When I was young, I would read to my little brother. When I was a para-educator and tutor, I would read to my students.
Now, as a Special Ed teacher, I still do a lot of reading out loud. And not just to students with special needs. The average reading level at our school is 4th-6th grade and yet most of the literature we expect them to read (or at least become exposed to) is written way above, sometimes even beyond high school level.
Even “YA classics” and young adult books like Treasure Island or Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes contain vocabulary well above our average reader. This is why I read these books and others out loud to my students, or provide them with an audio version if a read aloud is impossible.
But this post isn’t about teaching best practice for the at-risk reader. I want to talk with you about the books that were read to me.
Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham
This was my absolute favorite book before I could read. My parents and grandparents must’ve read it to me many times because by the time I was pre-school aged, I could recite the entire book, page by page, as if I was reading it to whomever was in the room. It still is the Dr. Seuss book I love best.
When I was very young, my dad worked overnight shifts and often had second jobs that often kept him away from home in the evenings. But when he was home, each night before bed, he would read part of a book out loud to us.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series
This was one of the first series I think Dad chose and I still remember him reading about how the Ingalls family got maple syrup from the trees.
Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast
I remember this as a grand adventure. I’m sure Dad edited some details for our young ears, and I also loved how he would pause and share a story or anecdote from when he was in the navy. I’m pretty sure this was before he introduced us to Captain Bligh and the HMS Bounty, so this was the beginning of a long fascination for me.
Robert Specht’s Tisha
If I didn’t already want to become a teacher, this book definitely did it for me. Dad also was really good about raising us to embrace other people and be uncomfortable – if not outright fight against – injustice. They say hindsight is 20/20 and if I’m forced to go back and find a moment that “made” me become a teacher for at-risk students, this would be it.
Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf
I know Dad read this out loud to us, but I have no memory of it. I do, however, distinctly remember watching the movie version with him as a family and how much he enjoyed it… and laughed especially heartily as Mowat raced around “marking his territory.”
Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows and Bill Wallace’s A Dog Called Kitty
Dad didn’t read these to me, my teacher read these to our class — I think it was 3rd or 4th grade. There wasn’t a single dry eye in the room. We did watch Where the Red Fern Grows as a family; again, not a dry eye.
Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead
Two years ago, I visited an old friend in Iowa. She had told me ahead of time that their book club would be meeting while I was there, so if I wanted to join in, just read Gilead. I can’t remember why I couldn’t read it my “normal” way, but I got it on CD and listened to it while I was puttering around the house. The narrator was exactly how I thought John should sound.
A big THANK YOU to my parents for teaching me how to read. And to my teachers, all of whom encouraged and challenged me to read more, read better, and to read it all. I was very blessed to have this experience; I know because most of my students were not.