#SOL15: A Tale of Two Readers


In seventh grade,

she vowed to read every book in the library.  She began in the fiction section, left to right, top to bottom, methodically working her way through the alphabet.  Favorite authors included:  Louisa Mae Alcott, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, Daphne DuMaurier, Thomas Hardy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy. Reading was about the stories and the stories opened up the world.


Her social studies teacher handed her a copy of The Sun Also Rises. They talked about the themes, symbolism and imagery.  It was a paperback.  Days were spent on the book.  Questions abounded:  “Why read this book?” “What was her learning supposed to be?”

Language Arts class was all about diagramming sentences and practicing for a spelling bee.  No reading. No writing.

Book two was A Farewell to Arms and more conversations. The depth of conversation was intriguing. Read and then talk?  A readerly life was redefined. She was reading with a purpose – for that conversation with an adult, a teacher. Savoring the words. Wondering “Do I really understand this book?” Treasuring the conversations. Bringing the world to the reader.

Why did the student set such a lofty goal?

What role did her teachers play?

How did that goal shift?

A first grade reader 

wanted to read books. Her teacher said she had to pick books on the first grade shelf. It was the lowest shelf in the library. The shelf was four-foot long. It was not even completely filled.  It had 41 books.  By November, the first grader had read all the books because after all, there were no chapter books on the first grade shelf.

One day she chose a book from the second grade shelf. The teacher shook her head, “No, you can’t check those books out. They are only for second grade readers. Read something from our shelf.”

Those words made the girl’s stomach ache so much that she went home sick. She missed 37 days of school in first grade.

How big of an impact does a teacher have?

What teacher actions support a reader?

So what happened to that first grade reader?

When she went home, she read her books from the public library.  Three books each Saturday – that was the checkout rule! She devoured the Nancy Drew mysteries and sometimes had to switch to a different book so she could read them exactly in order.  Bobbsey Twins was another favorite, and because her brother did not check out books, she also read every one of the Hardy Boys books.

A reader was born in spite of the lack of books at school.  And when she went to junior high, her seventh grade teacher was drafted to serve in Vietnam. The long-term substitute for social studies came from the University of Iowa and one day handed her a copy of The Sun Also Rises.

Years later, I still read Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier at least once a year to consider the masterful craft that begins with, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”  I remain a voracious reader.

And now YOU know the rest of the story!

How do you know you are having a positive impact on your Readers and Writers?


Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 

22 responses

  1. I am having issues with leveling. One of my schools is being strict about “reading within your level” and another is not. Sometimes readers develop because of school incentives and sometimes they do despite them.

    1. Oh, Margaret, the problem with levels has been around for decades. In my case it was “grade levels” but there was nothing challenging in the round robin reading that we did in groups.

      Not all readers develop at the same pace or for the same reason. We can’t settle for “cookie cutter readers!”

  2. It is such magic when readers are given choice and set their own goals. It is fun to reread old favorites and get a chance to look with new eyes. I am sure we all hope to be the teacher who encourages a genuine love of reading.

    1. Erika,
      It truly is magic! And what a great focus – “encourages a genuine love of reading!”

  3. How sad that a teacher would discourage book choice based on grade level and not student ability and readiness. Glad this did not dampen your spirit and love of reading and learning.

    1. Unfortunately, mistaken beliefs about “levels” and what books student “should” read have been around for decades. This is NOT a new issue but one that needs careful attention when we consider a reader’s wants vs the curriculum mandates!

  4. So sad for your first grade self 😦 Did anyone catch on to the fact you were missing so much school? Thankfully there was that seventh grade teacher who was ahead of the time in education!

    1. Elsie,
      The most bizarre fact was that I had perfect attendance from grades two – eleven. That teacher was amazing!

  5. Oh, Fran! What a story!
    I have a similar one. I shared it as a readings lives post on Nerdy Book Club a few years ago.
    I’m convinced that people like us are better teachers of readers and writers because of our own history.

    1. I suppose we are better teachers for this. But it didn’t really build character. It still makes me very angry! 🙂

  6. Fran, this is my favorite thing you’ve ever written I think! It’s beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. I felt so sad for your first-grade self. If anyone ever does that to my daughters, I will be heartbroken. So glad you overcame and became the reader and writer that you are.

    1. Dana,
      Thank you so much! I’ve debated for a couple of weeks and rewritten it a couple of times. I liked this view – it didn’t sound too bitter!

    2. I love this post! It is such a challenge as a teacher/coach to guide students to books that they will fall in love with. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of levels — there is so much more to matching books to readers than the level! Your post is a great reminder why it is so important to be flexible and give kids choice over their reading, while at the same time supporting them in their search for just the right books.

      1. Well said, Beth! “So much more to matching books to readers than levels!”

  7. I’m so happy that YOU have a nice end to your story (which is not over,…sequel? LOL)
    It’s important that kids READ. Not to test, not to pass, not to fit into a level. READING is living, reading is loving. Great story! I’d like to do a story of a few times I remember reading in school. Thanks for the inspiration, too!

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. I hadn’t thought of a sequel. Good question!

      And yes, Reading is living and loving . . . so many books to live in and love! I want that for every reader everywhere!

  8. I adore this, too, Fran! I was a secret reader who read voraciously at home but never got much more than a B in English until my 11th grade teacher saw something in a paper I wrote about Of Human Bondage. But I can tell you exactly where I was when I first read Rebecca: in a damp house my parents rented on Cape Cod during a rainy week, which I spent at Manderley.

    1. Vicki,
      There are those books that literally whisk us away! Thanks so muchh for commenting!

  9. Ha! Like Vicki, I have my own Rebecca story – what a glorious book. I think young readers need one champion who will allow them the right to choose books they are interested in and thereby grow. Thank you for this post, Fran – you validate my teacher self.

    1. Tara,
      So true … “young readers need one champion” – And thank you for being that champion!

  10. Oh are we connected in ways we didn’t know. Rebecca is a book I shared with my mother and grandmother. Such an important book in my life. Not just for the craft of DuMaurier, but for how it connects me to my family.

    Rebecca aside, I love how you crafted these pieces of your life into a life lesson for teachers and parents!

    1. Thanks, Julieanne! Student voices are critical (even across decades)! ❤

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