About Mister K

I've  been a reader since I was young.  Some of my best childhood memories involve my hometown library, to which my mom and I would ride our bikes so often the route is ingrained in my memory.  When I was a boy I loved to read about knights and castles, about Greek and Roman gods, and of course, mysteries.  Like many little dudes I enjoyed series books, and read the entire collections of the Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators, as well as the entire James Bond collection by Ian Fleming.

When I moved on to junior high (there were no middle schools in our neck of the woods), reading fell by the wayside.  It wasn't until my senior year of high school when Mr. Perry Cicchini, a mediocre AP English teacher who nonetheless had the gifts of enthusiasm and inspiration, turned me on to Dostoevsky, and suddenly I was a READER again!  I began to devour the Russian novelists, Hemingway, and anything else I could get my hands on, including several memorable summer readings of Bryce Courtenay's The Power of One.

On to college, and anyone who's been a halfway decent college student can tell you that it's nearly impossible to find much time for pleasure reading during those years.  Nonetheless, I took a number of literature courses and expanded my reading horizons exponentially.  I began to read widely, from the poetry of Gary Snyder and Native American novels of Leslie Marmon Silko to Toni Morrison, James Dickey, Jane Austen, and Edward Abbey.  I devoured books, and began keeping a log of my reading in 1996 (a practice I continue to this day).

1999 marked a significant turning point in my life, but also in the field of children's literature, a genre in which I had merely dabbled during my college years.  As I found myself in my first career position as a fourth grade teacher, I got my hands on two new books that profoundly impacted not only my life but that of millions of people: J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and Lemony Snicket's The Bad Beginning.  As I grew into my job and became the old-time teacher I am today (11 years and counting!), these authors kept adding to their series, and I was right in the heart of things.  In my new job I was immersed in children's literature, and loving it.  The quality and variety of books coming out was suddenly SO much greater than it was mere years earlier, and I read everything I could get my hands on, cramming my classroom library with every book I could afford, begging and borrowing when I had to to bring more titles into my own and my students' hands.  I also began using the public library heavily, and during the last decade I doubt a week has gone by that I haven't stepped into one library or another.

Eventually I realized that I was a bit unusual - a young man hanging out in libraries, where the clientele tend to consist of true old-timers and young moms with their children.  The only men one tends to see at a public library are using the free computers, or are using canes to make their way to the Louis L'Amour section (I'm a fan of Mr. L'Amour myself, mind you, but am just as enamored by Barbara Kingsolver and Zadie Smith, so don't go reading into it too much).  Not only did most people I know not use the library, they just didn't read much at all!  I am seldom without a book, and regularly have at least three or four different books going at the same time, but it seemed that many of my peers were nightstand readers - one book at a time, which gathered dust on their nightstand between readings.

Most troubling of all to me was the fact that many of my fellow teachers were horribly unfamiliar with the titles and authors on their shelves.  I have always fancied that elementary teachers are (or should be) experts in the field, as we are often children's first line of contact with good books, and have the potential to turn students in READERS, often with good modeling and some thoughtful book suggestions.  Of course it's not fair for me to project my own passions onto others, but what could I do to help other teachers get up to speed with all of the wonderful children's books I was coming into contact with?  I suppose this website is part of the answer to that question.

These days, although I'm still reading a ton (as I type this I am in the middle of a book of essays by Zadie Smith, a nonfiction book on worly mythology, two children's novels, a new book by Peter Hessler on the rise of recreational drivers in China, and Wolf Hall, a funny but long novel of Tudor England), I find myself immersed in a new genre with which I have been unfamiliar for more than three decades:  baby books.  With the birth ten months ago of my son (who I shall refer to here as Little Dude), I had to reacquaint myself with Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, and the world of board books.  I've always enjoyed re-reading a good book (Franz Kafka says this is the only way to be a true reader), I am tiring of our daily Cat in the Hat sessions, and find myself closing my eyes and reciting the words and turning the pages from memory, though Little Dude prefers I stay fully engaged, as he is.  It's a new adventure, and I welcome the journey my son, wife, and I will make as he learns to appreciate books for more than their taste and texture.