Lit happens

Lit happens

I saw the T-shirt on display behind the register of my local indie bookstore, as I succumbed, yet again, to rampant bibliophilia.

Lit happens. 

Had to have it.

Oh yes, there was one in my size, in blue. The store owner smiled as she added it to my total. “I can order it in red for you, too. I tell people the color stands for being well-read.”

Irresistible.

As I returned to the store to pick up the red Lit happens T-shirt, I thought about literary people being well-read. Bibliophiles. Bookworms. I thought about the shirt my aunt made for me decades ago, with iron-on letters spelling Bookworm: “Because you always have your nose in a book,” she’d grinned.

I turned the the idea of lit happens around in my mind, from being well-read to learning how to read: Literacy happens.

How?

How does literacy really happen?

Research immediately tried to crowd my head, for a big part of my bibliophilia is professional. My shelves at school and at home are lined, overflowing, in fact, with books on growing readers and writers – how to teach, assess, reinforce. Every bit of it is powerful.

But I pushed the research back for a little breathing room, to think about my own path to literacy. How did I become literate?

It’s anything but strategic or elaborate.

Sure, my grandmother read to me from the time I can remember – the same books, over and over, until I could anticipate and recite the words before she read them aloud. I didn’t ever think of my parents as readers – they were big TV watchers – but I do have a memory of my mother reading “Sleeping Beauty” aloud to me, deliberately changing the name to “Beeping Sleauty.”

“No no no!” I am laughing hard. “Her name is SLEEPING BEAUTY.”

“Oh, that’s right,” says my mother, turning the page. “Let’s see if the prince uses his sword to cut through the thorns to find Beeping Sleauty.”

The sound of the transposed name is hilarious; I dissolve with laughter. My mother begins giggling, which means we will be laughing for a while – her cackling is utterly infectious.

It was wordplay, not word work – not intentional, just being silly.

So much fun.

My parents had one bookshelf in the living room, containing a set of encyclopedias, (including, oddly, medical encyclopedias, maybe thrown in with the purchase of the standard set), old dictionaries, high school yearbooks, an avocado green Living Bible, and a set of children’s literature anthologies, Through Golden Windows, by Grolier. The book titles: Mostly Magic, Fun and Fantasy, Wonderful Things Happen, Adventures Here and There, Good Times Together, Children Everywhere, Stories of Early America, American Backgrounds, Wide, Wonderful World, Man and His World. 

These anthologies contained a multitude of classic stories and authors; I read some of them over and over while eating my breakfast cereal until the covers were grimy with use, particularly Mostly Magic. In these books I first encountered Medio Pollito, the little half-chick, Little One-Eye, Little Two-Eyes, and Little Three-Eyes, Tom Sawyer, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Daniel Boone, Robin Hood, and so much more.

An excerpt from the dedication page of Through Golden Windows:

What can books give to a child that is growing up in today’s curiously complicated world? Many things, we believe, although the evidence is not altogether conclusive. Facts and information, of course, about almost everything; understanding of himself and others; confidence and security; fun and laughter; friends and friendships; escape from reality at times – all these are the possible results if the right book is used with the right child in the right way.

But suppose the right book is not available? … Or suppose parents and teachers do not know the right book? Many, by their own admission, do not know children’s books well. Must the child’s values in reading be left to chance, while he struggles with everyday problems, or grows up without feeling the full rapture of a good book?

That was written in the “curiously complicated world” of 1958. Well before I was born. Thirty years before the World Wide Web. Before much of the educational research lining my shelves was begun.

What strikes me are the words “grows up without feeling the full rapture of a good book.”

That, I believe, is where the path to literacy lies, in getting that first taste of rapture from a book. The right book mentioned by the Grolier editor in 1958 isn’t a “just-right” book referenced in reading education today, one that is leveled, that a child can read without too much difficulty. The right book could actually be a magazine or blog or site. The right book always was, and always will be, one in which the reader immerses so that the word “reading” doesn’t even seem to fit the process of pursuit, the wanting more, the needing to know, the absorption of the ideas and images, the stepping out of self.

Note that I didn’t mention school in my early path to literacy – for the bulk of the literate life occurs outside of school. Many of my friends and teaching colleagues say that they didn’t enjoy reading until they were grown. That’s an awfully long wait for the full rapture.

When the words become more than words, when they become the window, the gateway, to all that lies beyond what one can immediately see, arousing a driving desire to get through and drink it all in – that’s the rapture.

Lit happening.

Through Golden Windows

13 thoughts on “Lit happens

  1. Love this post for a few reasons. Firstly, I have begun to buy and wear t-shirts that promote my message as an environmental educator. So far, I have three – Plant Milkweed and Save the Monarchs, May the Forest be with you, and my most recent is Smokey Bear stating, “only YOU can prevent forest fires.” Love the Lit Happens t-shirt! I can understand wanting one or two! Secondly, I think if you have love of books (bibliophilia as you put it) you want others to share that love. I am currently going through my bookselves to donate children’s books to a new second grade teacher’s room who wants to instill the love of reading in her future students. I cannot think of a better place for them to go!

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    • I love your environmental T-shirt promotions! I so remember good ol’ Smokey Bear. You’re right – the shirts are about sharing the love. That teacher is going to look at you as a gift every bit as much as she will view the books as a gift. Awesome to be able to do that. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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  2. It’s interesting to think about our own path to literacy. Love the “Lit Happens” t shirt and thinking about when I became enraptured as a reader. Your post connects to Michelle Haseltine’s post who wrote about her textual lineage. .

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  3. Great post!! You have captured how it feels when you are not just reading, but are immersed in the book so the story seems to be happening without any effort on your part. I’m also thinking now that maybe I need another literacy or book-related t-shirt! I have a “Good Night Moon” shirt and a Bookcrossing shirt, but maybe I need another? I may need to decide on a favorite book and order from litographs.com.

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    • Thank you! I hope I haven’t started something with the T-shirt shopping -!! I have Dr. Seuss shirts, a Great Gatsby book cover shirt, even a shirt for “The Raven” poem and a pile of shirts my friend and I made to wear on our Harry Potter club days. Quite a diverse selection. I thought recently about a Wonder shirt. I’d love to know what you end up getting! It’s such a fun way to advertise a love of reading and books.

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  4. First, I love, love, love the t-shirt. I certainly don’t need one either but I did scoot over to Amazon in the middle of reading your post and added it to my wish list! And second, I can’t help but rereading the quote the dedication page of Through Golden Windows. It just reminds me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m in awe that it was written in 1958. Wise, timeless words indeed!

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    • How this response makes me smile – you remind me of me with Amazon! I was also blown away by the words from 1958. The whole dedication almost sounds like it was written yesterday, although the rationale for anthologies was to “save space” in home libraries and have great literature available to kids and families. We have electronic devices for that now but, still, we are talking about getting kids to love reading and parents and teachers not knowing “right books,” sixty years later. Fascinating, isn’t it? Thank you for these thoughts! Oh – I hope you love your shirt!! I’m wearing mine today. 🙂

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  5. Loved this post. I agree with you that lit happens WAY before a child enters a school building. I distinctly remember my mother taking me to the library before I had started kindergarten. She checked out a children’s book about a fish for me. It was small and thin, about 5″ square. I remember sitting on the couch in the family room and pretending I could read it. I felt so grown up as I studied the pictures and tried to imagine what the words said. I’m sure my mother read it to me later, but that time alone in the air conditioning “reading” my very own book has stayed with me. Thanks for the reminder!

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    • So glad you enjoyed the post. I love the mental image of little you sitting on the couch with the book, so proudly “grown up.” What a priceless moment. Cheers to your mom for taking you to the library before you could read and sparking that interest. Thank you for reading and sharing your memory!

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  6. Wow! Thanks for recounting your early reading raptures. Your mention of a book that wasn’t “just right” or leveled reminded me that I think we often are too clinical about teaching reading rather than let children’s reading follow their passions. This post also brought back memories for me of my own childhood, because we owned the same set of books pictured above. (But for some reason I don’t ever remember opening them.) Lit happens! Thanks for bringing me a smile.

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    • I couldn’t agree more with the rigidity sometimes placed on levels that constrain children rather than building their interests and helping them explore. How fun that you all had the same set! I am almost sure they were a door-to-door sale promotion. I can’t imagine not having had those books. And I am happy to know the post made you smile. Thank you!

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  7. Fran, if the 1958 adult thought that 1958 was a curiously complicated world, I can imagine what that person would think now. The one constant is that Lit Happens during every decade. Teachers tap into it. I wonder how many people have an extensive array of books in their personal library. You do and I know that I do, too. Enjoy your new T-shirt. Thanks for highlighting a great quote.

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