Reading as Lifework

By JoEllen McCarthy

The central and most important goal of reading instruction is to foster a love of reading.

Linda Gambrell, Distinguished Professor of Education, Clemson University
Student savoring Harry Potter.

The most powerful way to promote independent reading is to provide all children access to books they can and want to read. When we invest in books, we are investing in kids. It’s really that simple. Real reading creates real readers. 

Countless researchers have proven the impact of classes and communities that have an abundance of books.  Frequent, voluminous, self-selected reading and personal preference are the foundation, walls, and ceiling in building a reader for a lifetime (Atwell, 2009).

And yes, there is something magical about seeing children find their hearts in a book, and that should be attainable for every child, every day. 

Which is why independent reading cannot be viewed as a curricular add-on; it must be deeply embedded in our daily routines so students see reading beyond school work—as part of lifework.

When students view reading as an essential part of life, not something designated to a time period, or as an opportunity to “cover” an assignment, they understand the power of a good book, reap the benefits, and will seek books to nourish their minds and hearts. They need time with real books. 

Children who spend time reading in school, are more likely to read outside of school, and view reading as a positive experience.  This home-school connection strengthens the message that reading is about more than school work.  When such time is valued and protected it sends the message that reading matters.  Students increase their engagement, expand their knowledge of books (and authors), and establish lifelong habits of strong readers.

In Bring Me a Book classrooms that support choice, agency, and reader identity we: 

Focus on lives, not levels. 
Devote time to helping kids access books they can and want to read. 
Invite Deeper Conversations.
Empower students.
Understand and attend to the passions, interests, and needs of all readers.

Student Testimonials

Lean in and listen to the voices of Milton Olive Middle School who experienced reading as lifework: 

“I love reading to learn about other people’s lives.”

“Reading stories gives you the ability to understand better.”

“Books can help you feel less lonely.”

“Reading matters- all year long.”

We must advocate for books and kids. Schools need to stop investing in programs, and focus, instead, on what matters most for kids—rich, diverse, vibrant literature that they choose themselves to read. 

There is something magical about helping a child fall in love with reading.  If we can surround our children with quality literature, we can help them to find just the right book at just the right moment, sparking an essential love of literature that can last a lifetime. 

Bring Me a Book Literacy Champions represent a national network of literacy advocates— reading researchers, scholars, and expert practitioners, including teachers, administrators, and school librarians committed to bringing the joyful gift of reading to all children. Won’t you join us?

Reading as Lifework: A Vignette

Members of the book club.

I think this is the first book club these fifth graders have ever participated in. They gave up their lunch period, and so did their teacher, to discuss Letters to a Bullied Girl: Messages of Healing and Hope.  It made a real difference in how often I saw them in my office.  Actually, I didn’t have a problem with them for the remainder of the year.  That’s the power of a book and a caring adult who treated them with respect and understanding. They are now off to middle school with this book to support them.

Thanks again for helping to make a difference.

Dr. Judy Crates, Interim Principal, Castro Elementary, Mountain View, California.

© 2022 JoEllen McCarthy