Sunday, March 6, 2011

Because It's Just Fun To Read, an interview with Jack, Age 8

Meet my nephew, Jack. Above are just a few photos of the pivotal reading moments in his life.
...listening to mom read aloud as an infant
...eating breakfast cheerios with Moo Baa La La La
...learning colors with Eric Carle and Elmo
...loading new books on his Nook with Dad Christmas day
...potty training with the Toys R Us catalog
...studying the deer in Papa's Field and Stream magazine his favorite nonfiction author, Steve Jenkins
...enjoying afternoon partner reading with Granny
...unwrapping the gift of literacy

He's a second grader, a violinist, an artist, a T-ball catcher, and as you can see from the photos above, a lifelong reader (all eight glorious years of it!).
Last night I had a phone conversation with Jack about reading and homework.

Below is a transcript of our conversation: (and if I was tech savvy enough like my amazing blogging and teaching friends, I'd have a podcast of our conversation attached to this blog.....Ok guys, I need lessons on this, please! Soon!)

AM: Hi Jack, it's Ann Marie. Do you mind answering some questions about reading for me?

Jack: OK. I'm hungry and waiting for Mama to finish the spaghetti. (My sister was happy for me to distract hungry Jack for a minute or two so she could get dinner on the table.)

AM: First, can you tell me what you're reading now?

Jack: Well....The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle with Dad, The Magic Treehouse, and Lives of the Presidents.

AM: Three books, huh? Why those books?

Jack: In Dr. Doolittle the animals talk and I love that. You know Jack and Annie travel to different places and I like that too. And Lives of the Presidents tells you all about the presidents. Like all about them.

AM: When do you first remember loving to read? What book do you remember first loving?

DOGS! (I could hear him talking to his mom...Hey Mama, it was Dogs because it had all that crusty breakfast stuff all over it. Like cheerios stuck to the pages." Remember?! And that bird book that Daddy read to me that had all the bird sounds. That one too.

AM: Jack, does homework help you to be a better reader?

Jack:Umm....I think so.

AM: Can you tell me how it helps you be a better reader?

Jack: It teaches you better fluency. And expression.

Anything else?

Jack: Nothing else.

AM: Who are your favorite authors?

Jack: Jan Brett, OH! Rosemary know she writes Yoko and Friends and Max and Ruby, Dr. Seuss.

AM: Hey Jack, what do you think made you like to read or be a great reader? Was it reading homework? Getting things to do for homework that had to do with reading? Or something else?

Jack: Something else. Hey, can we go back to my favorite authors now?

AM: Yes, of course.

Jack Steve Jenkins. Definitely Steve Jenkins. I have no idea how he draws his pictures so good and he has lots of information and his indexes. And Tomie DePaola! I just love Strega Nona. It's so funny. He writes good stories and just writes funny books too. But I'm a nonfiction man. Cause I can read and tell everyone what I learned and say, oh I know that. I read it in a book.

AM: I know you like books, Jack, and I can certainly tell you love to read from your answers to these questions, but why?

Jack: because it's just fun to read! (answering me in this "this is a dumb question" voice.)

AM: Jack, what advice would you give to teachers who want to help their students love reading as much as you do?

Jack: Hmmm...I'd tell them to get more interesting stories and books for their students. And tell them that the book will take their mind places. That's what I would tell them. And then they would love it. I know they would."

I just love Jack.
But mostly today, I love the honesty, the passion, and the sincerity with which he spoke about his life as a reader.
Yes, Jack has been blessed with a mom, dad and family who all recognized on the day he was born what it took to help him become a reader and lover of literacy.
Unfortunately, that's not the case for all children who enter our classrooms each day.
Jack reminded me what it takes for us as teachers to "grow" these kinds of readers in our classrooms. So.... what can we do to ensure that all children leave our classrooms being readers and choosing to read for a lifetime?

Just a few important pieces of advice from eight year old Jack....
1. Get more interesting stories and books.
Children need to be reading books and magazines and short stories and fiction and nonfiction and poetry and everything they want to read and CAN read. All day, every day. So fill up your classrooms with those interesting books. Keep collecting books from yard sales, class book orders,local libraries, bookstores, family collections, etc., etc. and have those interesting books on the shelves and at your students' fingertips.

2. Books will take your mind places.
Yes, books can do that if teachers will demonstrate, model, lead by example, and show their students exactly how to read and comprehend. We want our students seeing demonstrations and then practicing and reading daily to allow these books to "take their minds places".

3. Reading helps build fluency.....
AND background knowledge and oral language and vocabulary and reading/writing connections and strategy usage---and all of that leads to comprehension and enjoyment! (see my friend, Sharon Taberski's blog All About Comprehension and her new book Comprehension from the Ground Up for more information on the pillars of reading)

4. Go back to your favorite authors now.
Re-read them. Soak in their words. Study their illustrations. Have conversations about them. Question their motives and their techniques. Listen to what others think about your favorites and then learn about theirs. Wonder with others about them. Try to write like them. Love them. Go back to them often. Click the link above for an interview with Helen Lester, a favorite author, posted by my colleagues at the Developmental Studies Center.

5. Read because it's just fun.
Not to answer questions at the end of the chapter. Not to get points. Not to earn a pizza party. Not to be the star student reader of excellence of the year. Not so you can say you did your homework.
Read for a reason and a purpose that matters....and just because it's fun.

Thanks to Mary Lee and Franki who gave me this "homework assignment" and got me thinking about reading and what matters for students in our classrooms today.
and with respect for all the amazing reading teachers everywhere,
Thank you!
Ann Marie


  1. I love, love, love this interview with your nephew!! What a savvy guy he is when it comes to the critical things about reading.

    Thanks so much for sharing! As always, miss you and hope to see you soon.

  2. If only politicians would invite teachers and our kids to debates and hearings when educational policies are being discussed.......Loved this post!!! I have a collage of my daughter sharing her literacy life with family members, her guinea pigs, and her beloved dog. Books create comforting circles and transforming ripples. Loved ones and furry friends can all join the circle. Thanks for this post!

  3. What a simply delightful interview and very lucky boy! I also believe that if we teachers introduce parents to beautiful books, they will know how to find the authors we have learned about from each other. Too, the best homework is often simply no-screen-time: time to sit and read, time to think and look out of the window, time to look at the birds and ask lots of questions. Helping families make and cherish this time together, to slow down, may be the best teaching we can do. Thank you for the inspiration! A.

  4. Already Jack is the personification of the Renaissance Man. What a wonderful way to convey the power of a good story and how the love of reading can be infectious.

    What a great way to start my morning!

  5. AnnMarie~
    LOVE "unwrapping the gift of literacy"
    I have read many, many books beside many, many young readers but, each day a reader discovers somethng new, something, I had not discovered before!
    That is the gift of reading, sharing and learning new things! I hope all young readers "unwrap their gifts"

  6. Loved the conversation and loved the pictures!

    Also, loved #4 on your list!

  7. Bless you Jack for giving the polite answer about fluency, and then rushing on to show us the real answer in your enthusiasm and delight over reading! I'm with Our Learning Community on this - the decision makers need to really listen to kids like Jack and stop trying to quantify reading.

  8. Way to go, Jack! You reminded us to remember AND ACT ON what we already know by heart!

  9. Ann Marie,

    What an awesome post!! : ) Thanks for including my blog on your blog roll. What an honor!


  10. I'm so glad I found your blog. Thanks to this blog, I bought Nature's Paintbox. Since Amazon also shows what other people bought as well...I found The Longest Night and Red Sings From Treetops. Gorgeous books! My school has gone to a total scripted program for literacy. It's killing me, so today I shared my new books with my students. They were in awe. One girl even thanked me for buying them! Thank you!!!

  11. Your post made my heart so happy. As the mother of three elementary age children, I am always looking for ways to improve their reading opportunities! So glad I found your blog. xoxo michele