There isn’t too much to love about returning to a chilly, rain-soaked New England from a sunny trip to the Bahamas. One of those sparse, loveable things, however, is the fact that I can share how one of the stops on my trip reminded me of the lifelong joy and goodness that a skilled reading teacher can gift to her students.
When I was young, my family lived on a sailboat for many years. My mum, dad, sister, and I floated around from port to port following our wandering whims. My mum homeschooled both my sister and I from preschool straight up until we returned to the States which, for me, was around 5th grade. This meant that my mum taught me to read.
I don’t remember many of the details of my reading education; the only things left are pieces of memories and a giddy love for the feel of a new book in my hands. One of those hazy, rose-tinted memory pieces lives forever in the sunny island library in Georgetown in the Great Exuma islands of the Bahamas, where I had the unexpected chance to visit on this trip. My sister, dad, and I were strolling down the Georgetown streets in search of something other than books when my dad casually pointed to his left and said “Danah, do you remember that?” I looked up.
And there I was, on the steps leading up to the little blue and white library with the big tree out front.
I wandered slowly in through the open door, stepping over the cats and feeling like an eight-year-old holding her mum’s hand. The creaky floors, the humidity-curled pages of the much-loved volumes, and the surprisingly smaller librarian’s desk were all right where I had left them. The memories crystallized into perfect clarity.
My mum and I would come here together several times each week, taking 3 books at a time. It was our big adventure; sometimes we would get ice cream on the way. Always we would spend the afternoon hunting through the shelves for hidden treasures, exclaiming in delight as we discovered beautiful covers, funny titles, and anything that related to horses. Each outing would end with a small armful of carefully selected books. I could never take out more than 3 at a time, meaning that sometimes I had to leave a truly tempting choice #4 hidden in the shelves until my next visit.
We would then read our books together over the next few days, chatting about what was happening, favorite illustrations, words we didn’t understand, and hopeful predictions. My mum would always read anything my eight-year-old self recommended to her so that we could have serious discussions about it. Sometimes we would read together, theatrical voices and all. We shared our reading and it became an exciting part of every week, laying the foundation for my lifelong love of literature and writing.
I recognize, probably incompletely, how incredibly blessed and privileged I am to have been raised in a literature-rich home under the watchful eye of my mother, the reading specialist. I understand that my situation is very unique and my intent is in no way to suggest that a background like mine is the only surefire recipe for a love of literature. My trip to the Georgetown library simply reminded me of the incredible importance of being a careful, intentional teacher who fosters joy and community in learning. Even if the specific teaching moments and strategies get lost in the dust over time, real love for learning can’t be misplaced. It’s the very thing we often suffocate in our fervent desire to educate. It’s the thing that is at stake and the thing to fix our eyes on as we wade through the complexities of curricula, texts, and grading. It’s the kind of thing one finds in a blue and white library on an island in the sun.