My very first day of teaching was filled with nerves. There I was, sitting in front of fifteen children, ready to read-aloud a book that was new to me- Swimmy by Leo Lionni. Thus began my love of children’s books and reading. My life was about to change. It was more than the book; it was the full experience with the words and illustrations, and the children.
Suddenly the library and local book store became my favorite stops. I vowed to start my own book collection. One of my first purchases was Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. Breathtaking! What does a teacher do when the book is so good that children need more? We created a giant mural, and then we went “owling”- at school, at night. Parents brought spotlights, and we called to owls in the woods behind the playground. Years later, still parents recalled that remarkable night.
Books started to trigger more than marinating vocabulary. I bought Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. The children made caps, and we performed a play for the school. I had never done a play performance with children. I quickly realized that adding this step made reading even better, not to mention building self confidence.
Fairy tales followed, and the favorites I added to my collection were Rapunzel by Paul O Zelinsky,
The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Paul Galdone, and Jack and the Beanstalk by John Howe. Yes, play performances were stellar. One line in Jack and the Beanstalk prompted us to write to the author. Jack’s mother said to Jack, “You stupid boy.” John Howe kindly replied to the children with a handwritten two-page letter on why he used the word “stupid.”
I couldn’t read enough. I read all kinds of books. In time I just knew the good ones, like Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood, and The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer.
I cried when reading-aloud books like The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco, Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Tears are a good thing- they teach love so that children learn to feel for others.
I laughed my head off reading-aloud books like Would You Rather by John Birningham and Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos. Belly laughing is a terrific experience with children!
Books became geography lessons. Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton was the best in learning north, south, east and west- much like her book The Little House was the best in teaching history. I began to use a big book atlas to expand on learning. At any opportunity we opened up this marvelous tool to bringing books to life. It was common to become sidetracked. Isn’t that great?
Children need to understand emotions. That’s an important part of preschool. I discovered There’s an Alligator Under My Bed by Mercer Mayer, Pig Pig Grows Up by David McPhail, Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman, and Humphrey the Lost Whale by Wendy Tokuda and Richard Hall. Together, we worry and wonder.
What happened next? Children wanted to read on their own. It is a common scene in my classroom:
Today I continue to read these older books (and many, many more), along with new ones that I collect along the years. There are rhyming books, poetry, books that I sing…
I teach from the heart, thanks to reading-aloud. In the words to the song, “Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver and the older gold.” A book is a friend, whether silver or gold!