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Scary Reading

Happy Halloween, my ghoulish readers! For this Halloween, my family will enjoy a tradition that began on my first date with Andy: binge-watching The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror episodes with some local BBQ. Whether Annapolis BBQ meets our Texas standards, we’ll find out soon enough. 

As we snack on Halloween candies and recount scary stories, I want to talk about a topic dear to my heart. You see, this thought chills me to the bone and it should terrify parents and teachers alike. What scares me is literacy. Yes, literacy. Literacy is defined as the ability to read and write, but it goes beyond that. My fears about literacy stem from my experience as a middle school teacher. 

When I have conversations with people who do not work in education, they are often shocked to hear that I have had students who confessed to have never read a book in their lives. These students weren’t lying. They weren’t speaking in hyperboles. Said in another way, they have never read anything longer than short passages paired with standardized test questions.

I have a personal bias for reading. Reading is my first true love. I have found comfort and solace in books since early childhood. Reading has provided an intellectual and emotional escape during challenging times. Reading has taught me so much about countless topics. Reading has helped me analyze relationships and contexts, whether fiction or nonfiction, that taught me lessons applicable to my life. I have found guidance and purpose within the pages of books. My love for reading is what drove me to be an English major in college and to be a Language Arts teacher. My love for reading drives my love for writing and the dream that my books will one day be on display at retailers and personal bookshelves.

I don’t expect others to share the same emotional connection I feel towards books. My reading habit probably borders on compulsion, but I’m okay with that. What worries me about so many of America’s youth is the astronomical number of children and teens are growing into adulthood without the stamina to read longer texts.

Because of district mandates, state tests, and a barrage of other requirements, it is not likely that most teachers can incorporate (some or any) novel studies or literature circles into lessons or unit plans. Believe me when I say that teachers have been fighting for the freedom to do novel studies for years. Depending on the district, some teachers can pursue novel studies, but the majority are unable to, given the reality of their requirements.

The love, or at least the habit of reading shouldn’t necessarily come from the classroom. Frankly, reading should be practiced at home. Children and teens should have opportunities to visit local libraries and check out books. Books can be pricey, but reading is not an expensive habit. Libraries are gems in a community. Parents should also model reading, not as in checking off a task, but out of enjoyment or at least purpose.

Parents should also not be concerned about what their child wants to read. If all your son wants to read is about soccer or football, good. If Manga comics is what your daughter wants to read, great. Even if what your child wants to read is nothing more than a series of nonsensical sophomoric flatulence, encourage reading based on what they want, even if you don’t get it or think it’s stupid. Let them. Encourage them. Even if they are reading the intellectual equivalent of garbage, what’s important is that they are building the habit of reading. In time, their interests will expand to other topics. The point and purpose of at-home reading is habit building. 

As long as reading is only associated with grades and assignments, kids will view reading as “work” not “fun.” Sometimes, just the fact that a teacher is presenting a book will make a student not want to read it in the first place. Literacy is truly built by reading for no other purpose than sheer enjoyment. 

This October, I read the following books. I enjoyed all of them. 

  • Dear Girls by Ali Wong: Just as raunchy as her Netflix comedy specials, Ali Wong writes a series of letters to her daughters about life lessons. If you are a parent (or even if you’re not), I highly recommend listening to the audiobook for great laughs and life lessons.

  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This fictional novel captivated me. I could not put it down. At first, I read it from the lens of a whodunnit. Was it Izzy? Mia? I had a growing list of suspects. In the end, it didn’t matter who set the fires. The magic of this story is the deep complexity of each character. All of them are riveting.

  • Percy Jackson Book 1: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordon: This is a late elementary/early middle school Bildungsroman, a classic Joseph Campbell hero quest. I previously read Percy Jackson’s Greek Mythology and loved his take on Greek Gods. In this story, a trio of half-Gods is on a cross country search for Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt.

  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: Talk about endurance reading! This bear of a biography recounts the life of Alexander Hamilton in great detail. Many historical books can be a bit dry, but Chernow’s prose made me want to turn every page to learn more about Hamilton and America’s early history. 

  • Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin Manuel Miranda: I’m a huge fan of Hamilton, the musical, but what I most wanted to learn was how he pulled it off. How did he take Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton to create such a brilliant adaptation? This is synthesis at its finest. This book explained the creative process, not just writing the songs, but every detail of production from staging, casting, dancing, revisions, impact, and so on. This book is about an idea to final execution. 

  • The Answer is... Reflections of my Life by Alex Trebek: Unlike other memoirs, this autobiography wasn’t written as a narrative story. Trebek recounts his life in a series of vignettes, all introduced by a Jeopardy-style question. 

  • China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan: The sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, this book is primarily set in Hong Kong, China, instead of Singapore. The family dynamics and drama from book one is mostly resolved, but a bombshell at the book’s opening introduces a whole new family of characters and loads of drama. This book is best served with green tea and dim sum.

Stay safe, read lots, and Happy Halloween!


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