When I was a little girl, my parents and grandparents spelled things over our heads. 
For a long, frustrating time I wanted desperately to know what they were saying.  I knew they had a power to communicate that I didn’t have.  I also knew that they spelled when something was really important, when it was something on which they did not want our opinions.  Things like bedtime, dessert, a new toy.

My grandfather’s family was from the Volga valley in Russia; he grew up speaking German and eating interesting things like sauerkraut and hard sausage.  It was a ritual for him to prepare bleu cheese and brown bread and for me to be the only one who would eat it with him.

Another ritual my grandparents had was serving vanilla ice cream to my sisters and me.  One night we had just finished dinner.  My grandmother started to spell over our heads - as usual - to the other adults: “Should we have some I-C-E?”  I remember suddenly thinking “i… c… e….  The e is silent; it makes the i say its name; c is ‘k’ or ‘s’.  That spells i-c-e.  It’s after dinner.  We often have ice cream after dinner.  If I-C-E spells ice and ice is short for...”

“ICE CREAM!  ICE CREAM!” I shouted. “You’re talking about ice cream! I can read it.  I know what you’re saying! Yes! Yes! We (I had to speak for the younger ones who couldn’t read or spell yet) want ice cream!”

The adults grinned and clapped their hands.  “Oh my!  You figured it out!” There was hugging and laughing and congratulations.

Then they all pretended to be worried.  “Oh no!  What will we do now?  Now she’ll know everything we say!  She can read! ”

Everyone knew that something very important had changed in that moment.  Things would never be exactly the same as they had been before.  I had joined a club.  All of a sudden I had a junior membership in the club of Grownups.  There was a power the grownups had: the power of reading.  Now that power was mine.  I was on my way to something big.

In my line of work I have the privilege of reliving that moment over and over again as I accompany readers on their journey across the threshold.  It’s a joy to be able to offer to the struggling readers I see the certainty that they, too, can join the club.  

Learning to read is an important event in the life of a child.  In my forty years teaching children to read - from kindergartners to high schoolers - I've never met anyone who didn’t desperately want the power being able to read brings.  I've never met a single person who, given the right book - the book that matched the unique something of his soul to words, didn’t love to read. 

I try to keep my eyes on this prize on the days I get bogged down with assessment and data collection and all the other minutiae that turning struggling readers into successful readers requires. I try to remember it's about the joy.

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