Rob Sanders is a teacher who writes and a writer who teaches. He’s also a natural storyteller who keeps his friends laughing.
Rob and I met at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Los Angeles a few summers ago. Since then, we have been friends and critique partners. I’m delighted that Rob is the first author to be featured on Good Books to Share.
Welcome, Rob! Please share about your experience of being read to as a child. What positive memories do you have?
I don’t have memories of my parents reading aloud to me, but they took me, my brother, and my sister to libraries frequently. Our church had a large library and often sponsored reading contests, and our family frequented the public library in our hometown. My sister and I have realized as adults that a mother with three kids in a hot, un-air conditioned house in the summers of the 1960s might have had ulterior motives for taking her kids to the library (for instance: air conditioning and other adults who frequently said, “Shhhhh!”), but whatever the motive, my parents instilled a love of books in me early on.
My most vivid memory of being read to as a child was in third grade. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Henley, began on the first day of school to read Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder to our class—one chapter at a time. We would beg for more as we sat around her chair on a rug in the front of the classroom, but she stuck to her guns, and only read that one chapter a day. Needless to say, we couldn’t wait for the next day’s installment.
When we finished with that book, Mrs. Henley planned a field trip for our class (the first field trip I remember). On a Saturday, with the help of our parents, Mrs. Henley took the class 60 miles from our home in Springfield, Missouri to Mansfield, Missouri. There we toured the home and museum of Laura Ingalls Wilder. We saw Pa’s fiddle, Ma’s teapot, and Laura’s handwritten manuscripts. Soon everyone in the class was rushing to check out Laura’s other books. I read the entire series that school year.
By the way, when I was in my hometown for a book signing last year, who do you think stood in line for an autograph? Mrs. Henley. Forty-five plus years after listening to her reading in class, Mrs. Henley purchased my book to read to her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Please share about your experiences of being an adult and reading to a child or children. What are your favorite aspects of sharing good books with kids?
One of my elementary ed courses was a Kiddie Lit class. We learned about children’s literature, developed techniques for reading aloud to children, and even wrote, illustrated, and bound our own children’s books. I’ve used those lessons in every job I’ve had since then—first as a religious education director in churches, then as an editor and educational consultant, and now as a school teacher. (Yes, my work life has come full circle, and I’m back in the classroom.)
What I enjoy most about reading to children is creating experiences—memorable and meaningful events that make a lasting impression on children. I remember a few years ago I read Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco to my class of fourth graders. There’s a recurring line in the book—“Honey is sweet, and so is knowledge, but knowledge is like the bee that made that sweet honey, you have to chase it through the pages of a book.”
After reading the powerful story to my students, I closed the book, and picked up a bottle of honey. I stepped to the closest child and squirted a dab on honey on her finger. As the golden honey sat on her index finger, I said, “Honey is sweet . . .”, and the child spontaneously replied, “. . . and so is knowledge.” Emotions flooded through me as I looked at my student and continued, “. . . Chase it through the pages of a book.” Then she licked the sweet honey from her finger.
The process continued from child-to-child, with each student replying, “. . . and so is knowledge.” When I had gone to every student, we sat silently on the carpet (an unusual occurrence in a fourth grade classroom). No one wanted the moment to end or the magical spell to be broken.
Throughout the school year, when learning became difficult or morale sagged, I would say, “Honey is sweet,” and my students would reply, “and so is knowledge.” Then we could chase after knowledge a bit more.
Please share your thoughts on and tips for sharing good books with children.
Read what you love. Only read books to children that you truly love yourself. Your authenticity will shine through, and children will have the opportunity to not only connect with a book but with you, the reader.
Read dramatically. Reflect the pacing of the story through the pacing of your reading. Let your voice become a whisper, a roar, a chortling laugh to correspond with the emotions of the book. Change your accent, your inflection, and your facial expressions to match the story and its characters.
Read with emotion. Young children are learning to read words. Then students start to read for meaning. But the all-important component of reading for emotional impact and satisfaction is not something easily taught. It has to be modeled.
Once, after a read aloud, a student said, “Mr. Sanders, that was like a movie in my head. How did you know that book was supposed to sound like that?” The question itself was more valuable than any answer I could give. My challenge to that student and his classmates was for them to begin to let texts become so real to them that they could read and make others see movies in their heads.
How about you? Do you have good memories of a teacher who read to you? If so, share a comment below.
If you’re looking for a rip-roarin’, merry-makin’ Christmas movie to play in your head this season, you can’t go wrong with Rob’s book Cowboy Christmas. Click here to see more!
Watch for Rob’s new books: Outer Space Bedtime Race (coming from Random House Children’s Books, Spring 2015) and Ruby Rose On Her Toes (coming from HarperCollins, Winter 2016).
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