October 27, 2022 | By Tabitha Blackwell, Executive Director of Book Harvest Durham
“I can’t read,” my daughter, Safia, proclaimed yet again after reading the restaurant flier, “Tell Your Friends. Join Our Team.” I stared at her so confused as to why she insisted on denying that she could read even though she clearly could.
Safia Reading, 2020
This mystery had become a conundrum to me and my friends. Maybe she had some expectation of what a “reader” looked like and she didn’t see herself as one. Maybe a reader was someone who read big books and long words. Or what is that she truly didn’t think she could read, even though she was reading beyond the simple cvc words like cat or dog.
During a recent visit to the Book Harvest Family Space, Gabby, Book Harvest’s Community Engagement Coordinator, asked Safia to read the sign on the toy sanitization bin. (Toys from the Family Space are deposited in the bin to be sanitized and returned to the playing area). Safia struggled through the first word (tasted), but was able to recognize the second word (toys) easily. With that, I joked with Gabby that she was still proclaiming that she could absolutely not read at all.
A Book Harvest volunteer, Abby, was sorting donated books nearby, and I filled her in on the situation. I explained to Abby that despite our best efforts, we had not yet figured out why Safia was denying that she could read. Abby simply said, “I wonder if she thinks you won’t read to her if she knows how to read.” What began as a simple inquiry and curiosity unlocked something magically.
Tabitha and Safia, 2022
Later that night, while we were getting ready for bed, as we were picking out a book to read, I decided to test Abby’s theory. I asked, “Do you think if you know how to read that I won’t read to you anymore?” Safia looked at me with certainty and replied “yes.” I reassured her that I would continue to read to her no matter if she could read or not.
A couple of days later, the true impact of this discovery was felt. During a trip to Target, we had picked up the first volume of Elephant and Piggie, one of her favorite series. She decided to open the book in the backseat and begin reading the book to me, which she had never done before. In the 4.3 miles it took to get from Target to my home, she read one and half Elephant and Piggie books. She only had trouble reading one word, try, which she spelled aloud for me to help her with. I drove as she read about Piggie knowing she could fly despite Gerald insisting she could never. I teared up as Safia read in excitement as Piggie began to fly (with the help of a seagull). And at the end of her first book, she sat with a massive grin, proud of Piggie for “flying” and herself for reading aloud. Now onto the next book.
Tabitha, Safia, and Book Harvest Board Members, 2017
The simple sentence that began with “I wonder…” helped me unlock something in my child. It gave her the permission she needed to read without fear of losing the sacred time we had created by reading together. The singular moment in the Family Space also reminded me of the importance of community. Parenting at times can be lonely and it certainly doesn’t come with a manual. So much of the learning that happens for parents is done in community. I have been lucky over the last five years as a parent to be connected to this amazing community of Book Harvest volunteers and staff.
This community has brought the part of our tagline “Support for every parent” alive for me. Even though I know a lot about literacy and I definitely know my kid, I am growing daily as a parent. And I will continue to be inspired and be grateful for the community that Book Harvest has built and continues to build for parents to learn from one another.
Safia and Tabitha 2022