Reader to Reader: Cultivating Reading Relationships One Book at a Time

By Andrea García, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York

As we begin the month of February, it is difficult to escape the constant push for celebrating friends and loved ones with chocolates and diamond hearts. And in thinking about the idea of appreciating the important relationships in our lives, I decided that celebrating our relationships as readers can offer an alternative for framing the conversation. For this reason, I have selected to focus this month’s blog on inviting you to celebrate the relationships we forge as readers through our sharing of books and stories. As Giorgis, Bedford, and Fabbi (2008) describe, “Literature can… provide an impetus for strengthening relationships-such as that between a parent and child, or a teacher and student, or within a community of learners. Additionally, many readers form instant and lifelong connections to books, returning to these texts and re-reading them throughout their lives” (p. 5). Throughout this month, I will share some of those texts that have helped me cultivate special reading relationships across different times and contexts.

As a teacher educator in Literacy Studies, I feel lucky that I can select books to read aloud to students in my graduate classes every week. But as a mother, I value the time I share with my daughter reading children’s books side-by-side; selecting books from her personal library has become such an important part of our daily routines. We read books in Spanish, books in English, as well as bilingual books. In addition to taking books out from the public library, we also get to share books that she brings from school. My daughter, who started kindergarten last September, is lucky to have a librarian in her school and to visit the school library every week. Through her book selections, she introduces me to her independent reading choices, allowing me to enter her world as en emerging reader. In this week’s blog, I share three books that have helped us expand our relationship as readers, and infuse particular books with fun memories

One day last fall, she brought home from school Peter Brown’s You Will Be My Friend! (2011). The first thing she did when she got home was open her backpack and take out the book, describing how disappointed she was that someone had taken out her first choice, Children Make Terrible Pets (2010), another book by Peter Brown featuring the same main character which she had learned about in pre-k. After taking off her coat and convincing her to move away from the entry hallway, we settled to read the story for the first time. Lucy the bear wakes up one morning and announces, “Mom, I have decided, I am going to make a new friend today.” So begins Lucy’s story, who journeys into the forest wearing a pink tutu in search of a friend, but experiences a number of disappointing encounters. When things are not looking that promising, she is even determined to wait around for an egg to hatch if it is necessary. In this endearing and humorous story by Peter Brown, Lucy the bear makes a triumphant return, to remind us that special friends often times find us, and that being yourself is the best way to start a new relationship. Just as Lucy ends up developing an unlikely friendship by the end of the story, so we found a new favorite character in Lucy’s spirited adventures. We laughed our way through the story and reread it every night that week.

A couple of weeks later, my daughter selected the book Chicken Big by Keith Graves (2010) from her school library. In what John Peters (2010) described as a “mash-up of ‘Chicken Little’ and ‘Blind Men and the Elephant,’” Graves introduces the reader to a “humungous” chick who is born in a teeny, tiny coop. The hens and chickens do not know what to make out of the new arrival, and mistakenly confuse him with an elephant or a squirrel. When Chicken Big provides the hens and chickens cover from the rain, they believe he could even be an umbrella! Through memorable illustrations and amusing dialogue among the characters, the story concludes when Chicken Big sets off to rescue the stolen eggs from an astute wolf, and becomes a hero. That is when all the others recognize Chicken Big’s true nature, and finally recognize his is one of their own, a chicken. This story became an instant favorite for us, and we had fun conversations about all the comical and illogical predictions made by the other chickens. Chicken Big became my daughter’s first choice for me to read aloud to her Kindergarten class on my first visit to her class. Consequently, she extended our shared experience at home to her own community of learners at school. Her classmates laughed and giggled at the turn of every page, and my daughter was extremely pleased that they all had enjoyed the story as much as she had.

Finally, we met Elephant and Piggie in Mo Willems’ We Are In a Book! (2010) during a visit to our local independent bookstore. My daughter was familiar with other of Mo Willems’ books, like Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus and Knuffle Bunny, but this was our first reading of one of the books in the Elephant and Piggie series. In the story, We Are In a Book! Willems brings together Gerald the elephant and Piggie for another of their unforgettable adventures. This time, however, they bring the reader right along with them as they discover that they are actually in a book, and that some one is “watching them.” Piggie quickly recognizes that a reader is reading them, which makes them plot to have the reader say funny words. Laughter erupts from the main characters at the same time that we, the readers continue to read the words on the page. This continues until Piggie and Gerald recognize that the book will come to an end, and come up with an ingenious way of pleasing the readers and keeping the adventure going: they invite the reader to read the book again. There was no need to repeat that request, as my daughter and I quickly began re-reading, only to laugh once more at all the expected and unexpected places.

Through her independent book selections in school or in our local bookstore, I was invited into my daughter’s whimsical sense of humor, and her particular appreciation for laughter as part of her relationships with books. In turn, our shared reading experiences have added another layer to our repertoire of favorite books; books that we can revisit again and again to get a good laugh and to remember how fun it is to be reader. I end this week’s blog with questions I would like you to consider for the week and join the conversation:

– •What books have helped you cultivate relationships with other readers?

– •What are some of the stories that you treasure that are tied to special books and special readers in your life?

References

Giorgis, C., Bedford, A., & Fabbi, J. L. (2008). From the Editors: Creating relationships through books. Journal of Children’s Literature, 34 (1), 5-7.

Peters, J. (2010). Review of the book Chicken Big by Keith Graves, Booklist, 107 (5), 75.

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