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May 13, 2005

Encouraging A Reader

Posted by admin

When I was in first grade my teacher was Mrs. Falk. I was terrified of her. She was strict --- old school kind of Catholic school strict. We would sit in chairs according to "our ability" (at the time ability was what you did work wise). And yeah, I was first row, first seat. She was very intense (a term I use now, but never knew then) about learning and being perfect. Totally stressed me out (a term I use now...then I just said I had a stomach ache). That said, she loved to encourage children to read.

As we were heading off on summer vacation she told us she was holding a Summer Reading Contest. The girl and boy who read the most books would win a prize. That summer I hit the library and the bookmobile (remember bookmobiles?) almost as much as I hit the pool. I swam laps and I turned pages. I was not just doing it to win the prize. I wanted to show Mrs. Falk what I had done. I had been reading since I was three. In fact, there's a running joke in the family that they had to install a silent light switch in my room so I would stop waking the family when I woke up at 6AM to read. But Mrs. Falk encouraged me to read more.

The night before the first day of school, I wrote up the list of everything that I had read and brought it to Mrs. Falk the following morning. I now was in Mrs. Sullivan's class. I am laughing that I remember these things. I had 100 books printed in nice writing (knowing neatness counted with Mrs. Falk). She came in later to tell me that I had tied with Sandra Maresca (shocked I remember that name too). She needed time to get the prizes since now she needed two. Later that week she presented me with this really sweet doll. Yes, remember when second grade girls were thrilled to get a doll?

The doll was nice, the winning felt great, but Mrs. Falk gave me a far better gift --- the chance to read and explore books on my own.

My own boys are readers. My younger one was reluctant for a long time. I just kept bringing home books and putting them around the house. He wrote his first school book report for Scooby Doo: The Novelization. I remember he was looking everywhere for the author's name and my older son just became exasperated and said, "It's a CARTOON by Hanna Barbera. I, of course, started to do a mild "flip" that this was the book he had selected.

Then I remembered my advice to moms over the years. Just encourage them to read. That summer he started reading Harry Potter and from there, there was no going back. The Harry Potter books to him were like his own Mrs. Falk.

This whole story came back to me in a wave last weekend when my mom, who was cleaning out her attic (it never ceases to surprise me how much is IN that attic) and brought me the doll. I saw it and I remembered. And I have been thinking about this all week.

It made me wonder whatever happened to Mrs. Falk. Or Sandra Maresca. For the record, I cannot remember the boy winner in the first grade reading contest, which now totally surprises me since I remember everything else.

Am sure you get the message here, so I am not going to come out and say it. After all, you're a reader!