OK I'm going to get a tiny bit serious here. I was feeling really vanquished this morning - almost wiped out with an overwhelming sense of sadness that lay somewhere between mass shootings in America and my own narrower feelings of personal despair. Not to depress you. Not to alarm you. But I was not feeling good. That happens OK? No need to call 911.
As a way of getting out of my own head and getting out of the house, I invited this book to breakfast at a local eatery. The book shared my bacon and eggs. It helped me find the bottom of a bottomless cup of coffee. By the end I was a little weepy, but really glad I'd gone on this date.
Recently I attended a conference where 2015 Newbery medalist Kwame Alexander was on a panel entitled Expert-to-Expert on the Joy and Power of Reading with Pam Allyn and Ernest Morrell. I had heard Kwame Alexander speak twice, once at the Coretta Scott King Awards breakfast in San Francisco, and later that day when he accepted his Newbery Medal for The Crossover. I had the CD that was made from the acceptance speeches given at the ALA Awards banquet, and had listened to it a few times in my car. I knew this guy was Eloquent with a capital E. I was eager to hear what he had to say about the joy and power of reading.
One thing you must know about me is that I know nobody. Not a part of this children's literature world for very long and with a shocking memory for names and faces, I have no real hope on any given day of recognizing anyone important. However, I had a feeling about this impeccably dressed gentleman. He had a quiet way that both commanded respect but reminded me of my own father who might sit with me and read me a book when I was young. I wondered who he was, because he seemed rather remarkable.
The presentation commenced and the audience were immediately all asked to participate. I love, love, love interactive presentations like this on a normal day. However the invitation to interact with the unknown yet intriguing well-dressed gentleman next to me sounded like an enchanting adventure (no matter who he turned out to be) so I smiled inwardly to hear our first task, to share with the person next to us how we became a reader.
How did you become a reader? It's a story that we should think about more often. Our own perceptions of ourselves as readers, as writers and as consumers of words is so important to how we will interact with others in the world. Dogs and chickens and dolphins and unicorns have their own ways to interact with each other I suppose, but humans have words. We communicate with each other, choosing our words from the shelves and the catalogues that we have built, and largely we have added to our collection through reading.
When I headed to the restaurant this morning, I thought about that man again, and about Kwame Alexander (whose book I had with me) and about knowing ourselves as readers, and our own unique story. I also thought of my father who was my no means a world-famous educator or writer, but had been my whole world growing up. He had his own story about how he became a reader too, but now it's too late to ask what that was. He was a remedial teacher, a label with which he had a complicated relationship. He loved being a teacher and seeing the spark of cognition in a student, but didn't like the labels that get put on students: "remedial student", "slow learner", "not really a reader". This was my takeaway from the panel discussion, that we need to be so careful about the language we use around our young readers, because everyone's story as a reader is still being written.
I know I haven't talked very directly about this book yet. The official publication date isn't until April 5th, 2016. Let me just say this. This book is for you if you:
* Have kids or teenagers in your family
* Were (or are) a teenager in your family
* Consider yourself a reader
* Consider yourself a non-reader
If you can check any one of the above boxes, I believe that you will love this book. As for me, I can check all of those boxes at once, so this is the book that is making me weep - in a good way - today.