A Continued Reading Culture

One of the products of long term community access to books and reading is a continued reading culture.

I was reviewing some photos the other day (prep work for a piece we're planning about the Bookwagon) when this story-in-photos caught my eye.

When we met this girl she struggled with reading - especially reading English since she was in an all French program at school. Nonetheless, when we set up our tent near her house, she chose to check us out. I don't remember our first meeting, but I do recall that early on she welcomed some one-on-one reading help from us, and that Blue Hat Green Hat was her first success in the storytent.* She used to read it to us - and anyone who would listen - each time she came, and it was a book she liked to borrow.

Sometimes (first photo), she or a friend would bring a doll to the tent. We thought that was an interesting example of books and reading becoming part of their play (as well as, presumably, their quality worlds).

When summer ended and we began the Saturday morning bookwagon program, she borrowed regularly from the wagon (second photo).

One of the things we noticed was that, over the winter, she became confident enough to read to a younger friend (photo three). We aren't claiming special credit here: it was her and her mom that made that happen. But access to books continued to matter to the family.

A couple of years later (fourth photo), by the time she was too cool too old too busy for the storytent or wagon, and old enough to babysit, she was encouraging other children to borrow from the programs.

Whatever else happens in this young lady's life, I'm sure books and reading will always be part of her interactions with children - someone else's or her own.

This is what supporting a reading culture can look like. It's what community literacy can look like. It's not enough, this kind of program. Economically and politically significant family and literacy support requires other things like resource partnering, advocacy work, and direct adult instruction. But these other things don't have to happen all the time. What is necessary is a long term, consistent presence in a community: long term book access, and long term positive relationships.

Anyway, that's my perception. :)

* "Welcoming help" almost always looks like this:

Child: I can't read.

Worker: That's okay. But I know a book you might be able to read.

Worker digs out Blue Hat Green Hat or Machines At Work or Truck or Cat On The Mat or Yummy Yucky or Brown Bear Brown Bear or....

Child (15 minutes later): I can read that book.

Worker: Yay! Maybe you could borrow it and read it at home. Do you want to read it again? Do you want to read another book? Or do you want me to read a book to you? What would you like to do now?

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