Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Teaches Reading

Praise passion and ingenuity where you find it!

I want to thank Buffy the Vampire Slayer for teaching my daughter to be an enthusiastic reader.  Sounds crazy I know, maybe it’s the age we live in.  If Mavis Beacon can teach us to type, then why can’t Buffy teach us to read?  From what I can see, there is absolutely no reason why she can’t.  My daughter is living proof that an inspiration to read can come from the unlikeliest of sources and not necessarily through conventional educational channels.

How did this come about you may ask?  How did Buffy the Vampire Slayer teach reading?  Well, as heroines go, Buffy has mad skills.  Her finely honed senses are wicked sensitive.  Being "the chosen one" with years of training and practice enable her to take down the largest and fastest of demons, vampires and otherwise incorporeal beings. “She has saved the world, a lot.”  Buffy also had a kickin’ wardrobe and nothing  screams get the bad guys like haute couture.
If you are unfamiliar with the character, you can find the episodes online, in bookstores or movie rental establishments.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her Scooby gang were the creation of Joss Whedon.  An incredibly talented writer, he created characters with simplistic complexities who were just trying to live a normal life.  Of course they lived in a sunny California community which happened to be built on a hell mouth that was constantly opening and closing and in so doing, bringing all manner of creatures between and across  dimensions.  The world he created was ridiculous fun and survived seven seasons.

So how does this dimension traveling superheroine play a role in reading?  Here’s what happened.  My youngest daughter, Hillary, is gifted in so many ways, most specifically her voice.  The girl can sing.  Since elementary school her plan has been to take the stage.  She was a good student, always made the grade except when it came to reading.  She just didn’t take to it the way we thought she would.  Of course she has two older siblings who are voracious readers, so it was naturally assumed that she would be an avid reader as well.

Fate had other plans.  Hillary was an okay reader, but she was uninterested.  Now in middle school she had two choices when it came to reading assignments.  Read book “a” or read book “b”.  The assigned reading list was “boring”.  She had no interest or desire to read anything on it.  Quite the dilemma, given the huge push to be proficient in reading on the standardized tests (another topic for another time).

Now I, being the diligent mother and also coordinator for the RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) program at her school, well I used multiple tactics to move her reading assignments along.  Doing all that I could to spark the interest.  However, she needed more than a spark.  She needed something akin to an inferno, something more along the lines of a volcanic intervention.  

Thinking somehow that I could be her literary inspiration, I obtained the assigned book list and suggested reading books along with her.  I suggested we  talk about the story, characters, etc.  Create a kind of oral book report.  Nope, she would have none of that.

I suggested that we read, aloud together .  Nope.   I suggested switching off reading while we did other things around the house or she could read to me while I was driving her to and from dance class or volleyball practice.  Nope.  Nope and again, Nope!  She just wasn’t going to read the assigned material.  I will share that I read some great middle school chapter books.  So my effort was not a total loss.

Somehow Hillary passed reading class that year although I was never sure how.  She was a classic case of being able to do the work but completely uninterested by the subject matter she found boring and without the choice, of well, choice.  Then something magical happened.

Each summer we took a road trip to Wisconsin to visit family.  On one such summer vacation, while staying at my sister’s house, Hillary was introduced to Buffy.  The series was still on cable.  After discussing the subject matter and previewing some episodes with my sister (great bonding time), I deemed it safe for Hillary to watch a few episodes.  She watched them with great interest, as many episodes as were available.  She loved them.  She was hooked!!

Buffy was still in production, so all that was available were a few seasons on DVD.  But that wasn’t enough, not by a longshot.  Hillary wanted more.  She looked at my sister and asked if there was any way that she could follow the Buffy story and characters.  My sister told her that she could read the scripts, online.  What an unconventional reading plan.  What of a wonderful summer of enthusiastic reading with remarkable comprehension.

From that point forward Hillary became a reader.  When she finished with Buffy scripts, she moved on to actual books.  It was as if this magical world had opened to her.  She was able to experience the joy and nimble dance that comes from immersing yourself, tripping in a book.  It was a very exciting time. 

To this day, when we reminisce on her Buffy  inspired passion for reading, she tells me this; “Whenever I read, I think about Buffy .  I loved the story so much that I just had to have more.  I’m so glad for that summer.”  As a parent, it doesn’t get much better than that. 

From paper to PDF, technology is ever changing the way we read, the way we learn, and the very way that we communicate.  I’ve been waiting for this time in history since I watched the Jetson’s as a kid.  This digital age in which we live has presented us with groundbreaking approaches to just about everything we do. 

It really is impossible to speculate how our lives would be today if we hadn’t discovered Buffy that summer.  We’ll never know.  We did learn something very important – the key to reading is desire and passion.  You may find the desire in classic works, graphic novels, comic books, picture books, magazines or tabloids.  You may become passionate about following a character or series of events.  But where ever you find the passion and desire to read, follow it!
More importantly, if you have children in your life, share your enthusiasm for reading.  Teach them how to read and support their efforts!  Praise their passion, encourage their ingenuity.

And if anyone knows where I can meet Joss Whedon, let me know I would like to shake the mans hand and say  "thanks"!

Until next time, keep tripping on books.

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