“Mrs. Ryan, do you know they have us reading banned books here?” a student in study hall inquired.
“Do you mean The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?” I returned, possessing awareness that this classic was part of the American Literature curriculum, as it continues to be in most school districts.
They nodded, and I continued to speak, “Yes. That novel has continued to be one of the most banned books of all time since its publication in 1884. Many people misunderstand the novel and believe it to be a racist text. However, the novel is a satire and Mark Twain, its author, was actually an abolitionist. Do you know what those terms mean?”
Before even fully allowing the students at the table time to respond, I began to explain satire. I only got a few words into my explanation when one of the young females at the table interrupted me to ask, “How do you know so much?”
Just as I had been interrupted in my explanation of satire, I wasn’t given an opportunity to complete a response either as another student had offered one. “Because she reads books like all the time,” the girl’s friend offered. “Haven’t you ever noticed that? If she’s not helping us, she’s reading. I’ve seen her with three different books in one week,” she continued. I would like to tell you that her tone hinted at envy and applause of my frequent reading. Rather, her tone seemed to suggest she was disturbed and perplexed by my evident love of literature.
“Oh yeah,” said the male student who first asked me about banned books, “she does always read.” He said this as though being an avid reader were the equivalent of leprosy.
I can’t imagine ever having such an attitude towards books. I get great comfort from being surrounded by those pages of precious words. When I finally bought a new shelving unit earlier this year, I was exceedingly enthused to fill it up with my volumes of classic literature and contemporary fiction. I took a photo the instant I completed this task, and proudly posted it on my facebook account. I was nearly as proud of my books as I am of my babies.
For those precious babies of mine, reading is already an engrained part of their life. I hope it is a habit they continue to treasure for all of their lives. My children both get such joy from having stories told to them, and I try to read them at least one book every single day. “Book” is one of the first words my daughter said, and she is constantly bringing her Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle books to me asking “Book? Book?” in a request to be read a story.
Reading is as essential in this household as eating and sleeping. It’s a requirement of living a good, healthy, well-rounded life. My children will always know that you are to eat your vegetables, brush your teeth, and read lots and lots of books. I hope their peers never treat them in the same manner with which these students responded to my regular reading. I want to believe there are still mothers like me out there who are also reading Shakespeare to their infant and toddler children.