by deana harragarra waters, Friends School Librarian and Technology Teacher

There is something undeniably special about books.  That connection is confirmed when a reader comes to the library telling me and classmates, “This is the best book ever.  My Dad read it to me.” The reader is holding Watership Down by Richard Adams.  I’ll always remember the smile and the twinkle in the eyes of that ‘read to’ child.  

We love talking about books and their wonderful connection to our lives.  In May, one right of passage for 5th graders is a review of characters from children’s literature.  Using Kahoot, an online game, readers view book characters on the screen and they select the correct corresponding book title.  Listening to “Oh, I love that book,” “I read that [book] every day when I was in preschool,” and “you guys have to read that book,” reaffirms the memorable connection of books to our lives.  However, I once heard, “I don’t know any of these, I don’t remember anyone reading this.” I changed our library curriculum for upper grades, to include as many picture books as possible.  

Our library exit ticket requests the title of the book currently being read.  It gives me an idea of what authors are being read, book titles I might be missing and a guide into students’ growth as readers.  One reader lists not only the book they are reading but also the book being ‘read with Dad.’ What an affirmation that parents play a uniquely valuable role in the life of their child.

The last Monday of January, the American Library Association announces its awards for books and media.  Think of it as the ‘SuperBowl’ for children’s book lovers anticipating the Caldecott Medal honoring “the most distinguished American picture book for children,” and the Newbery Medal honoring “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”  In January, we read books published in 2019 predicted to be serious contenders for the Caldecott Medal, by those in the know. When I began sharing one beautifully illustrated book, The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, a student said, “I received this book for Christmas.”  What a reminder that the gift of a book allows us to experience life through the eyes of another.

My first grandchild is named Benjamin.  While days old, I took him outside, opened my Bible and read to him from the Old Testament where the first Benjamin is recorded.  Because I knew, from personal experience that there are readers who loved reading even before they knew how to read, I wanted to give him that gift as well.  It is a gift I witness in the lives of our Friends School students. When asked the value of reading, our 5th graders said, “reading exercises your mind,” “it increases your intelligence,” “reading is important because you learn vocabulary,” “you need it in life,” and “you need to read how many eggs to buy.”  Well, there you have it, reading is just down right practical.

Challenging minds. Nurturing spirits. Honoring individuality.