School Books

I can’t help thinking about reading in school and having that thought automatically lead to how much time I wasted waiting to grow up to be in a grade where I could actually get something out of my reading. I wanted to really grow in it, but no one had the time to provide that for me. My school, and I guess most schools, were designed to cater to kids at their grade’s reading level or below it, maybe even a little above it. But, with me, all bets were off and after several frustrating years of boredom they finally would just take a more advanced book off a shelf and stick me in a corner with it like I was a naughty child that needed to be punished because I loved to read.

I learned how to read before I went to school, by second grade I was reading chapter books – like The Bobbsey Twins, The Boxcar Children, and Nancy Drew. By the time I was in fourth grade I was bored out of my skull by what the class was reading and a special more advanced reading class was made. The class promptly flopped because parents wanted their children to be in the advanced class too and so we were stuck with slow, stuttering readers all over again before we had even reached Christmas. By the time I was in the fifth grade I was reading at college level, by the time I was in the sixth I was such a voracious reader that, when stacked up against the entire rest of the sixth grade, I still had them beat by three (Newbery Award winning) books that school year, and that included a three month forced vacation from January to March. To say the least, I was bored throughout most of elementary school, and I really wish I could have been challenged more.

I do remember one book from the sixth grade, The Giver, where the school librarian tried to take time out to sit down with me and have my first real book discussion about it. She wasn’t supposed to and I remember her being kind of furtive about the meeting because she was supposed to just take the book report slip and put a check next to my name as done, but she put in extra effort instead that she really didn’t have to, and I appreciated that. I think at first that she thought I had blown off the book and hadn’t really read it by my little book report slip, but that’s because I didn’t even realize that books could have symbols in them, that a story could be written and that everything could mean something else when looked at in a different way. She didn’t have much time to straighten me out, but I still remember that discussion, the questions she asked that made me think more about the book, and I remember walking away from it in a rush to my next class (spent playing dodge ball when I could have been reading, how I hated that!) with my head full of the sudden realization that there could be more to books than just stories. A heady thought.

I remember sitting and watching enviously as the other kids would all get bright shiny new books, like The Magic School Bus, and would sit with all the chairs arranged like a school bus, in the middle of the room. I would watch the teacher playacting, the character role play for the kids, the fun activities and stickers and rewards. Then I would listen to the kids read aloud, and remember why they stuck me in a corner with The Diary of Anne Frank instead. Years later when the kids were ready to read more interesting books, like Island of the Blue Dolphins and Bridge to Terabithia , I had already read them years ago and so again was punished by being sent to the corner with a more advanced book, like Little Women and Huckleberry Finn. Meanwhile, in my spare time, I had started to read the The Belgariad series and let my imagination run away with me, as my sixth grade teacher had one lock of white hair at his brow just like Polgara did. He must have thought I was nuts. I also remember reading my first adult novel proper that year, ironically enough the book Prodigy by Michael Stewart.

My reward for out reading the entire sixth grade was the book Walk Two Moons, which I had already read, and a book certificate which I promptly spent. Everyone expected me to buy several children’s books with it, but instead I bought a few adult books: Companions of the Night and Voyage. At that point I stopped worrying about books that were assigned to me or fitting in with other people’s reading levels so much. I had well and truly discovered the YA and adult genre of fiction, and I was hooked. I dove into The Borderland series, I was introduced to John Grisham and The Rainmaker got me hooked on thrillers (Congo by Michael Crichton nearly scared me off them again) I probably read beyond my maturity level when I cracked open a series of Fairy Tale Anthologies, very much for adults in every sense of the word, by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. By the time I moved on to Junior High I no longer cared too much for in class reading assignments, too long exempt I guess, and often just blasted through the book in one go and just pretended to read along in class to keep from getting in trouble.

School still introduced me to new authors and new genres, I was introduced to Charles Dickens in seventh grade and loved him to pieces, but it wasn’t until high school that I finally learned to do more than just read and write book reports. I learned, finally, the words for what I was reading: alliteration, onomatopoeia, metaphor, allusion, foreshadowing. I learned how to discuss my book on paper, it still wasn’t okay to really talk about it aloud as she wanted our ideas not ones we copied off each other. In college we finally were able to discuss them aloud, but we were still just doing books that I had already long since read, Frankenstein was purchased and read in the summer between sixth and seventh grade, The Yellow Wallpaper I read online during a ninth grade computer class because there, again, I was beyond the other kids and had long since finished my day’s in-class assignments.

Now that I’m out of school I’m looking back and I honestly can’t think of any books that I hated. I love reading, and it’s really hard to find a book that will turn me off to that. I just hated that reading was treated like an expendable skill, like it was superfluous. You needed the basics, but anything beyond it was mere fluff to be barely tolerated, kind of like being the world’s best mashed potato castle builder. Not very useful, not really necessary, and if you eat two more bites of vegetables you can leave the table.

One Response to School Books

  1. Helen Murdoch
    1:49 pm on November 23rd, 2009

    Very interesting! I am in my second years as a high school Teacher Librarian and run into students all along the spectrum from reluctant to voracious reader. I love helping both. My daughter is a 4th grader who just discovered the love of reading and her class does book groups so that each student can read at the appropriate level.

    I wish you had had adults in your life earlier on who had fostered your love of reading! That’s one of the things I adore about my position: being able to find books to excite and educate our students. I love discussing the books when they return them!

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