The Scene of the Crime | The Secret of the Resistant Readers (Part 2)

by Melissa on March 8, 2010

This is part 2 in Melissa’s case The Secret of the Resistant Readers.

With the instinct of a detective who dared not miss a clue, I deliberately set out to examine the scene of the crime.

I arrived at school on my sixth day teaching and hurried into the library. My shoulders immediately tensed.

Memories came rushing back of a day in March, the first day of my student teaching, when I had excitedly rushed in but was stopped in my tracks by the uninviting environment that stared back at me.

I recalled the school where I had completed my first student teaching assignment- an amazing, constructivist school where the library was easily one of the most exciting parts of the day.

Their library was breathtaking. There were couches and comfy chairs, lamps that gave off soft lighting, big windows that looked out onto the trees…

It was a stark contrast to the library I had walked into at my new school. With a tile floor, wooden chairs, and fluorescent lights it wasn’t exactly the coziest place you could imagine. I remember thinking, “Maaaayyyybe I can work with this.”

Until I inched closer to the bookshelves, my eyes glued to the selection…

At my old school, you could walk in, grab a stack of books, plop down in a comfy chair and hours would pass before you knew it. Any book you could imagine, from the classics to the newest best sellers, was beautifully displayed.

Here, as I examined the books, my heart dropped. Almost all of the books had been published in the 1970’s.

Then I started doing some quick calculations.

My school was serving over 1,200 students. The former school had served less than 100. My new school had less than half the number of books.

And that’s when my eyes began to well up with tears as outrage and sadness filled every cell of my being. It just didn’t seem right.

I felt defeated. I had read that California public school library funding ranked 46th out of 50 states, but seeing how that played out, among students where their chances for graduating were stacked against them…well, it just about broke my heart.

But on that day in September, I didn’t have time for broken hearts. I was a teacher in my very own classroom. I had 20 peanuts that I was responsible for.

A Sweet Clue

So on the sixth day of my ‘official teaching career,’ I looked around the library, and had a very different feeling. I was excited.

A quick examination of the evidence led me to a startling conclusion that had evidently been staring me right in the face!

I had been expecting my kids to love reading when they didn’t have a special, comfortable place where they could lose themselves for hours in words and pictures.

More importantly, I was expecting them to love to read…when they didn’t have good books!

It was like giving someone an out-of-tune piano with missing keys and asking them, “Why can’t you play the piano? Why don’t you like learning?”

I had to make sure my kids were given the opportunity to fall in love with books.

I hurried out of the library electrified-I was following my first lead as an official teacher (slash detective)!

I had concluded that my wisest choice would be to scour every garage sale and used bookstore in the area. My eyes sparkled in anticipation.

First case solved!

…or so I thought. Little did I know that this case was only beginning…

Takeaway Tip: Examine the environment! Children’s books should be all over the place in your house- in bedrooms, the den, the car. Even in the bathroom! Your child will be so much more likely to become a book lover if they’re surrounded by good books, and have an inviting place to read them.

Invitation: Would love to hear some of the unconventional places you or your kiddo keep books. Or your great ideas for making your “reading place” comfy.

Melissa is the founder of Tandem Teaching and teaches in the inner-city. She blogs weekly about tips parents can implement to enhance their connection with their children and ways to bring out their children’s inherent gifts. Contact her for a private consulting session.


Brooke March 17, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Bill Maher just gave a speech about this. He said that if parents as interested in keeping books around the house as they are with DVDs or video games, we wouldn’t have such a problem with classroom learning. He then warned that if parent’s don’t act fast, don’t be surprised if they end up like their nannies (and then showed a picture of the Kardashians from the Keeping up with the Kardashian show). Having grown up as a child of a tv house, I will be sure not to make the same mistake with my children.

Joan March 17, 2010 at 9:13 pm

I hate to admit it, but the OCD in me demands that everything be kept in it’s proper place. All of Elizabeth’s books are in her room, WHERE THEY BELONG, on perfectly organized shelves; two shelves for picture books leftover from toddlerhood, one shelf for books she’s read, and one shelf for books we’ve yet to conquer. In a nod to Bill Maher, however, I will admit that the DVD’s (of which we have relatively few, about 1/10 the number of books we have) are also relagated to their proper place, a tiny corner bookshelf in the living room, where they’re often hidden behind the front door (or, as they are today, my massive pile of unfinished projects! Shaquanda says our house always looks like we’re either movin’ out, or just moved in!). We have exactly zero video games.

In a second nod, to both Bill and Melissa, I will say that we never go anywhere without books. Since Elizabeth was a tiny (and I mean fresh-from-the-womb) baby, we have read to her daily and books are a permanent fixture on our packing list for our travels. In our own way, I suppose we did surround her with books, and since we crawl under the covers every night and snuggle up with a good book and some soft, warm light, I suppose we also created the inviting environment.

Whether those two things contributed to it or not, there is no doubt that Elizabeth reads, and boy does she read! She was a self-taught reader by the age of 5, and to this day, hates to go to bed without “books”. If the house gets unnaturally quiet, just check her bed. You’ll invariably find her there, under the covers, reading. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and my greatest source of pride.

Katie March 17, 2010 at 11:48 pm

When I was growing there was a shelf behind my grandfather’s easy chair that had a whole shelf full of children’s books, and I specifically remember one book that I would pull out every time I was over there (which was A LOT) and make my grandfather go through it with me- it involved a little bear that went on all different types of adventures! My poor Norfather! And yet he went through the book with me every time as though it was just as fun and exciting for him as it was for me (and maybe it was). I’ve never thought about it before, but there’s a takeaway there… if the parent/teacher/adult approaches reading as something genuinely fun as opposed to a chore, the child is likely to adopt the same attitude…

This is a great site… I’ll be back!

Melissa March 18, 2010 at 1:02 am

So glad you like the site! The fact that your grandfather had a whole shelf of children’s book behind his easy chair it was just as fun for him as you thought it was! If you love reading, there is nothing more exciting than watching a child you love fall in love with books. What a special memory. Thanks for sharing!

Melissa March 18, 2010 at 1:20 am

Joan, you have worked so hard to instill a love of reading in Elizabeth, and it’s really paying off!

And there’s a lot to say for keeping everything “in its proper place.” It keeps your li’l peanut from having to waste time searching for an old favorite, time that she could be spending reading!

It’s also clear that finding value in books is part of the culture you’re creating in your family. Inspiring!

Thanks for sharing.

Heather March 18, 2010 at 7:11 am

Luca loves stories and books are wonderful to find new worlds but for him it isn’t always easy. He is not a resistent reader. He is just geting into reading. It has it’s challenges. He doesn’t see sounds easily so understanding worlds can be hard at times. We have discovered in the last six months that he definitely is a whole word reader. I have books all over the house. I love to read and do it often. I also read to him everynight.

I hope that when the worlds fall into place for him he will love to read as much as I do. His struggles have reminded me of how it was hard for me as well. We are working on it everyday. If you have any suggestions please let me know. We need all the support we can get. By the way Congrats to you all this wesite ROCKS.

celia pollak March 20, 2010 at 8:18 am

My 19 yr old son was helping me get my three grandchildren to bed. He took the two year old in her room read to her from her books , sang her a song and put her in bed. I had the four year old boy who had a dinosaur book. he really read it to me because i couldn’t pronounce the names of the animals. The three month old baby stayed in my arms looking at the book. the session lasted more than an hour. On the drive home my son asked me how long will the four year old have to be read to bed before he goes to bed on his own? I told him hopefully not for a very long time because this is a bonding time for him. My son then said” you never read to me when i was little…..” I was shocked..dumb founded…I read to him every night and sang and made up stories…EVERY NIGHT! He doesn’t remember it…ahhhhhhhhh. He only reads now the assigned books from school, or a rare book that catches his attention.He likes the books when he is done but wouldn’t pick it up to read on his own. Hopefully my grandchildren will enjoy reading more.

Melissa March 22, 2010 at 6:47 am

Thanks, Heather! It sounds like you are doing exactly what you should be. Luca is a very lucky boy to have a mom who cares so much about his relationship with books, and is always working to find ways to make his relationship with them strong. Continue to read with to him every night. That’s one of the most important things you can be doing, so give yourself a pat on the back. You wrote that you also struggled with reading. Do you remember what happened to turn you on to books? Since you see some of yourself in his struggle, looking at that piece might be a good spot for us to start gathering clues. I’m excited to hear about it. And thanks for the shout out about the website. Megan is so talented!

Melissa March 22, 2010 at 6:53 am

Oh! The things they don’t remember! It’s so crazy, when you think of all the hours you spent, doesn’t it?

Even though he’s only reading assigned books, those experiences helped shape him into the amazing young man he is today. The way you talked about books, and about the choices characters made, were some of the contributing factors that have helped turn him into such a compassionate person (along with all of the other great things you did for him!).

The time spent together, even if he doesn’t remember it, has probably also contributed to the close relationship the two of you share. I’m so glad to hear that you’re continuing that tradition with your grandchildren.

Personally, I know that when I was in college I saved my pleasure reading for summer or breaks-the school year was way to hectic of a time to let myself relax with books. I needed other outlets for relaxation. It’s still true for me today!