Unassigned Reading

Just about everything I read now is unassigned. I am no longer in school. I believe that I have acquired all the academic degrees that I care to acquire in this lifetime. And while there may be the occasional course of study to deepen my understanding of certain professional or personal development topics ahead, the reading choices at this stage of my life are entirely voluntary and self-determined. If you have followed this blog for any length of time you will know that I am an enthusiastic reader and I have the privileges of time, resources and access which afford me a tremendous wealth of opportunity to engage with texts of all kinds.

I say all this now because I have been thinking about the reading that I have done which 1) has nothing to do with education directly, 2) I do with someone, 3) is something routine that we do simply for pleasure. I am thinking about a year or actually several years’ worth of reading aloud to my sons. My youngest is 8 and reading aloud to him counts as one of my greatest parenting pleasures. He’s an astute listener for whom the length of bedtime reading is still an extremely effective bribe.

Looking back over the course of this year, it’s hard to count how many books we read all together. The first 4 Harry Potter books were big, I think we re-read A Cricket in Times Square and Charlotte’s Web. The Fantastic Mr. Fox was a recent birthday gift which we enjoyed. Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf turned out to be an unexpected hit and as well liked as Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk. Chapter books were always punctuated by various picture books: Piggy and Elephant are among our favorites to read in tandem. Classic fairy tales also hit the spot: The Gingerbread Man, Jack in the Beanstalk, The Three Billy Goats Gruff – we read those over and over. With his dad he has discovered the fun in Asterix and Obelix comics (which is rather lost on me; I think it may be more of a European thing).

The librarians at my school have been wonderful supporters of our reading endeavors, not only supplying us with books that have been sorted out but also directing us to great new possibilities. While I began reading Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck on my own, my son was drawn in by the detailed illustrations which run throughout the story, so that we read a big chunk of it together. Although I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret on my own, it was a highlight when a 5th grader at school saw me with it and said he was reading it, too. And it was the elementary librarians who turned me on to Jaqueline Woodson, whose autobiography, Brown Girl Dreaming in verse felt like a rare gift.

So many words, characters, and plot lines and all for the sheer pleasure of hearing, discovering, following, and anticipating what might happen next. My son remembers details from books we read months or even years ago. He quotes lines from one story that remind him of what we’re reading now. And with him I am miraculously able to remember too (most of the time). Recently we observed that a lot of children’s stories involve (and often open with) the death or unexplained absence of a parent. And we tried to understand how this kind of sets up the kids in the story to be heroes of a special sort. (We’ll be chewing on that theme for many more reads to come I’m sure.) Since I put a hold on continuing the Harry Potter series until the boy is a bit older, I’ve been attentive to introducing books and stories which can pick up some of the excitement slack in a more age-appropriate fashion. We’re currently reading The Abominables which is a delightful story about extremely kind and gentle Yetis being transported across Central Asia and Europe to England by a friendly truck driver and two pre-teens. (This is a book I dared to pick up based on its cover, I admit.) When my son commented on how much he liked this story, he said, too “I like everything you bring.”

All this unassigned reading for both of us. There’s no log. There will be no reports, book trailers, or other creative expositions of our literary excursions. Studies show our vocabularies are expanding, we’ll be more successful writers, we’ll do better on standardized tests.  Fortunately for us this is not the objective. It’s just us cuddled up, turning pages, giggling, pausing in surprise, finding just the right rest stop for the night. We have to good fortune to enjoy the very best of unassigned reading: joy and connection.

7 thoughts on “Unassigned Reading

    1. Ah, yes, the fate of the academic. Perhaps this where whatever curricular choices are available must be milked for both relevance and enjoyment. Best wishes, my friend, for reading which nourishes, warms and tickles the soul, even if you have to sneak it in! Thanks for stopping by. Always glad to have you here!

  1. I love this post (and many of your others, too). Nothing else fills my parenting cup like reading to my kids (now 7 and 4). I hope I have many more years of it!

    I do get twangs about the extent to which it is clear to me (no research studies needed) that I am creating and participating in privilege (I come from a long line of pleasure readers, among my other privileges). If I ever want to get excited about the idea of retirement, I think about how i’d have time and emotional bandwidth to volunteer as a regular reading buddy at a local elementary school.

    1. Thanks, Anna, for sharing your thoughts, especially with regards to privilege. Acknowledging privilege is an exercise in humility. Using privilege to benefit others who may not share the same types of levels of privilege becomes a challenge we can choose to take up or walk on by. Admittedly I am still learning how best to take up the challenge. Maybe the opportunities are smaller and less visible than we typically imagine. Sometimes I think simply listening to those who may not be listened to very often (children, the elderly, service personnel) is a great start. Stories are everywhere. Perhaps this kind of listening can become a type of social literacy practice.
      Hey, I think you just led me to a new idea! Thanks for thinking along with me and enjoy those wonderful reading hours with your children. May the upcoming holidays provide plenty of time for reading pleasure!

  2. Love, love, love the idea of reading just for fun! It’s how I came to love reading and it is largely how I work with my own learners. We are required to have some sort of log for the end of the year, and I do try to make that fun…letting them illustrate things that they enjoyed reading about…but it is a log nonetheless. :/ I love the book selections you mentioned! Piggie and Gerald are huge hits with my learners too! 🙂 We just finished up Measle and the Wrathmonk…our next book is the Cricket in Times Square! I went to a training with a teacher that has linked up several You Tube videos for the book with clips of train cars and scenic views to help his students understand the settings and contexts better. I think it’s a great idea, and I’m looking forward to trying that out with future reading endeavors! Thanks for always sharing your thoughts through this medium! I learn so much from your musings on life and education! Keep sharing!

    1. Thanks, Tamara, for reading and sharing. I bet my son would feel fully at home in your classroom. Cultivating the sense of pleasure that can come with reading in all of its forms is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children and students.

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