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Share a Story, Shape a Future 2011: The Power of a Book

By Donalyn Miller — March 07, 2011 4 min read
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Share a Story Shape a Future is an annual blog event to promote literacy, celebrate books, and provide resources for parents, teachers, and readers everywhere. This year’s theme is “Unwrapping the Gift of Literacy.” Join us March 7th to March 11th.

Each day a different kidlitosphere blogger serves as host for the posting of several other bloggers. You may visit the host blogs’ sites to find a complete blog roll for each day.

•The Power of a Book - From the literal power of owning a book and a good story to the intangible power that comes with knowing how to read.

•The Gift of Reading - Whether you’re looking for a book to excite a reader, want to help someone learn to read or celebrate the “gift” ... it’s covered.

•Unwrapping Literacy 2.0 - With all of the talk of digital literacy, e-readers, etc. What does “literacy” look like in this new century?

•Love of Reading v. Homework - Do they have to be at odds? We’ll talk about ways to help readers at home and at school.

•The Gift that Keeps on Giving - To wrap up the week we’ll be remembering “that moment” when we realized we were a reader or writer and how to celebrate it with others. Lots(!) of interviews this day.

The Power of a Book

I hold unwavering belief in the power of one book to change your life. I see this miracle unfold with my students every day--Landry conquered another reading challenge while climbing Mt. Everest alongside Peak Marcello. Emily devoured Bethany Hamilton’s inspiring memoir, Soul Surfer, in two days and met me at the classroom door to share her thoughts about Hamilton’s near fatal shark attack. Blake came to me with tears in eyes after finishing Rot and Ruin’s heart-wrenching conclusion.

My students claim that I have a knack for stopping our read alouds at the worst (best?) moments--leaving them begging for more. They check out the books we’ve shared--The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, When You Reach Me, A Tale Dark and Grimm, Out of My Mind--reading them over and over again. Reading a book together connects us, but reading that same book by yourself helps you take ownership of it somehow.

It’s as if we share a secret--my students and me--a secret that people who don’t read can’t understand. We know that books hold magic inside them. We know that books ease pain. We know that books rescue boring afternoons. We know that the best books sink into our skin and change who we are. This is my hope for my students--that they find a powerful book that becomes a part of them. The baggage of their lives should include a book or two.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about the books that I carry around in my skin. A Wrinkle in Time helped me accept my nerdy, mousy self when I was in middle school. Angela’s Ashes broke my heart one word at a time, and then rebuilt it. In the Middle forever shaped how I teach.

Some books change us and others capture who we were when we read them like photographs in a scrapbook. I will always define third and fourth grades as my horse years--endlessly re-reading every Marguerite Henry book I could find. Living in a Texas suburb, the only horses I ever saw where at Girl Scout camp once a year. Still, I knew everything books could teach me about horses--their ancestral lineage, famous horses like Seabiscuit and the Lipizzaner stallions, and horse anatomy.

I wanted to be a veterinarian for most of my childhood and many of the books I read during that time reflected my interest in animals--James Herriot’s memoirs, The Yearling, Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, Rascal, The Call of the Wild, and The Incredible Journey. I have forgotten that I was that kid until now. The books help me remember.

There was one book in particular that I checked out of the library ten times in a row--the story of the first cocker spaniel to win the National Field Trials. As an adult, all I remembered about the book was the cover, which sported a charming illustration of the little cocker’s face. Casually searching for this treasured book over the years, I realized that I did not recall enough about the book to find it in an old bookstore. It was lost to my childhood.

Last year, while compiling titles of favorite books from respondents to my Wild Reader survey, I gasped out loud and burst into tears. My husband, who knows that sorting endless piles of paper stresses me, came into the room and asked, “What happened? Are you OK?”

Through my tears and sobbing, I was able to speak four words, Champion Dog, Prince Tom. Instantly, I was nine years old. I knew it was THE book, MY book. Digging through survey respondents’ email addresses, I was able to find the teacher who listed Champion Dog, Prince Tom as one of her favorite books. Sending her an emotional email, I thanked her for bringing my beloved book back to me. She sent me a gracious reply, sharing her personal connections to the book. She didn’t think I was a bit crazy. Readers can accept a lot from each other when we discover we love the same books.

I now own a copy of Champion Dog, Prince Tom. Is it strange that I haven’t re-read it? I fear letting my nine year old self out of the pages if I open it. She belongs inside that book.

Continue to celebrate the Power of a Book by reading thoughtful posts by Teri Lesesne and Paul W. Hankins. One book at a time, one child at a time, one teacher at a time we build a community of readers with our students and children.

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.