This is the first summer I’ve had since a child where I have had more free time than work. Ever since late junior high, I’ve had a job. Last summer I did a lot of traveling and hosted a two week reading camp. This summer I traveled a little, and decided not to do the camp, so I’ve found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. 

That’s not to say that there are plenty of other things to keep me busy. A messy apartment cries for my attention. I presented in Nebraska and I’m working on two more presentations for this fall. I’m working on planning for our 2014 Literacy Festival and seeking donors. And then there are my grad courses, which include a lot of writing. I’m going to be helping Debbie Diller with a portion of her upcoming book. And of course, a teacher’s brain never really shuts off, so I’ve been getting things ready for the new school year (which begins for students in about 43 days).

Summer also leaves a lot of room for time to think. I’ve found myself wondering about my students- past and upcoming. I guess I could go as far as saying I worried a little bit… I wonder if …. is reading. Or I hope …. has found good books for himself over the summer. I know we talked a lot about keeping up our reading over the summer in class, and I really encouraged parents to do their part, too.

So when I got a Facebook message the other day with a photo attached, I was thrilled. It was from a parent of a student this past year. There she was, underneath a shade tree on a hot day, ensconced in huge pillows with a Geronimo Stilton in hand.

Yesterday, another parent posted a picture of a reading corner she set up in her house, and there was another student curled up with her siblings. I commented, and the mom replied, saying she thought I would like this, and that this student has been reading to her siblings all summer. 

As I mentioned earlier, we are seeking donors to sponsor visiting authors in November. I went and presented at a local chapter meeting, and a parent came with and brought her daughter. Her daughter was going to share how much meeting authors this past year meant to her. I was happy to hear it, but I was caught by surprise when she was giving her speech, and pulled out the most beautiful illustrations of dogs. She shared that she has been authoring a book about her dog, and was going to self-publish on Amazon when she finished. This was a work of heart. Not a story she slapped together in a few minutes or even days… She was inspired by the authors and wanted to do the same.

So I have been left wondering how to feel. I am proud- very proud, yes. But I am looking for a different word. I am happy- very happy to see these kinds of things. I guess the word I am looking for is encouraged. While these are only a few of my students, I’m encouraged- deeply. 

Because, looking at those pictures, I don’t think that those girls were reading because someone said they had to.

The girl under the tree could have plopped down in a chair and read- but she wanted a rich experience. The other girl could have spent her time reading to herself, but instead she wanted to share that experience with her siblings. Hearing the girl speak, I don’t think that she made the book because someone asked her to. She was inspired, she knew she had a story to tell, and so she did what any writer would do- get to work on putting it down on paper.

They all did it because, somewhere in their hearts, they were inspired. This is an inspirational love that we can’t teach or force. We can’t teach a heart to love books, but we can certainly encourage it. 

What we hold in our hands all year are the hearts of our students. By drowning them in book choices, reading to them regularly, sharing our joys, and just letting them fall in love with a book, we are tugging at the strings of inspiration in their hearts. We don’t have to do much work- the books and the authors take care of that. We just have to create the environment and make sure that we aren’t making any restrictions which might prevent this natural inspiration to occur.

These girls encourage me- to do more. More reading, more writing. I don’t know what I was so worried about. When we give our kids books and let them read, the magic happens. 

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