Byron's Babbles

Reading Big Red

Posted in Coaching, Education, Education Reform, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 4, 2014


I know I write a lot of posts about reading, but this post will be the most meaningful to me personally because I am describing how my love for reading began. Really, I am ashamed that I did not write this post before today because had this story not happened I probably would not be where I am today. I believe that because had I not become a reader, I would not have enjoyed the successes I have in my life. Today I was at a conference and one of the speakers mentioned the book that his teacher made him read over and over that helped him learn to read. This inspired me to reflect on my reading history.

Actually, I never had trouble reading. I just hated to read! I did not find anything that teachers were MAKING me read interesting. It was all boring stuff that I did not understand. Now, if you have followed me at all you know I am all about relevancy and how students have to understand the “why” for effective learning to take place. Students perform better when the learning is relevant to them. I’m passionate about this because I’ve got the research to back it up. We also need to change the context from the students thinking of what they HAVE to read, to what they GET to read. That’s a big mindset change.

My personal story of the journey to my love of reading also reinforces this philosophy. As I stated, I hated reading all the way through my sixth grade year. Then one day the librarian at Markleville Middle School in Markleville, Indiana changed my life. It was not rocket science for Mrs. Wilking! Think about it, most of the solutions in education aren’t. It’s about having educators who care and have formed the relationships necessary to understand the needs of their students and then acting on them.

Mrs. Wilking came to me one day and said, “You know Byron, I think the reason you don’t like reading is that you have never read anything that you enjoy.” Well, duh, I knew that! I just didn’t like reading all the things elementary students are supposed to read. Anyway, Mrs. Wilking made a suggestion that changed my life. She explained that she knew I lived on a farm, had a dog, loved animals, loved to hunt and fish, and wanted to be outdoors every moment of every day. As I think about it, nothing has really changed in my life!

Mrs. Wilking went on to explain that she had a book she wanted me to read. “Please read it,” she said. The book was Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard. The book is about a boy and his dog. From the moment Danny sees the beautiful Irish setter, he knows Red is the dog for him. Fast and smart, strong and noble, Red is the only dog Danny wants by his side. Soon, neither boy nor dog can stand to be apart. Together Danny and Red face many dangers in the harsh Wintapi wilderness that they call home. But the greatest test of their courage and friendship will come from an enemy more cunning than any they’ve known before–a bear who is the undisputed king of the wilderness, a savage killer called Old Majesty. I got goosebumps just writing this description! How could a boy like me not love this book!

Well, needless to say, I was hooked! Mrs. Wilking had made reading relevant to me. That same year I read almost all of Jim Kjelgaard’s books, including Irish Red, Outlaw Red, Stormy, and Snow Dog. I loved these books and have been a rabid reader ever since. In fact I just finished book 42 of my goal of 60 for the year. Let me tell you, the book still has to be relevant and interesting to me for me to read it. And, as you know I believe reading is a very important part of my personal professional development.

A wide variety of meaningful texts must be available to teachers and students and form the core of the curriculum. The texts must be used in ways that make them relevant to the students’ lives. Texts may be used in their entirety or partially. Additionally, there is a significant academic achievement gap between African-American, Latino and Caucasian students. One way to reduce this gap is to help struggling readers who attend public schools improve their reading skills. But, to do this, struggling African-American & Latino readers need to be exposed to books that relate to their lives, capture their interest, and shape positive life outcomes, as well as address academic progress.

All students need to be read to, need to read consistently throughout their school years, and read meaningful books and texts that relate to their lives and culture, capture their interest, and shape positive life outcomes, as well as address academic achievement. Only then will the academic achievement gap start to get smaller. If it had not been for Mrs. Wilking understanding this back in the early 1970’s I might have become one of those non-readers. Thanks Mrs. Wilking for recognizing the need for relevance in reading.

I have to close by telling you that I had the chance to thank and talk to Mrs. Wilking about her influence in my life many times before she passed away. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to do that. I think about her often and the example she modeled for me as an educator!

PS: The copy of Big Red that I read was checked out of the library. I now am inspired to find an original copy of the book. If you know where I can get one, let me know. The original book published in 1945.

2 Responses

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  1. […] I have been afforded. You can learn of the birth of my love of reading by checking out “Reading Big Red.” Click here to read the post. Significant leaders are those who enjoy sharing their wisdom […]


  2. I Get To Read! | Byron's Babbles said, on October 2, 2016 at 10:43 am

    […] If you want to hear my story of how I got turned on to being the rabid reader I am today click here to read “Reading Big Red.” Short of the long story – I hated reading until I got […]


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