Last week’s unstated theme was obsession and addiction.
My worst addiction is a life long one. My addiction to the written word began when I was an infant. My family read to me, my teachers encouraged me and in books I found the friends I was unable to make in real life. And it all began with storybooks.
As adults, we are told that we must put aside childish things. Stuff animals, trophies and yearbooks are often packed away or given to the next generation. Storybooks are the very opposite of childish to me. They are highly portable pieces of the imagination. Their pages transport us to far off places in seconds. Images and words working their magic on our hearts and minds.
Kids frequently rush to leave behind the childish things, but some how they aren’t making it to adulthood complete enough to think on their own. They never make the connection between their lack of knowledge and dislike of reading. They don’t care about what they don’t know and never see the dangers of not being able to read well or think on their own.
For the struggling readers in my classroom, I recommend reading storybooks as well as other children’s books. Although the language is simplified, the ideas are not.
Hidden among the pages of many books are fabulous vocabulary words to be learned from context clues. A skill, students are drilled on over and over again, but is needed less and less frequently in the materials that they are tested on. (Testing materials are more and more frequently being drawn texts which are copyright free and by their nature lacking in context clues.) They can explore worlds and people in short time.
They can help the kids make up for lost time.
Teaching introduced me to a whole new world of storybooks, ones that found me even as I labored deep in the education mines. Difficult or challenging concepts can be introduced with them. Or in my classroom, stories that my students would read on their own.
A well crafted children’s book is a treasure. Gilgamesh the King retold and illustrated by Ludmila Zeman found me this week and reminded of how much I hated it in college. I missed the beauty of the tale, one of the world’s oldest stories. I wish I had read Zeman’s retelling before I read the Epic of Gilgamesh and wrote worst paper of my academic career. I missed the major themes of epic and though the paper was clever it wasn’t what the professor was looking for. The imagery that would have been created by ancient storytellers is depicted by the illustrations. Now, I get it. Well I like it, at least.
Then there is the story of Cleopatra which found its way into hands the same day as Gilgamesh the King. I have always loved the Elizabeth Taylor classic – Cleopatra. So much of what I believed about her as fact was shaped by that movie. Cleopatra by Diane Stanley & Peter Vennema opened my eyes. Facts and storytelling merged into a fantastic book that is both enlightening and enchanting.
I used what I learned from reading Cleopatra the next day in class.
Read, read and read some more. And if ever lose your love of reading go back to the beginning and pick up a storybook. Of course, you don’t have to go that far to read one.