Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Bookish Influence

     Over winter break, I had the opportunity to visit The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles.  I had seen a blog post about this amazing store recently and asked my brother-in-law to help me find this treasure when I was visiting.  My husband, my brother-in-law, and I traveled to downtown LA so that I could go there.  The store did not disappoint!  It is an incredible shrine to books.  I love how the store owners really celebrated the beauty of books by making the decorations from books.  Every piece of art in the store was some sort of celebration of books.

   As I wandered through the second floor, I felt overwhelmed by the place.  I stumbled through this amazing place with awe and quickly realized that I could spend HOURS in this place.  There is something about the smell of books and the endless rows of selections that brings out a secret desire for the treasure hunt.  Standing there, I felt like many treasure seekers must feel before going off on an adventure.  Unfortunately for me, I was there with two other people so I had to condense the looking down to only a few shelves (I also had in mind the flight back to Wisconsin and knew I could not take a ton of books with me).  My husband, knowing the bookish nature of my soul, looked at me and said, "You could spend a long time here.  This is like heaven for you."  And he was so right about that and I love that he understood so thoroughly how amazing just being in that place was for me.

A tunnel made from books!
     While meandering through the space and smelling the used book smell, I started to think about my grandparents.  My grandmother and my grandfather were instrumental in creating the book monster that I am today.  While growing up, I had the good fortune of living very close to my grandparents and being the oldest grandchild by 5 years.  This meant that I had a lot of time alone with these two wonderful people.  Both of my grandparents were readers.  My grandfather was really interested in history, specifically Civil War history.  He belonged to the Civil War Round Table and went to the conference every year.  The shelves in their living room were filled to the brim with gigantic tomes that chronicled the battles of the war as well as biographies of key people.  But my grandfather did not stop there, he read newspapers, magazines, and anything left out on the table in your house.  I am absolutely certain that if he had chosen to go on Jeopardy, he would have been a big winner.  He knew so much about so many things!  My grandmother also was a reader.  She was a mystery reader.  It is because of her influence that I hold a special place in my heart for mysteries also.  She introduced me to Agatha Christie when I was ready and inspired me to read all of Dame Christie's novels as she had done.  I remember when an independent book store called Booked for Murder opened in Madison.  My grandmother waited to visit the store until I could go with her because this is something we shared so deeply.

      My grandparents would have LOVED The Last Bookstore.  Both of them loved a good bargain on a book and hardly ever bought new books.  They introduced me to used bookstores and library sales and the three of us would go on a hunt each time we entered one.  There were multiple times in my childhood in which I spent a few days with my grandparents in Florida.  Part of the magic of those vacations was discovering used bookstores in the area.  We would go into the store and disappear from each other for a little bit while we each hunted down what we were looking for.  My mission became looking for Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books to fuel the love of mysteries that had started for me.  My grandparents taught me the art of hunting books and enjoying the spaces where book lovers roam.

     While I was reminiscing about these experiences, it really dawned on me how lucky I was as a child.  I have known it all along, but this was a different kind of epiphany.  I was amazingly lucky to have been brought into a bookish family.  Not only did my parents love to read, my grandparents were even bigger bibliophiles and I had the luck to be the grandchild who most directly benefitted from that.  This made me think about the unfortunate statistic that more and more adults are spending less time reading.  I work every day to help my students learn to love reading as much as I do, and I always have an uphill battle.  My students most likely do not have grandparents or parents who teach them to love books, and that puts them at a horrible disadvantage.

     I work in an urban school.  At my school about 65% of the students are on free or reduced lunch.  This is considered to be a high-poverty situation.  The kids at my school are not as bad off as other students in the city.  The majority of them have a roof over their heads and food on the table every night.  They have clean clothes and school supplies.  However, most of their parents do not really have extra money to spare.  They do not have book shelves full of books at home, many do not even have a library card or they owe money for fines so cannot use their cards.  When they do have extra money, many of these families spend it on game systems and video games for their children not on books.   When we talk about test scores and failing schools, we need to talk about these things.  My students do not have the same opportunities that I had growing up.  It isn't even really about the money.  It is about the role models.  We need to have adults who read and enjoy books and teach kids to do so also.  There are so many great teachers out there that are working on this and cultivating a love of reading in their classrooms.  However, there are also many teachers out there who "don't have time to read"--how can they say this when their students are depending on them?

     I wish sincerely that my students and the kids all over the United States were as lucky as I was when I was their age.  I wish that they had parents and grandparents that loved books and taught them to love books.  I wish that they had parents and grandparents who read them bedtime stories from when they were too young to remember them until they were teenagers (or at least as old as possible).  But the sad reality is that many of these students do not have these things.  As a teacher, it is my mission to provide as much book love in my classroom I can and I do this every day.   However, what I really want for my students is to be able to give them the experience of walking into a bookstore or a library and feeling at peace.  I want them to feel that excitement that only a good book hunt can give me.  I want them to want to see that Scholastic box arriving in the classroom.  I want them to see adults in their lives that are excited about books.

     This is why what we do in the classroom is so important.  If I can influence my students to become life-long readers, I can provide a new generation with the incredible luck of growing up in a bookish family and that is a very lucky thing indeed.


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