Yesterday, Beverly Cleary passed away. Not only did I grow up reading Cleary’s books, but they were some of my favourite books from my childhood. I could really related to the Ramona/Beezus squabbles, the conversations around divorce, the animal connections, and the bickering that became staples in Cleary’s books. These are stories that I returned to many times. I don’t usually re-read texts, but I did re-read the Ramona books more than once, and even enjoyed the television shows and movies that came from them. I remember watching some with my own sister. I’m an avid reader now, and I know that my love for reading started as a child and was fuelled by Cleary’s Ramona.
One of my fondest memories as a child was going shopping with my grandmother. My grandma lived in Sydney, Nova Scotia, but she always came down to visit a few times a year. She used to take my sister and I to the mall. While my sister loved the clothing and shoe shopping with my grandma, I was most excited about the bookstore. This was at a time when Coles was the brand name bookstore, and those great little mall bookstores were the most wonderful places to go. Even as a small child — we’re talking kindergarten age here — I loved sitting on the floor of the bookstore and “reading” through piles of books. My mom always read to my sister and I when we were growing up — first picture books and later on, novels — and while I probably couldn’t decode the words in the books as this point, I would retell the stories to myself. Neither my sister or my grandmother enjoyed the bookstore quite as much as me, so my grandma always arranged for an employee to watch me read as the two of them went off to shop. This might not be an accepted practice nowadays, but at the time, this solo reading adventure is a strong positive memory and a story that I return to often. This is when my love for reading began and blossomed!
Beverly Cleary’s death has me reflecting on what we can learn from her books and reading experiences. These couple of questions of mine have stemmed from Beverly Cleary.
- My first wonder is how are we ensuring that kids see themselves in the texts that we use and share in the classroom? As I think about the Beverly Cleary books that I liked and read the most, I keep coming back to how much I could connect with the characters. I saw a little bit of myself in them. I saw my experiences growing up. In some ways, these characters could express themselves in ways that, at times, I couldn’t. This is almost like the conversation that I had with Alanna King and Ramona Meharg about Judy Blume’s books.
Cleary’s passing has me contemplating how we can ensure all of our students — regardless of age — have these same connections with texts. Do we need to look at books differently? Do we need to expand our classroom libraries? What might be a good place to start? In many ways, this feels like a huge undertaking, but I’m also reminded of the fact that it’s an incredibly important one.
- The second wonder is how do we create shared reading communities in our classrooms? Strangely enough, this wondering was one that my teaching partner, Paula, and I discussed after school yesterday before either of us knew about Beverly Cleary. We were both reminiscing about student reading in previous years, and the huge amount of connecting around books that happened at the eating table and on the carpet space.
With our COVID protocols, these social gatherings around books can no longer happen. Even just distributing books is a challenge. We’ve been trying to find books that we think our kids will like, and passing them on for them to look at in their spaces. If I think back to my bookstore memory as a kid, I wonder, how much value is there in having children select their own books? Is rifling through the books also an important component of the reading process? This is when you can connect with the characters, get excited about the stories shared through the pictures, and determine if the text is the right fit one for you.
Even as an adult, I love having different reading materials on the go. I might only be reading one book on my Kindle, but I often have a paperback version of an educational read nearby, some newspapers and magazines to look through, favourite children’s books out on the ledge at school or easily accessible in the cupboard, and blog posts, tweets, and Instagram posts for some shorter reads. How do we provide an eclectic selection to our students?
Paula and I started to chat about some more board book options. Board books are easier for many of our kids to read, they connect with many stories that children have heard before (and some favourite ones from the past), and they are simple to wipe down and sanitize. I never thought that sanitizing would be one of my considerations for reading materials. We continue to grapple with options on how to get students to safely self-select from these board books. What options have you tried before and what ones work well?
For our young readers, I wish there was a way to support social reading: from a distance, but still around a single book of interest. I was chatting today with a friend of mine about this, and he said, “Aviva maybe this isn’t possible.” I don’t do well with “not possible.” Neither does Paula. When we began to look at the distanced social dramatic play that’s been happening recently, we were reminded that more is always possible than we might initially think.
Beverly Cleary makes me want to find a way to make this kind of reading a reality, even if it might look different than it did in the past.
How has your life been shaped by books? How are we providing these same experiences for our kids? Thanks Beverly Cleary for many fond reading memories, and the push to keep making these memories for the young ones in our care.