I have a secret… well, it’s not really a secret; anyone who knows me is acutely aware that I am obsessed with books! Picture books, young adult novels, adult novels, professional books… it doesn’t really matter. (Some people might say I have a problem. I am very aware of my obsession and work hard every day to control it.)
When I was very young, my two older brothers would tell me that I read too much and reading was bad for me. The truth is, reading made me who I am today. What I remember most from my childhood is devouring books. I was a voracious reader and I read everywhere—in the car, at the beach, in the hockey rink, in my room, in my favorite corner on the stairs, and so forth.
Of course I was a typical kid, I ran, swam, played with friends, spent hours baking with my Easy-Bake Oven, but I never went anywhere without a book. I still have some of those well loved books—they are yellowed, dog-eared and literally falling apart. After my human friends, Ramona, Beezus, Ellen Tebbits (Beverly Cleary), Peter, Fudge, Sally J, Freedman (Judy Blume), Pippi (Astrid Lindgren), Trixie Belden (Julie Campbell), and Encyclopedia Brown (Donald J. Sobol) were among my best friends.
In college, Barnes and Noble was in the Boston University Bookstore. The only time I ever used my “emergency credit card” was to buy the picture books my favorite college professor recommended; I learned to love Kevin Henkes, Tomie DePaola, Patricia Polacco, Cynthia Rylant, and many others. When my dad got those bills, I’d get a phone call, “There was another emergency in the book department, Renee?” he would ask. I never had a good response, but honestly, I’m not sure he ever expected one.
As I entered the world of education and became a grade-four teacher, I already had a pretty extensive book collection. I worked in an inner-city, high-poverty district. My library became a lending library for my students, and I didn’t care if the books didn’t come back as long as someone was loving them. I shared my love of reading with my students and taught all of my social studies curriculum through read-alouds and literature.
It didn’t take long for me to decide which path was the perfect one for me; I decided to go back to school for my Master’s in Reading. Right around this time, I became an aunt for the first time. Now I had another reason to buy books! I shared my love of books and reading with my 6 nephews and my niece. They became the beneficiaries of my favorite picture books like Dear Zoo, Z is for Zamboni, Pinkalicious, The Great White Man-Eating Shark and Strega Nona.
Being a Reading Specialist allowed me to share my library with all of the teachers and students with whom I worked. My office was exploding with books (all organized by author or topic, naturally). I had books everywhere; in my house, at my parents’ house, at work… If anyone needed a book, they knew where to go.
For the past 8 years, I have been the District Literacy Coach in Burlington, Massachusetts. I work with 7 reading specialists, 30 interventionists, and over 200 classroom teachers. I facilitate many meetings, courses, and study groups and my teachers know exactly how each one will begin: with a read-aloud. This is a routine, I also learned from my favorite college professor. Reading a great book to adults is exactly like reading to children; they immediately relax, settle in, and get that look on their faces. Do you know that look? It’s magic.
I believe that one of my most important goals as a Literacy Coach is to inspire teachers to read more to their students in order to help create lifelong readers, like myself. I am proud to say that I know now that my brothers were wrong—reading was not bad for me. Reading has made me who I am today. Reading has given me the opportunity to change the lives of my teachers and students.