Betsy from Oreland,Pennsylvania

“Dad sat on a hat.  That was the very first, full sentence my son read all alone.  I didn’t prod or remind, I just wrote it on a napkin at a small restaurant where were having lunch and he read it, out loud.  Of course I almost burst with joy and immediately did the unthinkable, I ordered him a second soda.  He was a reader, he’d earned it.  The challenge now, although I didn’t know it then was how to help him become a true reader, a reader’s reader.  I wanted him to enjoy the same life long love affair with literature that I enjoy.

Andrew was attending our local parish school in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia.  It was a beautiful old building with high ceilings and rich woodwork.  He wore a traditional Catholic school uniform including tie and sweater vest and though he loved the look he was not too thrilled with the school experience.  He ran away almost every morning and I would have to bring him back with my heart in my throat and tears that I fought to hold inside the lid.  He didn’t know any of the other boys who had all gone through pre-school together and were less than welcoming to this red haired stranger.  I dreaded pick up time.  All the other mothers would make plans for the boys after school and although I pretended it didn’t bother me and that I was happy as could be, inside I died a bit more each day.  Megan his twin sister loved the routine of the day, made a nice group of friends and was getting along great.  That fact did not help Andrew.  His sullen face would brighten a bit when he saw me at the top of the hill each afternoon, but I could always tell what kind of a day it had been by the teacher’s look.

Late summer gave way to a warm fall and yet Andrew showed no signs of warming to school.  I looked down the hill and I would watch him, shoulders down, glance up to make sure I was there.  One afternoon he was smiling.  It was a bright, clear, whole face smile and I felt a surge of joy.  He held his head high as he marched up that hill and ran into my arms.  “Mom, I’m an advanced reader,” he proclaimed.  I didn’t know nor did I care what that meant.  To me it meant my son is happy.  Later that evening I got a call from the school librarian, Lanore Spearing.  She told me about Andrew’s enthusiasm in the library and that he was a pleasure to teach.  I can assure you, I had never heard that before.  She went on to explain that he had progressed to the point that he was able to start using the AR tests.  She explained that this software was used to track a child’s progress and that it helped her in matching the kid to the book.  Each week she would have a selection ready for him, he would read it and then take a short quiz on the computer to assess his comprehension.  If I could have gotten through the phone, I would have hugged her!  She had made my son a somebody, she made him a reader.  Each week he would tell her all about his books and what he had read at home.  She introduced him to The Magic Tree House, to Dan Guttman’s books, and so many countless others. 

Lanore is still at St. John’s until this June when the school will close it’s doors after 160 years.  She has inspired hundreds of children with hundreds of books.  The library had to expand into another classroom in order to house the thousands of volumes she has added through book reviews, book fairs, birthday book clubs and the sheer force of her will.  I am not sure where she will go, or where those students who have been so immersed in literature will find another place quite like that but I do know that my son, because of Lanore will forever be a reader.