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Cleared for Take-Off


I find myself drawn to readers in public places as if we share a common bond. We wild readers, freed from school reading demands, gloriously indulge our reading habits, proudly carrying books wherever we go and brazenly reading in front of other people.

Needing pictures of children reading for my upcoming book and discovering that I took few pictures of my students actually reading in my classroom this year (hey, I was teaching, not snapping photos); I sent an e-mail to my former students asking for pictures of them reading in the wild. I received several charming photos of adolescent heads bent over books in all sorts of random summer spots—under trees, in lounge chairs by the pool, even one posed in front of the gates of the White House.

Summer for me is one long quest for reading spots, but if I were to pick one wild location which epitomizes my reading this summer, it would be in an airport. Attending several conferences out of state and jetting off to Disney World with the family, I have spent countless hours in airports this summer. I always cart along a book or three for the interminable waits at airplane gates and while flying. I am not alone in this regard; I spy scores of readers in airport lounges and on planes.

Reflecting on why reading is such a ubiquitous activity in airports, I realize that airport reading offers many conditions which reading teachers strive to develop in our classrooms. Perhaps my anthropological observations can impart a lesson or two:

Books do not have restrictions. Low-tech, solid, and without sharp edges (other than editorial), books are the perfect carry-on. Take two—no extra charge, weight limit or plastic bag required. No one cares what you are reading, either.

Time is abundant. Traveling burns up hours of time with little else to occupy you but reading or sleeping. I often read one novel during the outbound trip and one during the return. Luxuriously reading an entire book in one sitting is a rare indulgence.

A wide range of reading material is available. Every terminal contains a bookstore or magazine stand. If you are desperate, check the pocket in the back of your airplane seat. I often find abandoned treasures, although, the copy of The Red Badge of Courage I rescued on my last trip screams summer reading list, not a vacation book!

Books build connections between readers. With little else to draw us into conversation, our shared love for Twilight connects me instantly to the 14-year old boy waiting for the same plane. On another trip, my curiosity sparks an exchange with the man reading Freakonomics two seats over who heartily recommends the book to me.

Reading is a journey of its own. Wedged into a hard plastic seat, desperate to block out the noise of bustling commuters, I find the magical wildlife preserve in my copy of Fablehaven a more enchanting destination than my three hour layover in Atlanta.

If these ideals, promoted by many reading experts, can spring up organically in a bustling airport, why are they so hard to cultivate in a classroom? What blocks the runway and prevents our young readers from taking off?


The reason I love reading in airports and on planes is because it is "guilt-free" reading time! It's sad that I think of it that way, but think about all the stuff we're always supposed to be doing - housework, yardwork, paying bills, even attending to the kids (I love my kids, but you know what I mean) - when we could be reading. When I'm on a plane, I can't check email or clean my kitchen sink or anything else, so I can read without feeling guilty because I haven't been doing those other things for the past 4-5 hours. I honestly look forward to travel for this very reason. I've even found that when I travel on JetBlue, with their onboard TV, that I still read more than I watch TV.

I'm already deciding on what book(s) to take on my flight from east to west coast next month. And I am not shy to peer over to my seatmate and ask about what they're rading if they look like they're enjoying it.

When I know my students, and I mean realy KNOW them as people, I can find the right book for them and turn them on to a world they thought they hated.
My most reluctant 7th grader last year finally read TWILIGHT and was immediately hooked. He went on to read NEW MOON and ECLIPSE. On the last day of school, as he hesitated in my doorway, Alex said,"Don't forget August 2nd, Miss!" If you are a Stephanie Meyers fan, then you too know why this date is important.
I agree with the other posts about reading on airplanes! I can't wait to be seated and buckled in, so I can grab that brand new book out of my carry-on and open to the first page. ahhhh.. Heaven!

I recently discovered Twilight just in time for my camping vacation. I devoured it and New Moon and even got my college-age niece hooked. I purchased Eclipse as soon as I got home and am about to finish it in just time for the new release. (It's easy to overlook piles of laundry and dust bunnies when the books are this good.)

Vacation always seems to be a great time for reading. Two separate summers, a new Harry Potter book came out while we were on vacation. My daughter, who is a voracious reader all year long, had me in WalMart at midnight last year to snag the final in the series.

My 15-year-old son, who never seems to read anymore, even got re-hooked on Artemis Fowl during vacation this year.

My daughter is lucky that she can read in a moving vehicle; my son and I have to wait for more stationary moments.

Happy vacation reading.


I have an interesting collection of different people reading.


It's hard to cultivate "organic reading" in the classroom because the educational establishment doesn't value it, and consequently, school isn't structured to let it flourish. Here in Texas, it's TEKS, TAKS, SBOE, HB2337, RTI, etc. The tragedy is they don't realize that a flourishing "organic reading" program makes all those things non-issues.

I have not had the opportunity to fly anywhere recently, but I used to carry a book in my purse even when I went to town. If I had to wait in the car repair shop, the book came out. If I stood in the check-out lane for a long time, I opened the book. Waiting for a kid after some type of practice or away game, I brought out my book. I read a lot of material like that. Sadly, there are many kids who hate reading for more than just their personal lack of fluency or skills. One school I worked at made the kids choose books at or above their grade level to check out from the library. Since the selection was limited by grade level, the kids were resentful and even if they did read those books, they ran out of choices. I have also heard that kids will remember what they read better if they have a partner to bounce ideas and reactions off of. To me that says that they should be discussing what they read in class with teachers and friends for feedback. Until we make or are provided time to do that, I'm not sure how we can encourage more reading.

I traveled by train this summer to New York City. The train was filled with lots of readers. It was great to have that guilt free time to just enjoy the joy of reading. As a reading teacher it always warms my heart to see readers is action in real life. I also took time to read on the subway. Avid readers still exist in our busy world. Thanks for provoking thoughtful insights into the world of reading.

I, too, am a public reader. I read wherever I can - airports, airplanes, swimming pools, beaches, waiting for something to start, etc. My motto is that I never go anywhere without a book in my possession!

Also, may I have permission to use just this one blog entry - about public reading - in my literacy trainings with teachers in my district?

I am also guilty of reading at any available moment. I have a hard time spending money on books because I know in a few days I'll be finished. Unfortunately, there are way too many students today that absolutely hate reading. One thing that many teachers struggle with is motivating their students to read and develop an intrinsic value for reading.

I really like that you had your students send photos of themselves reading in different places over the summer. Maybe teachers could even have a contest to see who has read a book in the coolest place, or the place the most far away. This makes a fun activity out of something that at first seemed like homework. This could also teach students that reading is not just limited to the classroom. Maybe they will start to notice that other people are reading in places like airports and parks and maybe they should bring their book along instead of their video game. Reading is so important and maybe if the kids pick up a book and start reading in their spare time they will become better readers.

In the Fall, I would ask my ("at-risk", inner-city) students if anyone had read a book over the summer.
Our school developed a 15-minute mandatory time during the day, where everyone was supposed to read a book for fun. I loved it - I sat and read my novel and got paid for it. We didn't have a library, I brought all kinds of Ranger Rick magazines (I taught high school science but most of my students were not good readers) for the kids to read. However, school-wide, the idea didn't fly. Our administration was great for making these rules but then not following them. They kept sending their office aides in for something or other, during that 15 minutes, when they were supposed to be reading. Admin eventually shucked that idea. Too bad. But I always felt as a science teacher, that we could have been reading our science material in my class, instead of taking time away from science to read novels. Although I'm very big on novel-reading!!!

I agree with everything you write, thank you for your candid and frank conversational writing. Please help me improve my classroom library just a few shelves of thrown together books and the leveled readers we were given with our book ...help !!!! and help me start to help my students break out of the "fake-reading" and get them interested in books

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Recent Comments

  • COOKH: I agree with everything you write, thank you for your read more
  • Elizabeth Blake: In the Fall, I would ask my ("at-risk", inner-city) students read more
  • Julie: I am also guilty of reading at any available moment. read more
  • Jan: I, too, am a public reader. I read wherever I read more
  • Kay Williamson: I traveled by train this summer to New York City. read more



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