Friday, January 25, 2013

A Little Bookroom

If you've ever doubted the power of books to save and make a life, read this:

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My Father's Books by Luan Starova. 

At the very least, it will motivate you to make books more important in your life. Not just urging your kids to do their reading homework every night, but using books to define your own life, and letting them see that definition every day.

Here is a snippet from another favorite book of mine, a wonderful book of short stories, magical tales, originally published in the early 1900s. It's the introduction written by the author, Eleanor Farjeon, and I think of it every day when I find books EVERYWHERE in our house. In the bathroom. On the floor. On the couches. Under beds. In the room I affectionately call "The dungeon," where the bikes are stored and the dogs sleep (????). This passage from the introduction demonstrates the joyous (if messy) life of a family that loves to read.

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"In the home of my childhood there was a room we called ‘The Little Bookroom’. True, every room in the house could have been called a bookroom. Our nurseries upstairs were full of books. Downstairs my father’s study was full of them.  They lined the dining-room walls, and overflowed into my mother’s sitting-room, and up into the bedrooms. It would have been more natural to live without clothes than without books. As unnatural not to read as not to eat.
Of all the rooms in the house, the Little Bookroom was yielded up to books as an untended garden is left to its flowers and weeds. There was no selection or sense of order here. In dining-room, study, and nursery, there was choice and arrangement; but the Little Bookroom gathered to itself a motley crew of strays and vagabonds, outcasts from the ordered shelves below, the overflow of parcels bought wholesale by my father in the sales-rooms. Mush trash, and more treasure. Riff-raff and gentlefolk and noblemen. A lottery, a lucky dip for a child who had never been forbidden to handle anything between covers. That dusty bookroom, whose windows were never opened, through whose panes the summer sun struck a dingy shaft where gold specks dance and shimmered, opened magic casements for me through which I looked out on other worlds and times than those I lived in: worlds filled with poetry and prose and fact and fantasy...
Crammed with all sorts of reading, the narrow shelves rose halfway up the walls; their tops piled with untidy layers that almost touched the ceiling. The heaps on the floor had to be climbed over, columns of books flanked the window, toppling at a touch. You tugged at a promising binding, and left a new surge of literature underfoot; and you dropped the book that had attracted you for something that came to the surface in teh upheaval. Here, in the Little Bookroom, I learned, like Charles Lamb, to read anything that can be called a book. The dust got up my nose and made my eyes smart, as I crouched on the floor or stood propped against a bookcase, physically uncomfortable and mentally lost. I was only conscious of the story I was reading, and my heart which was in the story as well." 

There's more to that wonderful introduction, but I will stop there.

Do we want our children to remember our nice, sparkly furniture or our super clean and organized shelves? 

I hope my children can say many things about me when I am gone and they are old. I'm sure they will say I was not a great cook, because I am not. I am terrible. I'm sure they will say I was not the best housekeeper, because I am not. I am terrible. (Sam came downstairs as I was writing this and asked me if I've washed the mattress cover Calvin threw up on last night. "No," I said. "Do you think we have to?" And I was serious. Sam said, that, um, yes. We probably should.) 

But I hope they will say, "Books were everywhere in my home. We ate, drank, and breathed books. Mom wanted us to know about the world, about good and bad, about the lives of others and the lives of incredible, imaginary people. She wanted us to expand our minds and our experiences, every, every minute. So our house was messy. But it was a Little Book-house. And, in the end, we were happy there."


  1. I just found your blog through Saydi Shumway's site. And I have to say - I have found my people! And you are it. I too grew up in a house full of books. And my house is full of books. And I don't love to cook or do housework nearly as much as I think I should. But my children always see me reading. So they read. So I never worry about them academically. I feel like your last paragraph is exactly what I want my children to remember about our home. I want them to experience the world and understand it - whether they can actually take a trip to see it or read about it instead.
    I am ALWAYS amazed when I go to someone's house and they have no bookcases, or have bookcases with no books (just pictures or knick knacks). Each of my children have their own bookcase. Our bookcases are ever expanding with the number of books that we acquire.
    A friend of mine told about a mover who told her they could move her family much more cheaply if they would just get rid of the books. But she said they couldn't, because that would be like chopping off an arm. I knew she was a friend because I felt exactly the same way.
    I can't wait to see what you have to say about common core. I look forward to checking back in.

  2. Your blog is the only blog I subscribe to, and I would like to tell you haw it has changed my life for the better. I have always wanted my kids to read, and I am very anti-TV. I read to them when they were little, but slowly the habit of reading aloud faded as they were able to do it themselves. My daughter has not had books read to her like my boys. I have been following your blog since you started and I have taken your book recommendations with me to the library. It has been super helpful. I come home with wonderful fantastic books. But this fall when I was at his parent teacher conference I about had a heart attack when I looked at my son's Iowa test scores. He failed (as in 25%) both the reading and language tests for 3rd grade. Granted it was his first bubble sheet test and he got off for a huge portion and had to go back and fix it while his classmates were watching a movie. This in itself explains so much, but I didn't feel I could completely dissolve my worry so I had my mom who is the greatest teacher ever test him. He was below grade level despite having previously scored well on all of his testing, and his report card did not indicate him being below grade level. I knew there was work to be done and I had to step things up. This child is so captivated by a thick plot and captivating story. You quoted an article where parents said they gave credit to JK Rowling for teaching their kids to read. I believe that reading books teaches kids to read,not prompts and little passages so I decided to give it a try. We read Harry Potter the two of us. I had similar experiences to ones you have shared as you have read with your kids. It was fun and it hooked my little boy. My little boy who has always loved books and stories, but not really reading. My mom was nervous to test him on reading just two months later because it can be frustrating if there hasn't been significant growth. He has increased 2 reading levels (from an L to an N)! Yes, Harry Potter is above his reading level, and he does not get all the words right, and he is mostly reading it on his own now because I cannot spend hours each day reading it with him, but he understands the story--enough to keep him captivated for HOURS at a time. So much that at 10:00 I have to say, "Lights out!" Last week after dinner my family and I silently read our books for a couple hours. That has never happened before. I am confident I will continue to see his growth as a reader. I love your passion for books because it inspires me, and it inspires me to make books a priority for my family. Thank you! So so much I thank you! (And I love your writing!)

    My only request is come summer time I would love more ideas on writing. My idea of working on writing over the summer is to have my kids write 5 sentences in their journal on whatever topic they want. I loved the little lesson plan you shared where you had Calvin read a specific book and then gave him a writing prompt for a story with examples and suggestions. It seemed like this idea took no more effort for you than breathing in and out. I am not quite there. Just take notes on the writing exercises you are having your kids do and I will be singing praises to you all summer long!!