Becoming a reader

"If I had this book at home, I wouldn't have to share."

This comment, my friends, was from a recent story time. We were reading Ursula Le Guin's A Ride on the Red Mare's Back. This observation was delivered after finishing the first two chapters and what he meant was that if he had this book at home, he could keep reading stopping. I know that is what he meant because he had already asked, oh please, please "read another chapter!"

He was deep in the story. He did not want it to end. He needed to know what happens next! What would happen in High House!?!? Would the brother be rescued?!?!

It was time to stop though, because the book and its tiny moments as well as the big questions it brings about have to be savored and mulled over. We had been reading -- and discussing, and thinking, and sharing -- for over thirty minutes. While the reading of a book holds great value, holding the story close in order to more fully explore the imaginings of the author's tale is an even greater value.

This is how a child becomes a reader.

The story envelopes and grows. It becomes greater. It is owned, heart and soul, letter and word by the children who listen, fascinated. They move past the writer's words and create stories of their own.

They are inspired by what they now know through and through given the luxury of discussion and time. They are mostly certainly readers. They directly experience the choices the author made in the telling. They imagine the parts the author leaves open for interpretation. They embrace the pacing, the suspense, the implied meaning behind the imagery the author has crafted. And then they also become writers -- they embody and tell their own stories inspired by what they now know, learning their craft from an expert author, Ursula Le Guin.

When you formally share fine literature with children in a group story time, the children "grow into the intellectual life around them" (L. Vygotsky). Oh they do indeed. This intellectual life is what is created with in depth discussion in a group of children who really care about the shared story and careful selection of fine literature. 

These valuable lessons, move children quickly past the  basic mechanics of letter and word formation to the foster the love for those very things...letter and word. Without this love, reading becomes flat and doesn't have the heartstring-pull of passion for reading and in turn, writing. Here, there is no drudgery of letter of the week "study" or dusty, forgotten words on a classroom word wall. There is only a celebration of author as story teller and child as reader and this pulls the child towards writing.


The children build a troll trap inspired by the book read during our formal story time sessions this week.


This troll trap needs more traps and more trolls. The children were abuzz with ideas for how to attract and trap trolls. What would they want? The book told them what was in High House cave including broken furniture and toys, rotten food, etc. The children found everything they need in the play yard to write their own story through play. The language-rich play is evidence of children engaged in reading and the action of writing their own stories.

That essential, human need to express their ideas through writing is popping up more often in their play. Everywhere we look, we see more evidence of the need to share ideas through writing.

Here is a sign that is straight out of a troll handbook!


We help this along by talking about the illustrations in the book -- in this book they are particularly inviting AND I happen to have a family of Swedish horses! We provided an invitation to sketch these horses.

The children are interested in this horse with a flower bridle and saddle. Not just because it is there in front of them, but because the author has filled them with ideas about the horse. She is the only toy of the main character! Imagine! One toy! So much love for this one toy which, the author has revealed, in such a fantastic way that the little wooden mare is magic. As the children draw their own horse, oh you certainly already know, dear readers that their sketched horses will certainly be magic as well.

Look! They draw the lines and these will become words of their own story. They are truly, truly writers.


All week, children continued to write. They sketched maps that would take them deep inside the mountain to High House. They wrote their own stories on pages and in books. All of these, they carried around from place to place during their play. Since when is such passion placed in sharing such precious inspiration? And with others, so willing to listen to your tales? 

"Yes!" the readers and writers shout! Tell us more they ask of each other. These are readers. These are the stories they write.