My bedrock belief is that books change lives. This belief is affirmed every single school year. This year Blake connected with Jem and Scout in a way that he never thought possible; Katie keeps several books going at a time; Cat rediscovered her love of reading and is seldom without a book in hand, and Maria laughed with me when I told her it was okay that her dog chewed the corner of Shiver (a book about werewolves; it’s an irony thing.) Chris keeps reminding me that I promised a poem a day-even though he only does it when we’re on the verge of starting something he doesn’t want to do.
Readers know something that other people can’t understand. We know that books contain entire worlds within them. We know that we can escape in them, that we can find answers, that we can, in the words of W.P. Kinsella “ease his pain.”
My childhood is defined by the horses in my life and the horse books that I read. I read every Walter Farley, Marguerite Henry, and C.W. Anderson book I could get into my hands. I supplemented my hands-on knowledge of horses with what I read in books. I studied British history through reading about Eclipse, father of the modern thoroughbred. I first learned of Ramadan when reading King of the Wind.
Several years ago my husband became concerned as I wept while reading a book. Tears poured down my face as I explained, “She wouldn’t stop; she would have lived if she had just stopped running!” I had been transported back to the 70s, sitting on the couch with my dad and grandfather as we watched Ruffian break down in her match race against Foolish Pleasure. The broken hearted teenage girl reappeared as I read Jane Schwartz’s Ruffian: Burning from the Start.
I sometimes share with my students the gut wrenching passage describing Ruffian’s breakdown, but I have to be careful. Every single time I read it, that teenage girl comes out of those pages, and I find myself choking back her tears.
And that is the crux of what I want for my students-I wish for every one of them that they carry some character, some storyline, some magical, wonderful place, or some great tragedy, with them for the rest of their lives.