On Sunday, I was shopping at my favorite used bookstore to pick up a few books for my children’s literature class. Sunday was one of those grubby sweatshirt days.
While perusing a shelf of picture books, I felt a tug on my sweatshirt. Looking up at me was a little girl with big brown eyes. She looked like she had something very important to tell me. I smiled and asked her if she needed any help, and what came out of her mouth took me by surprise.
“Can you help me find a chapter book?” she asked me while fidgeting with her pinky. Finding the books for my class suddenly didn’t seem so important. My friendly grin turned into an excitement-filled smile. A kid was asking me of all people to help me find her a book. What was next, the Publisher’s Clearing House Prize Patrol? I asked her what grade she was in, and she told me first grade.
Frog and Toad was the first thought to pop into my head.. Before I could even start to dig through the large bookshelf of early readers, my eyes came across a book that was noticeably thicker than the others. I pulled it out and was delighted to discover that it was a collection of Frog and Toad stories.
While thumbing through each of the books, I asked her what she did on her spring break. She said, “Well I read a few books, but mostly I just hung out. I needed the break.” I nodded. Life’s rough for a first grader. After finding a few, I talked about each of the stories. As I was describing the ever lovable Mudge, I noticed that she kept eyeing the collection. She picked it up and started looking through it and her eyes lit up just like mine did.
To make sure that Frog and Toad wouldn’t frustrate her, I asked her to read the first couple of pages for me. She read it beautifully, and with expression. There were a few words she had trouble with such as “Blah,” Toad’s catchphrase. It felt like I was hearing my own student read for the first time, a feeling that’s impossible to describe.
I gave her that book, and a few others that I thought would be good choices. She skipped away and fanned out the books for her dad as if she were holding a deck of cards for a card trick. He asked her which one she would like and she dropped all of the rest and held the collection as high as she could. The little girl looked back at me with a look and smile of satisfaction.
I took the opportunity to introduce myself, and explain that the book she picked was a collection of short stories that I knew she could handle. Reading a big book like that made her feel big, and built her confidence. Dad seemed thankful for the help.
I went to pay for my books when I felt another tug on my sweatshirt. The little girl looked up at me again hugging her book against her chest. “Thank you for helping me find my book! I can’t wait to get home and read it!” I couldn’t help but beam. I told her, “You’re excited about reading and that’s what’s most important to me.”
Helping this little girl helped me discover two very important things:
1.My brain must have a “teacher mode” that I didn’t know existed. While talking to this little girl, I basically did a quick reading assessment, I previewed the text with her and determined that Frog and Toad are probably on a high instructional or low independent level for her. Perfect for independent reading at home.
2. I am a teacher when I least expect it, even while wearing an old sweatshirt on a cold Sunday afternoon.