Building Bibliophiles

Bibliophile. A compound word stemming from Greek biblion meaning book + philos meaning loving. Literally meaning, a lover of books. But does that denotation capture all bibliophily has to offer? Does ‘love’ carry strong enough connotations to capture what author, Blake Morrison believes books offer us – “a lifeline, a reason to believe, a way to breathe more freely”? Say bibliophile aloud; it bounces off the lips with enthusiasm, yet manages to melt in your mouth leaving behind a taste to savor.

I share Morrison’s belief that books offer much more than a story. I want my students to ‘feel’ the words as they read them, to savor the story by engaging in conversations with characters and becoming part of their world. In Morrison’s essay, “Twelve Thoughts About Reading,” he states characters can, “lift you up, toward a sort of light, instead of dragging you down into darkness. And the excitement…carrie[s] on growing, even after the book.” I want students to linger in these ‘other worlds’, to wear the skin of characters, and rehearse what life has to offer. As author Carmen Callil points out, “Books are shields against a terror of boredom…What they offer does not change, and if the human race was separated from words and thoughts and stories, it would die.”

Why Read?Reading not only provides a rehearsal of life’s events, it also provides a tool to become a proficient reader, writer, and communicator. Research by Nagy and Herman, 1987, offers statistics to support this statement. A child that reads 20 minutes a day is presented with the opportunity to linger in and savor the equivalent of 1, 800, 000 words per year compared to a child that reads only one minute of day cutting that exposure down to 8,000 words per year. Not surprisingly, immersing oneself in words also ripples out to achievement on standardized tests. Children who are able to become lost in books score in the 90th percentile while comparatively, children who have yet to learn to love books, score in the 10th percentile on standardized tests. Quite powerful statistics.

So how do we begin building bibliophiles? How do we shift the attitudes of those who believe, as author, Mark Haddon states, “that a novel is really just inky shapes on paper”? Simple answer; shared reading.  We read to our children. We share our experience that books change lives. We share, as Haddon further states, “the sense of being inside looking out, of seeing a world that belongs to everyone, but is nevertheless yours alone.” Reading aloud invites both the reader and the listener to become lost in an imaginary world.

To further build our bibliophiles, our children need to see us as readers. Make reading part of your everyday life. Set aside a daily, specified time as a family to reinforce the message that reading is important enough to stop what you’re doing and read. If I haven’t yet convinced you of the power of words, I recommend the book, Stop What You’re Doing and Read This. This compilation of ten essays, written by well known authors who speak of their love of reading and its importance in our lives, will cause you to ponder how reading transforms our lives and that it is imperative that it become a part of our everyday rituals.

As your child’s Humanities teacher, my role in building bibliophiles began with gifting students the opportunity to engage in daily sustained silent reading over the past few weeks. It was my goal that during this time, students find books that immerse them in another world, ‘The house was quiet and the world was calm. / The reader became the book’ (Stevens, 1947). The following photos show promise that this goal was achieved.

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In the upcoming weeks, I will share my plans in launching an independent reading program that continues to foster a love of books and explains the roles we each will play in sending the message that no one should live without reading. Here’s to building bibliophiles together, something to savor…

Ode to the Book

by Pablo Neruda

When I close a book

I open life.

I hear

faltering cries

among harbours.

Copper ignots

slide down sand-pits

to Tocopilla.

Night time.

Among the islands

our ocean

throbs with fish,

touches the feet, the thighs,

the chalk ribs

of my country.

The whole of night

clings to its shores, by dawn

it wakes up singing

as if it had excited a guitar.

The ocean’s surge is calling.

The wind

calls me

and Rodriguez calls,

and Jose Antonio–

I got a telegram

from the “Mine” Union

and the one I love

(whose name I won’t let out)

expects me in Bucalemu.

No book has been able

to wrap me in paper,

to fill me up

with typography,

with heavenly imprints

or was ever able

to bind my eyes,

I come out of books to people orchards

with the hoarse family of my song,

to work the burning metals

or to eat smoked beef

by mountain firesides.

I love adventurous

books,

books of forest or snow,

depth or sky

but hate

the spider book

in which thought

has laid poisonous wires

to trap the juvenile

and circling fly.

Book, let me go.

I won’t go clothed

in volumes,

I don’t come out

of collected works,

my poems

have not eaten poems–

they devour

exciting happenings,

feed on rough weather,

and dig their food

out of earth and men.

I’m on my way

with dust in my shoes

free of mythology:

send books back to their shelves,

I’m going down into the streets.

I learned about life

from life itself,

love I learned in a single kiss

and could teach no one anything

except that I have lived

with something in common among men,

when fighting with them,

when saying all their say in my song.

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