Monday, February 18, 2013


How and when did you learn to read?

What did you read first?

Learning to read is one of those pivotal moments—your world is forever changed once you have unlocked the mystery of the seemingly random marks on the page.  New worlds, new understandings, new possibilities open to you.

You are able to engage with others and the world around you in new, dynamic ways---reading about people and places, the past, stories, natural and supernatural phenomena--- and ideas and ideas and ideas…

I don’t remember learning to read. 

I know couldn’t read when I started kindergarten.  When I was little, kindergarten was half-a-day and involved learning to get along with others, naps, toys, and  “readiness skills” (whatever those were.)  I remember playing in the housekeeping corner, dressed in fancy clothes and high-heels, pretending to cook, using the play phone.  I also remember regularly getting in trouble for talking too much (Still an issue.)

 I loved kindergarten, but I don’t remember reading there.

I think I must have learned early in first grade. We brought our chairs up to the front of the room and sat in a circle around the teacher in reading groups. We read Alice and Jerry books. I loved those books.  In browsing the internet, I discovered many folks remembered and loved those books.  Click here to read blogger and author Chuck Rothman's memories of Alice and Jerry.

Only later, as a grown-up, did I learn that there were lots of reasons for me not to love Alice and Jerry. Only later did I learn that my white counterparts were reading the newer Dick and Jane books. 

I also remember hours spent at my grandma’s house poring over the books in her glass covered book case.  One reader from the “olden days”  fascinated me. This volume, The Sunbonnet Babies, was published in 1902 and awarded to my mother  according to the inscription, by  E. J. Tannenbaum on February 1, 1934 “for excellent work in 1A.” This was the book from which my mother learned to read. This was what she read first.

 Although I don’t remember my own life-changing moment of learning to read, I did have the privilege of watching my stepson’s grand moment.  I wish I had had ready access to a video camera on my phone like we do now.

It was one evening after dinner.  The dinner dishes had been cleared  and he was sitting at the dining room table leafing through one of the many primers I had given him and his brother. (I had been on a reading textbook selection committee.)

He first pointed out the. I learned this word in school.  Then he noticed see— They had also learned that word, as well.  Of course, I was one he knew.  The last word, dog, was new. He was simply identifying words he knew.

Then in an instant it happened. 

There was a dog in the picture.  Almost to himself he said  That word starts with d. Then he made the sound for dIs this word dog!?

You could almost see the light bulb above his head. He was bursting---Does this say ‘I see the dog’!?  Once it was affirmed, he read the rest of the page and then ran through the house making everyone listen a dozen times more.

 He had unlocked the secret and made meaning of the text and images-- and story.  And from that point, he understood what this mysterious new activity was about.

Learning to read forever transforms our world.

There are many beautiful picture books that  tell poignant “first reading” experiences. Here are several of my favorites.

 Life on Amber’s mountain is lonely until Anna shows up, bringing friendship and the secret to reading. A new world opens up for Amber.

 On Wednesday nights, Anna teaches her Grandma to read—a surprise for Dad’s birthday.

 This biographical slice of Booker T. Washington’s life depicts his thirst to learn to read in an era when most African Americans were not given the opportunity.

How and when did you learn to read?

What did you read first?

Today’s Deeper Reading Possibility

Click to read Billy Collins’s well-known poem, First Reader, and my poem written in response about what I read first.

How and when did you learn to read? What do you remember about that moment or process?
What books did you read early in your reading experience?

Thinking back about those books, how did they affect your life and your thinking about reading?

Write your “First Reader” story.

You may want to write a personal narrative or try a poem.  You may even want to write a letter to the person who taught you how to read.

No comments:

Post a Comment