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How our books shape us

How our books shape us

Students reflect on their favorite childhood novels during Read Across America Week

March 8, 2019

Every year in the first week of March, young children across the country gather in their classrooms or school libraries to celebrate Read Across America: an annual National Education Association program centered around author Dr. Seuss’ birthday.

For me, Read Across America Week was a comforting yearly event. I would read all day, listen to the principal read Dr. Seuss’ classic “Oh the Places You’ll Go” and wander aimlessly with my friends through the Bannockburn Elementary School book fair—picking out new books along with trinkets like scented pencils and bendy rulers.

For many Whitman students, Read Across America Week was an annual celebration for the love of reading that defined their childhoods. Whether their favorite books inspired them to pursue a passion, opened their eyes to new perspectives, served as a sanctuary from everyday life or introduced them to new communities, reading was a driving factor in the lives of the four Whitman kids below—and the lessons they learned continue to impact them today. Thinking back to their favorite childhood novels, here’s what they had to say.

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Teagan Sullivan, 9th grade

Favorite book: "Chomp" by Carl Hiaasen

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Teagan Sullivan, 9th grade

“‘Chomp’ is about this kid who had his thumb bit off by an alligator, and his father owns this giant zoo in their backyard where they rent out animals to different producers. It’s about animal cruelty, and all the books in the series have this theme of kids doing something that helps the environment. I’m a lot more concerned about the environment now than I was before I read that series. I want to do things to change the world and make it a better place, so this series really impacted me because I want to make a difference in the same way those kids made a difference in the book. Books just introduce so many new ideas and different perspectives that kids can grow from.”

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Kushan Weerakoon, 10th grade

Favorite series: “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” by Rick Riordan

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Kushan Weerakoon, 10th grade

“My relationship with reading was kind of off and on; for a year I was interested in reading and then another year I wasn’t. But the Percy Jackson series definitely made me more interested in reading because they were relatively long, which gave me the patience to read a full book and be able to wait to hear the whole story play out. When you’re younger and you start reading, you’re immediately able to start progressing at a faster pace—reading made me more educated about things around the world that I probably wouldn’t have had known otherwise. Now I’m honestly more of a math person, but I think reading is good for either type of person. I don’t think kids do math for fun that much, but reading is pretty interesting.”

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Becky Barsky, 11th grade

Favorite book: Geraldine Belinda by Marguerite Henry

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Becky Barsky, 11th grade

“When I was really young, I liked reading picture books. I read this book with my grandma every time I went to her house, and I just remember it having a really good message about how friends are more important than items. I don’t even think I could read at that point, so my grandma would read it to me. Even though I couldn’t understand the writing, I could still understand what was going on through the pictures. Every time I would go over there, it would be something we had in common—it was kind of a special occasion. I do still read now. I stopped reading for a bit because, you know, those middle school years you kind of fall out of it. But now I really enjoy it because it takes you to a different world.”

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Perry Ann Brody, 12th grade

Favorite series: “Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling

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Perry Ann Brody, 12th grade

“I think I read every series you can think of. But the first series I can think of is when my mom read Harry Potter to me, when I was too young to read big books like that, and then I read it myself. It’s just a classic. I’m a very stressed person, so reading fantasy books takes me out of my own head and gives me a new world to think about. I also think Harry Potter is just a huge community; everyone who loves Harry Potter is automatically friends. It’s a lot different now because of school—I don’t like the books they give us in school because I’m not into non-fiction at all—but I still read a lot of similar books. It just helps me at night to fall asleep or gives me a little break.”

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Me

Favorite book: “Matilda” by Roald Dahl

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Me

My childhood was dominated by reading. I loved enveloping myself in worlds of fantasy—Harry Potter and Percy Jackson were also two of my all-time favorite series—but my absolute favorite book was “Matilda,” by Roald Dahl. Can you blame me? The story centers around a young girl who is so intelligent that she can move objects with her brainpower. I even tried to tap into my psychokinetic abilities for months after the first time I read it.

But it wasn’t just the magic. My eight-year-old self could relate to and empathize with Matilda. It was incredibly inspiring to find a character whose most winning characteristics were her intelligence, kindness and strength. She taught me the validity of not only female intelligence (hats off to you Matilda, my original feminist icon) but of the intelligence of kids.

Books have an undeniable transformative power, and books meant for children are even more impactful. The age at which these lessons and tools are introduced makes them a lot more hard-hitting, even if they aren’t all “academically challenging.” I may have been scorned by my first-grade teacher for only reading “Junie B. Jones” books the entire year, but even those books had an impact: they made me laugh and smile, and that’s just as important.

I don’t know who I’d be today if I hadn’t been shaped by the books I read when I was a kid, and by hearing from these students, I think that sentiment is pretty universal. Happy Read Across America Week! Now close this tab and go read a book.

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About the Writer
Photo of Alex Robinson
Alex Robinson, Feature Writer
Grade

11

What are some of your interests?

I play field hockey and guitar, and I love the outdoors.

Why did you join the Black and White?

I love writing, and the reporting process is really fun. I also love the community of being on the paper.

What's your favorite vegetable?

Red bell pepper
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