My favorite children’s book, Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar, tells of a teacher turning kids into apples, students like Leslie trying to sell her toes for five cents each, and Sammy, who is really just a dead rat in a raincoat. These tales from a thirty story school were so absurd and hilarious that I could not help but fantasize how fun school could be as a child.
When I became a SEAL Reading Buddy in the Fall 2015 semester, my primary goal was to improve my buddy’s reading skills. I imagined that it would be a tedious process of explaining grammar rules and making vocabulary flash cards. However, I came to realize that children also need wacky, fun stories to kick start their curiosity, catalyze their thirst for learning, and dare them to imagine the impossible.
I brought my own copy of Sideways Stories From Wayside School to our first Reading Buddy session. While reading the first story, my buddy burst into laughter and fell out of his chair every time Mrs. Gorf turned a child into an apple. In that one hour session, we read 4 short stories, each one crazier than the next.
My buddy was timid at first, always insisting that I read to him so that he could listen to my storyteller voice. I’d ask him to read specific sections and we would go back and forth, laughing at the stories. With each day, his reading improved, as did his confidence.
One day, in the middle of the semester, I pulled out the book and was about to start reading when he put his hand on mine and said, “I got it. Let me read first this time.” From that day forward, he read entire stories by himself and insisted that he kick off each session. We finished the entire book by the end of our semester together.
Expanding literacy is a huge task and not something that can be accomplished through one hour Reading Buddy sessions each week. SEAL members are not trained literacy professionals. Instead, I believe that our job is to foster a love for reading in our kiddos, which encourages them to actively participate when they are working with the professionals. We could have spent five minutes each day making flash cards, but instead, we spent our spare time playing tag, making quick crafts, or drawing pictures inspired by the stories. We forged a bond that was based off of fun and reading fun stories, and I hope that he will continue to approach his education with the same inspired, enthusiastic attitude.
– Roger Lam, SEAL President