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Reading IS enjoyable… weird!

November 15, 2010

I used to read a lot as a kid.  Mom maintains to this day that I “taught myself to read” when I was 2, though I very seriously doubt that assertion. Be that as it may, I remember reading a lot as a youngling.

However, once I got into high school, that faded rather quickly, as I HAD to read assigned books- and most of them sucked hard and furiously- instead of reading because I wanted to. Um, wanted to read.  Pardon the dangling preposition. Occasionally there would be a novel or play that I actually enjoyed (‘Julius Caesar’ and To Kill a Mockingbird were the two which I know I read more than once) but the vast majority of required high school curriculum reading sucks. Shakespeare, Dickens, Ivanhoe, that brutally long “classic” Gone with the Wind, anything by any of the Bröntes, just to name a few.  They were long, boring, and made no sense to me.  And when the literature teacher would ask a stupid question along the lines of, “What societal statement was the author trying to make by using…”, I’d have to stop myself from answering, “How the effing eff should I know?! Ask him/her!”

So I pretty much just stopped reading once I [barely] graduated high school.

Then a couple years ago I slowly, cautiously got back into reading when I had a couple thrillers suggested to me.  It still takes me forever to get through a book, but I am at least reading again.  I’ve reread To Kill a Mockingbird, which is quite possibly the best book ever written as well as the best movie ever made, this year, I currently have The Blind Side on my e-reader, and I’ve even started the first Harry Potter book.  It’ll probably take more than 4 years to finish all of them, but I’m vowing to do so.

But John, you say, what does any of this have to do with anything, let alone with being a stay-home dad?  Well, hold on to your woogie- I’m getting to that.

Now that Adam has started kindergarten, I actually have the opportunity to be able to volunteer at school.  I’ve wanted to ever since Ian started, but I couldn’t because I always had Adam at home with me.  Now I’m free to help out and, as this is the one and only year the boys will be in the same school at the same time, I am a library volunteer for both boys’ classes.

I had to have a criminal background check done- something I thought was rather odd, considering they let me sling hot dogs for 5 hours at the fun fair when Ian was in second grade without caring about my past- but it apparently was something they started last year.  Don’t get me wrong- obviously it’s a good idea, and I have no indiscretions about which I should be concerned for their discovery.  Hell, I worked for the Department of Corrections for five years up until I became a SAHD.  It was just rather strange, considering the school has known me since 2005.  But I passed with flying colors, naturally, and now I come in once a week for each kid’s library period and check books in and out, re-shelve and straighten the books, and help the kids try to find books, whether something specific or something fitting the description of “I like scary books” or “I like books with dogs”.

The school librarian and I didn’t start off on the best possible foot. Ian’s class goes to the library on Wednesdays at 9:10, and Adam’s on Fridays at 10:40.  The librarian is only there on Fridays (she has three other schools as well as ours).  So the first week, the other library mom (who, like me, has another child at the school and also volunteers for that class as well) and I get there for the kindergarteners’ time and the librarian kind of got all up in our grilles about how when she came in that morning, the books were “in utter disarray” and was particularly fingerwagging at me because I was “just there on Wednesday” and there are no classes [scheduled] in the library on Thursdays.  I pointed out that there are three other classes in the library after lunch on Wednesdays and also that I stayed for over an hour past my “time to go” straightening the books on the shelves and making them presentable.  She replied that she’s not there to see that I did that, and “how was she to know”, to which I replied, “Then how are you to know that it was I that left the library in ‘utter disarray’?”  She obviously didn’t care for that, especially when the other mom stifled a laugh when I said that.  I mean, in one breath she laments that, at her other schools, she has no parent volunteers and it’s just her and blah blah blah, then in the next, she turns around and scolds the volunteers she does have at our school, based simply on the fact that we were the first two with which she came into contact.  The other mom and I had a discussion with the principal later that day, and we’re not the only people whose feathers this librarian has ruffled- apparently she’s pissed off a few of the teachers and some other parents as well.  A comment was made that maybe the teachers that are there on Fridays when she’s there could switch their classes’ library times to another day, and then the librarian can just straighten books to her heart’s content by herself.  Well, we’re still going on Fridays, and I don’t know whether something was said to the librarian or not, but she’s been much easier to take these last couple weeks or so.

Anyway… so I check books in and out, re-shelve and STRAIGHTEN books, help the kids find books, and the best part- I get to read to the class.

My first opportunity was two weeks ago when I read a book called “Splat the Cat” to Adam’s kindergarten class.  I admit I was a little “nervous” about it, but I had always read to Ian and Adam at home, naturally, so reading to 30 kids at once can’t be that difficult, right?

Well, I got into it.  No, I mean, I REALLY got into it.

I used different voices for the different characters, I made exaggerated facial gestures, inserted “dramatic” pauses… and the kids ate it up.  It was great having a bunch of kindergarteners applaud and come tell me they loved the story I read.  One little guy (that wasn’t Adam) actually gave me a hug- it was all I could do to suck the tears back up into my eyes.  The librarian even left a[n age-appropriate] book out for me to read to Ian’s fifth-grade class, though I haven’t had the chance to start it yet because his teacher usually presents an author for them to consider, and then by the time she’s done with that, they have just enough time to find books and get them checked out before it is time to go back to class.  Hopefully I’ll get to start that soon.  I am also hoping to get to read “Paddle to the Sea” to the fifth-graders.  That’s a book that my dad read as a kid and recommended to me, and I read it many times myself.  I’m really, REALLY hoping, however, to have the opportunity to read two particular books to the kindergarten class: Drummer Hoff and my all-time favorite kid’s book (and one that I still read to this day, in English and in Spanish), The Story of Ferdinand.  As a kid, I had a book-and-45 set of both of those books, and used to read the books and play the records ALL the time.  I quickly got to the point where, when I read the books by themselves, I did it exactly as they were read on the records.  (Ask my brother and sister about the trip to the orthodontist’s office, where we found the copy of Drummer Hoff.)  Even know, 35 years later, any time any0ne mentions Ferdinand, I can’t help but think, “…an’ he woulda seet under the-a cork tree, an’a smeellllllll dee flowers” to myself.  I found a copy of El Cuento de Ferdinando written in Spanish at Barnes & Noble a couple years ago, and my guys even like it when I read it to them in Spanish, even though they don’t understand most of what I’m saying.

Anyway, I’m really digging the school library volunteering thing, for two reasons.  On a selfish note, because it really gives me such a charge to make those kids smile, but also because I genuinely believe in getting children started reading early and often.  I don’t want my boys to lose interest in reading like I did.  Adam’s really coming along with his reading.  When we were on vacation this summer, we stopped at a rest stop and he saw a sign and said “‘No Pets’? That’s not very nice!”  Dawn and I were stunned. Neither of us mentioned the sign- I never even noticed it- yet he knew it said “No Pets”.  Now he is getting much better with sounding out words and such.  Adam being Adam, he still has moments where he’ll say “I don’t want to spell anymore”, but he frequently will look at a sign, recognize a word, then come up with other similar words.  Even if he makes up words (“Hey, that says ‘Subway’… and B-U-B-W-A-Y spells ‘bubway’… and F-U-B-W-A-Y spells ‘fubway’!”), he’s still getting the idea.  I just gotta make sure we don’t pass any signs that end in U-C-K…

I hope to be able to do more school volunteering this year, and I’m looking forward to Ian hitting middle school (looking FORWARD to Ian hitting middle school?! WTF am I saying?!) next year because there will be new and different ways I can volunteer there as well as at Adam’s school.  Hell, I may spend ALL my time volunteering.  Maybe the zoo, maybe the ALPLM… who knows?  I already coach Ian’s baseball team during the summer; I might as well try to shape young minds all year!

Read to your kids, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, whatever you have.  Read to them often.  Have them read to you.  It’s important to them, they love it, and you will too.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. SpringfieldZebra permalink
    November 15, 2010 1:49 pm

    WOW, Johann, I had no idea you were doing the volunteer gig. Good for you.

    Like you were, I still seldom read, at least for my own enjoyment. I read only for information purposes, seldom for enjoyment. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading. But I’m a very slow reader. It takes me so long just to read a page, that 2-3 pages later, I’ve forgotten what I read 2-3 pages ago.

  2. Marjorie permalink
    November 16, 2010 8:12 am

    Actually, you were 3, not 2. :^) I exploited it once, when we were in Dr. Konzelman’s office, and it was full of screaming kids. I had you read out loud from whatever book you had, and people began to quiet down to hear you read because you were so young.

    You’re right, though. Reading is a great pleasure. I feel sorry for people who don’t read for enjoyment because they are missing out on so much. I’m glad both boys are being brought up as readers. Plus, I’m glad you volunteer at OM. The boys will always remember that, and hopefully, they will volunteer someday, too.

  3. Johann permalink
    November 17, 2010 1:37 pm

    Zebra: Thanks. I’m actually a little surprised by how much I’m enjoying it. Like I said, I’m really kind of looking forward to doing more. And I kind of feel the same way you do- I’m a very slow reader as well, hence why it takes me a good 6 months or more to finish a 300-page book. But I’m really trying to keep at it.

    Marjorie: So… I was like a 3-year-old show pony, huh? 😉
    For the longest time, Ian would always think of it as punishment when we’d tell him he was to read for a minimum of 30 minutes a day. Then something happened during the summer between 3rd and 4th grade, and suddenly he’s a reading fiend. He just started the Harry Potter series at the beginning of the school year and is already well into the fourth book. And I’m really working at trying to get Adam into it early. I look for any excuse to get him to sound out words.

    Today was Ian’s class’s library period. The other mom that volunteers with me on Wednesdays called me last night and said she couldn’t make it today. She was all apologetic and I said “pehh, don’t worry, it’ll be fine” with the best feigned “no biggie” voice I could muster, but inside I was petrified. I’ve never done this alone!! But I get there, and Monkey brought me all the books that were being returned a few minutes before their class was to come to the library. That really helped, as I was able to get them all checked back in and shelved before they showed up.
    So I’m at the computer while his class comes in, and they all sit down, and I hear nothing. Just really loud, deafening silence for a few very awkward minutes. So I peek up from the monitor and notice that Mrs. S. isn’t there. They had a substitute, and apparently she was waiting on me- the “librarian”, as she referred to me later (HA!!)- to get the ball rolling.

    So now I’m suddenly puckering big time. So I get up and kinda shoot the shit with the kids for a few moments, and then I remembered that the librarian left a book out for the volunteers to read to the older kids. I grabbed it and started reading, trying HARD to remember that I was reading to 10- and 11-year-olds and not kindergarteners. As I was reading, at times the kids would giggle. At first, I figured it was the typical pre-adolescent giggling at “the, like, totally weird grownups” that kids of that age do, and then I realized that they were actually laughing at the story. So I relaxed a little bit, and then after about 10 minutes, I got to a part in the story that went something like, “…and when he got there, the strangest thing happened”. After I read that, I paused, looked up, and said, “That sounds like a good place to stop until next time”, which was received with about 15 “awww, MAANNN!!” comments. I guess maybe I had at least some of them hooked in. 🙂

    Best thing about the day was that I showed myself it is possible to get books checked in, read to the students, check books out, and re-shelve and straighten- by myself- if the situation ever arises again. And with a substitute there, no less. Mrs. S. typically takes the helm when she’s there, usually by introducing an author for the kids to consider, and then the kids will start to look for books. But I actually did the whole shootin’ match myself. Yay me!

    I just know Dawn’s going to make me go back into the workforce eventually- at which time I will kick, scream, cry, and throw a Sears escalator-worthy fit- but I’ve suddenly realized how much friggin’ fun I can actually have “working”, even when I’m not getting paid for it.

  4. DBeau permalink
    November 18, 2010 10:59 am

    JOhnJohn,
    That is awesome that you are having that much fun volunteering. I will have a talk to my sis about you going back to work. There is much to be said for you are doing for the boys and the payment they receive and your receive is greater than any monitary payment. Keep up the good work! Everybody know Jacob is not a big reader either as a Freshman but what I have found is that if I read some and he reads to me some he gets into it more and does better on his tests and assignments. Plus I get to do some reading too.

    PS To Kill A Mocking Bird – Greatest Book EVER!!!!!

    • Johann permalink
      November 21, 2010 11:17 am

      Thanks, D-Beau.

      PS Yes. Yes it is. :^)

  5. November 24, 2010 12:24 pm

    Oh, I LOVE ‘Ferdinand’! It’s the book I always give friends who have little kids. I love the illustrations of the trees with bunches of corks hanging from them like grapes, too. And, being who I am, I love that pacifism and laziness win. 🙂

    Mom says I learned to read when I was 3; she always tells stories about me riding my tricycle around in slow little circles while reading a book balanced on the handlebars.

    • Johann permalink
      November 24, 2010 1:11 pm

      Yup. ‘Ferdinand’ is the best!

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