In a video released today, some of my reading role models and favorite authors discuss their memories of reading The Giver.
If Walden Media had interviewed me, here is the memory I would have shared with them:
I was in the 6th grade. It was 2001, a few years after The Giver had won the Newbery. Not to brag, but I was a good reader at that age. My school was using Accelerated Reader for its primary reading program, and I was a few levels above other readers in my class. At that time, the higher levels in our school library had fewer books- the higher the levels, the fewer the book choices available. I remember being frustrated because I had a hard time finding any books for me. I was a level black, and Frankenstein was one of the options. I skimmed through the first few pages, and decided I wouldn’t touch that book with a ten foot pole.
And so I wandered aimlessly around our school library. Mrs. Paulsen, the librarian, must have noticed my cluelessness, and she asked how she could help me. I told her I needed a book that was at my level. (Oh, how I wished I could have kept reading books below my level- there were so many more choices).
After we conversed, she pointed me toward The Giver. I remember thinking, “Is this something I could really like?” It was a higher level book. She thought I could do it. And so since she believed in me, I believed in myself.
At the same time, the 6th grade teacher had also kicked off a reading contest. Whoever won the most points from Accelerated Reader over the next three weeks would get prizes, and anyone in the class who could get over 10 points in the next 3 weeks would be treated to something special. These contests meant nothing to me- 10 points was a breeze. In previous contests, I had always come out on top. The Giver should get me started.
And so I began what would be a four week journey with The Giver.
As we neared the end of week one, I was just getting started. This was a deep book. I didn’t read it slowly because I was having trouble with it. I read it slowly because that was the only way I could handle the depth of the content. I remember laying in my bed, only getting through one chapter. It took me so long to digest what I was reading.
Week two came up and at the end, I was only a little over half ways finished with The Giver. I knew the end of the contest was the following week, but if I finished the book, it would be over with. This wasn’t just any ordinary book- this was one I was going to savor. I was determined not to finish it in a hurry because I didn’t want it to end- it was a different world- so different than anything I’d ever experienced before.
And a day before the end of the contest, I had a few chapters left. I could have sped through the remainder of the book and taken my A.R. test the next day, and collected my points. But I wasn’t ready. I was still digesting this book. I finished it over the weekend and took the test on Monday- the day after the contest was through.
The results of the highest point earners were plastered in the classroom- and there I sat, at the bottom of the list. I hadn’t earned a single point during the last three weeks. All because I was savoring The Giver.
For the record, on that Monday, I scored a perfect score (not that it mattered) on my A.R. test and harvested all of the points the book was worth. But it was too late to count them in the contest.
And so, the following Friday, the class held a celebration of their victories and accumulation of points over the last three weeks. I was happy for them. The top point winners collected their prizes, and then anyone in the class who earned more than ten points got a popsicle. The teacher told me, and one other boy who hadn’t earned his 10 points, to put our heads down while everyone else enjoyed their treat.
At the time, I thought it was unfair that I was being “punished” for taking my time with a complicated book. It probably was.
My classmates had been rewarded with popsicles and other sugary treats, but I had been rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing that I got to deeply enjoy The Giver. I hadn’t wasted time, and my reading rate of that book had nothing to do with how good I was at reading.
Sadly, an experience like that could have crushed some kids. It could have turned kids off to reading for the rest of their lives. It could have done the same to me, too, but it didn’t.
The Giver stuck with me so strongly, that I couldn’t let my experience with it end my career as a reader. Not earning a popsicle didn’t ruin my experience with The Giver. I don’t associate bad reading memories with the book.
I just remember that I found a book unlike any other I had ever read before. It challenged me. Made me think. Helped me experience life in a way I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. It sticks with me to this day. It also made me wonder what else is out there that can bring me on such a journey? It only made me want to read more.
I just happened to have the privilege of meeting Lois Lowry this past weekend. Hearing her tell the story behind The Giver and getting her signature in my copy was like coming full circle.
I think I was a winner after all.