By August 15, 2019 0 Comments Read More →

When All the Words Are Magic

This past year was a big year for my family: my oldest son finished kindergarten, and his teacher deserves her place in the pantheon of great kindergarten teachers. (My son will proudly explain that she is The Best.) My own amazing kindergarten teacher, Ms. Goldie, is someone whose name frequently comes up in family conversation. But over the course of the past year, my son often informed me that Ms. Goldie may have been great, but it was impossible she could be the number one kindergarten teacher—that spot is claimed by Ms. Bishop.

My son learned many things from his wonderful teacher but the one he was most excited about was learning to read. At this moment, he is curled up with his younger brother in a sheet fort reading Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man (his current favorite book) aloud.

The first time he read an entire book aloud (Green Eggs and Ham), he was surprised to see me tearing up. It’s just that as he sat beside me on the playground bench, shaking in the cold and reading his book, I could envision his reading future. I could see the settings of favorite books from my childhood, from the Enchanted Forest of Dealing with Dragons and the Maine coastline of The Worry Week to so many iterations of New York City (All of a Kind Family, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler).

Serafina and the Black Cloak

I could also see for him the books I’d read recently as he’d peer over my shoulder and ask me what each book was called (Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down, Elana K. Arnold’s A Boy Called Bat, Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak). I could see books hopeful, fantastical, devastating; books that will help him see into worlds and lives different from his own; books that will show him other people have interior struggles that he can perhaps relate to; books that will help him realize the world is both bigger and smaller than he imagined. The first time my son read aloud, I wasn’t really seeing Sam who “would not could not in a car” but so much more: there was not just one world opening up for my son, but many.

It took several more books before I stopped tearing up with each new read. Many more times of him peering at me to see if there were tears in my eyes. And still, whenever he reads a new book, there are two stories I always think of. The first: nine years ago during a kindergarten class’s library orientation I asked, “Do you know what a library is for?” One boy shouted, “Are you going to teach us MAGIC?!?!” Although at the time I fumbled through my answer, I keep coming back to the idea that while I may not be the one teaching the magic, I hope I am helping open the door to it.

The second memory is more recent: early in the past school year, I was sitting with my son as he read a few sentences aloud. The sentences consisted only of his sight words (words students memorize and recognize on sight rather than decoding), which he refers to as his magic words. When he finished, I said, “Wow bud! You just read two whole sentences!” He sighed and said, “Yeah, but Mommy, those are just my magic words. It’s not real reading like you do.” Although nine years ago I did not have a good response for that kindergartner who thought I was going to teach him magic, this time, I think I did better: “Oh, but it is what I do,” I told my son. “It’s the same thing. It’s just that when I’m reading, all the words are magic.”

About the Author:

Gundry Rowe is a K-8 librarian at Walt Disney Magnet School in Chicago, IL. She is National Board Certified in Library Media and has been working in children’s bookstores and libraries since she was 16. Although she prefers to balance reading kids' chapter books with books for adults, instead she finds herself reading Little Blue Truck for the 57,000th time to her three little boys.

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