Education Opinion

Cleared for Take-Off

By Donalyn Miller — July 23, 2008 2 min read
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I find myself drawn to readers in public places as if we share a common bond. We wild readers, freed from school reading demands, gloriously indulge our reading habits, proudly carrying books wherever we go and brazenly reading in front of other people.

Needing pictures of children reading for my upcoming book and discovering that I took few pictures of my students actually reading in my classroom this year (hey, I was teaching, not snapping photos); I sent an e-mail to my former students asking for pictures of them reading in the wild. I received several charming photos of adolescent heads bent over books in all sorts of random summer spots—under trees, in lounge chairs by the pool, even one posed in front of the gates of the White House.

Summer for me is one long quest for reading spots, but if I were to pick one wild location which epitomizes my reading this summer, it would be in an airport. Attending several conferences out of state and jetting off to Disney World with the family, I have spent countless hours in airports this summer. I always cart along a book or three for the interminable waits at airplane gates and while flying. I am not alone in this regard; I spy scores of readers in airport lounges and on planes.

Reflecting on why reading is such a ubiquitous activity in airports, I realize that airport reading offers many conditions which reading teachers strive to develop in our classrooms. Perhaps my anthropological observations can impart a lesson or two:

Books do not have restrictions. Low-tech, solid, and without sharp edges (other than editorial), books are the perfect carry-on. Take two—no extra charge, weight limit or plastic bag required. No one cares what you are reading, either.

Time is abundant. Traveling burns up hours of time with little else to occupy you but reading or sleeping. I often read one novel during the outbound trip and one during the return. Luxuriously reading an entire book in one sitting is a rare indulgence.

A wide range of reading material is available. Every terminal contains a bookstore or magazine stand. If you are desperate, check the pocket in the back of your airplane seat. I often find abandoned treasures, although, the copy of The Red Badge of Courage I rescued on my last trip screams summer reading list, not a vacation book!

Books build connections between readers. With little else to draw us into conversation, our shared love for Twilight connects me instantly to the 14-year old boy waiting for the same plane. On another trip, my curiosity sparks an exchange with the man reading Freakonomics two seats over who heartily recommends the book to me.

Reading is a journey of its own. Wedged into a hard plastic seat, desperate to block out the noise of bustling commuters, I find the magical wildlife preserve in my copy of Fablehaven a more enchanting destination than my three hour layover in Atlanta.

If these ideals, promoted by many reading experts, can spring up organically in a bustling airport, why are they so hard to cultivate in a classroom? What blocks the runway and prevents our young readers from taking off?

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.