  1. Thank you, Jewellyn! Love your insights! My Princess has LOVED us reading to her since she was so tiny so it is something we have continued to develop! I will look for more of your suggestions for her age level...she is 2 1/2! Love and miss you! Dawn Helton Montgomery

  2. I can hear you and see you now in my mind! I'm so proud of you for doing this. What a great resource you are so generously giving! Miss you!!