My father taught English and my mom worked in a library, maybe I never stood a chance. All I know is that my parents never had to twist my arm to read. They encouraged me to roam the shelves, selecting books with care, and I remember the pride I felt when handing over my very own library card to check them out. To this day, the smell of an old book transports me back to my childhood and an inner world where I believe anything is possible.
Like many girls, I was horse-obsessed and it was through the books of Marguerite Henry that the world came alive. Trapped in between the pages was a dream that could be realized as if through magic. I could see them, smell them, understand them, be with them. I think it’s probably why I have horses today.
My parents knew the spectrum of Young Adult fiction, and they knew great literature existed for kids. Much of what I chose might have seemed silly to an adult. But from Bunnicula to Nancy Drew, neither of my parents ever passed judgement on anything I read. I think that was the critical piece.
Occasionally my dad would hand me something, “See if you like this.” It was always something great: A Separate Peace, The Outsiders, or To Kill a Mockingbird. Sometimes he’d read poetry aloud. I came to understand that carefully-chosen words had the power to transform the world. You can know the moon through science, but there are primal parts of us that know, on certain nights, it is really “a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.”
My mom introduced us to science fiction and fantasy and I swear it was before anyone else had ever loved it. Even if it isn’t true, part of me still credits her for discovering a whole new world, for being a literary Christopher Columbus. A generation of pioneers came into our home: George MacDonald, CS Lewis, and Tolkien. I remember the first time I ever felt fear, we were huddled safely on the couch as she read John Christopher’s The White Mountains.
When I think about these memories and my experience of the world through these pages, I feel grateful for having known so many books.
So I wonder what has happened when I hear my students complaining about the books their English teachers assign. As much as I love these books, I wonder if the power of their metaphors is destroyed through compulsion. Can a kid understand the theme of censorship in Ferenhiet 451 if they WISH it was banned from their reading list?
Is it right to force kids to read something they swear they hate?
Reading 4 Ways High School Makes You Hate Reading really helped me understand the other side. I wonder if we need to rethink required reading. There has been a push in education for self-sustained and self-selected reading, but I don’t know if anyone has tried applying it to the classics. Maybe all it takes is what my parents intuitively gave me. The power to chose your own books. And a little suggestion, “See if you like this.”