In education we often are asked how to get children to read. Books start at picture book levels, and then move up to chapter books, and finally end at novels. Today, marking the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter caused me to think about which books I liked to read as I grew up. Reading became a constant companion of mine, and allowed me to explore the world beyond my own life. Books are my addiction. Erasmus is my hero:
“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”
Mom and dad indulged my reading habit with abandon. Scholastic book fairs and book-its would run into the large bills that now in reflection were really too much. B Dalton, Barnes and Nobles and even used book stores should have sold us stock. We would have been rich! Our house had books a plenty, and a healthy number of magazines and newspapers. We had popular science, discovery magazine, and a whole host including National Geographic. Words were everywhere in our house. I don’t remember which picture books I liked, but one of my first favorite characters was Dumbo from the Disney Franchise. There was just something about that elephant that made me so happy.
As a young boy, I loved to read, so i devoured books. Encyclopedia Brown was one series that was so exceptional. The crime fighting, the use of logic, reasoning, and the knowledge the E.B. displayed in the books. His skilled side kicks- who should have had their own starring role! The son of a local police chief, this kid solved crimes through the use of an encyclopedic brain and memory. They used forensic techniques, deductive logic, and a clear reliance on the town’s resources. Such a fun and amazing adventure for a young boy to read. This series lead me to love reading, and a desire to solve puzzles.
Who doesn’t love a little fiction with a vampire bunny? Bunnicula and the series about the vampire bunny sparked a love in me of the supernatural and the dynamics of family and pets. My family had a rabbit, a dog, and a cat, all at the same time. You have to love the mystery of it all, trying to figure out who drained the celery of its essential elements? The simple, quiet bunny? These adventures with anthropomorphic animals were certainly more interesting than some of the reading materials the school provided. Such mystery surrounded the innocent bunny, and the mischievous other characters within the series.
Every once in a while (ok, a lot) I read books that surprised or confused my teachers at school. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, the teacher in our English block asked what our favorite book was. I replied the First Astrowitches. The teacher did a double take. Could you repeat that? I loved a book about two witch children who made their way into outer space on the space shuttle. Her series on the witches were all about a young person growing into their own- solving big problems and little problems. Such an enjoyable series.
Mouse and Motorcycle and the series came out of reading in school. Ralph Mouse, the star of the books helped and looked over his family and his home. The books had fun, adventure, and they explored the idea of helping people. Cleary’s works, including Ramona became one of those series you just had to follow. Between the two series, i became a devoted fan to her writings, and I continue to believe that her works set many of my generation down a good path.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Judy Blume and her Tales of a fourth grade nothing, Superfudge and Freckle juice. Her books looked at moving, a new baby in the family, and all of those events which fourth graders go through, especially if they are the oldest in the family. These classic series allows the reader to empathize, take a different perspective, and in other works deal with really important issues.
One of the most important series I read were the Star Trek novels. This is where life got expensive. They were add ons to the TOS and TNG TV programs. My best friend in elementary school, Rick Schaus, introduced me to the love of Trek. they were adventurous, formulaic, and just awesome! Reading these books let me escape and enjoy reading.
Jody Lynn Nye’s Mythology books were great reads- the scholarly nature of studying magic, the adventures, and the drama were all such amazing parts of the series about Mythology and its happenings. I really enjoyed when the protagonist was launched into a situation where they had to solve problems or use their wits and knowledge to fight the bad guys.
C Dale Brittan’s A Bad spell in Yurt is another series of novels that were outstanding. Graduating from Wizard college, a young man moves to a small kingdom to solve crisis and become a hero. Nicely written and fantastic in ins characterization as well as story arch, I loved the Yurt novels for their adventure, use of magic, and more importantly, the scholarly nature of the protagonist.
Finally, my heart still weeps at the loss of Tom Clancy. The cold- war Hunt for Red October and all of the rest of the works he wrote were just amazing. They combined drama, politics, and when i harbored a fascination with the navy, a glimpse into the life. Such a dynamic and amazing series of books. So much drama with geopolitical and personal conflict. With its omnipresent narrator, you wanted to know why people weren’t supporting the bigger picture and needs.
These books were creative, held passion and drama. I read a study that many adults just stop reading after school. I also found kids find reading to be a chore. Its true…the damn accountability system has beaten the reading for love of reading out of many children. When you are forced to take an Accelerated Reader test to prove you read a book then what the hell. To much accountability for what is in essence a leisure activity. Tom Clancy never intended THRO to be testable! So why did we as an educational system make THRO, and other books subject to multiple choice? Lets recapture the magic.