I took this photo while on vacation in Maine. I was walking by a favorite lily pond and happened upon this mother-daughter reading team lounging in a nearby meadow. The mother was reading with much gusto, taking on the voices of each character. I don’t know what book it was that she was reading, but her young daughter was totally entranced by the story. “Surely,” I thought to myself, “this child will grow up to be a fearless, wild reader.” They brought a smile to my face and joy to my old teacher heart.
As a child, reading was difficult for me. I painstakingly sounded out each letter and then tried my hardest to blend the sounds into a word. Sometimes it worked, but sometimes it didn’t, and the whole process left me exhausted. However, I loved stories. I listened to epic poems that my father would recite and fantasy classics that my mother would read to me. I found stories to be mesmerizing. It took me a long time to say that I loved reading. Reading was slow work, and I was a fast kid. I did not like to sit still. I wanted the words to come fast and furious, but my mind kept me at a slow and steady pace. I was labeled a “slow reader.” I wasn’t dyslexic, just slow. One of the reasons for this, I think as I look back, is that I was in love with words, so I would dawdle over passages and wonder how the author constructed such a scene. If the author left some things to the readers’ imagination, then I would float off creating whole other scenarios in my head. Slowly, I would land back to the book and continue where I had left off. This certainly was not efficient, purposeful reading, but it did afford me the ability to read like a writer. I was not a spectator as I read, I was a participant. I took in all the words to use them again in a different way in a story of my own. Eventually, I learned to savor the slow and to know that the kind of reading I was doing was helping me become a better writer.
Recently, I found Hudson Talbott’s A Walk in Words. Talbott was also a slow reader and in this book he explains his reading journey. It is through drawing that Talbott came to love reading and writing. He found that his love of drawing lead him into stories, and he began to think of reading as “word painting.” As he grew, Talbott’s curiosity won, and he was able to read at his own pace. At the end of the book, he created a Slow Reader Hall of Fame including: William Shakespeare, Joan of Arc, Babe Ruth, Sojourner Truth, Alexander Graham Bell, to name a few. Thankfully, Talbott became a picture book writer. He said that he mined books for words to use in his stories and that the ability to lose himself in books helped to spark his imagination.
When I think of it, many of the book I adored as a child were based in the wild. The book that taught me that I loved reading was the classic, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry and after that was Jean Craighead George’s masterpiece, My Side of the Mountain. Those books helped me see past myself and to envision the kind of reader who takes chances and doesn’t give up. I slowly picked my way through the words and in the process found lifelong friends and exciting adventures.
Reading in Wildness Suggestions: