I remember so vividly a day in the Chimbel library room where I was reading with a child whilst the whole room was busy and bustling with raised voices, quiet chatter, intoned hum of independent reading, a slim frame crowded the door. I looked up into the eyes of a distinctly curious boy who immediately looked away and made to move away. This was November, 2014.
I am a child watcher and responses emerge from me in that light. I immediately called out a welcome and I observed that the boy became more still but also more calm at the doorway. Now he leaned in to peer. The grace of children is always heartening, Abdul hailed the peeper and one foot was in the door.
For that day the young boy merged with the group at Chimbel, did nothing distinct to evoke any memory and I never imagined months later I would be reflecting back in this way.
Over the next few weeks and my own intermittent presence I got to know the young man, whose name is Misam. He is was then in Std. 4, could read very poorly in English, had low phonological skills and print awareness but had a high listening comprehension that was evident during the read-aloud.
Every time we paused to ask prediction questions, or paused to work on a new word within the story, if Misam was in the group his hand would shoot up and he would have the right answer. When he and I read together, I would see reflected back at me the same hesitant eyes that watched the library room and a slow halting energy as he stared at the page in the book almost urging me to read to him.
I did, being a child watcher, recognising that I must be aware and balance both Misam’s possibilities but also his field of limits at this time. He loved listening to stories, he made sense of them and he wanted to be read to. We have read together whenever we are together. I am sure he has been read to by the other Resource on the team, of knowing Misam he will sidle up to a story being read aloud and listen.
Many months have passed, between Misam and myself, our attendance is equally erratic to the library in general but our paths always meet. He watches for me, and I delight when he comes into the library. And so the story could end here, but for everyone who knows work of this kind there is always a surprise ending.
Mine was on Thursday the 24th of February, 2016, Misam was waiting for me in the lanes. He said he spotted me parking my car and would come to the library because I had come. I said , thank you but you must also come when others come and he said he does but there is no one like me. That is a truth I deal with everyday, not always positively, so I remained quiet and we walked up to the library, greeting others and gathering our readers.
The children divide themselves seamlessly and we have three groups, with one clustered around Melcom, one with me and a group of independents who use the space to explore books, talk, relationships with each other on their own for the first 15 minutes.
I had a whole ‘new’ set of books, which were levelled but contained stories the children had not been familiarised with at the library. As Nazia laid out the books for me, I watched more children migrate to other ‘easier’ groups and some peer at the line up to see if anything looked interesting.
As happens in a process of free choice and autonomy, children browsed and chose a book and settled down to read first to themselves and then read with me, if they wanted support. Misam was one of the first to pick a book and I fleetingly thought he will choose to bring it to me but I found I was reading with Anjum, then Nazia, then Mehek and Misam was still sitting a wee bit away, buried in his book. At one point our eyes met, there was no furtive, hedging – there was a glow of a different kind. My turn ? he asked. I said yes in a bit.
Misam and I moved closer together as the other readers finished their reading and moved to something else. The library room was full of noise and more anxious sounds as the general quiet-ish reading time was coming to a close and Misam opened his book , The Pied Piper of Hamlyn and read. He read independently and so well, with immense concentration, pride and joy that was mirrored in me. He read with complete understanding, auto correcting, going slow when a new word appeared but read fluently. More importantly, his entire stance was one of pride.
My surprise ending was yet to come, we spoke about the book. We always do and he said, ” I will ask you a question ” and I felt that familiar heart tugging feeling when you know a child is slowly surging forward taking from you what you previously offered and I waited. His question was framed like this, ” Did the Piper do the right thing or the wrong thing ?”. “Woah!” my mind felt zapped.. that would have been MY question, so I threw it back saying ” What do you think?” to which Misam replies, ” I asked you, you answer” and we looked at each other again, both of us with laughter and pride in our eyes knowing suddenly we were both equally good readers in a library room and sharing an experience that comes from reading.
If I thought this was my surprise ending, it was NOT. As I made my way back to my car with Misam holding every bag he could hold and dragging the last few minutes of independent time with me, he said” When the library people come to the library, it is like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. “
I drove home thinking of this when literary references can be found in our everyday life and they can be shared , readers are nurtured.