Normally, whenever I finish an exceptional book, I try to force it on as many people as I can. Daniel Pennac’s The Rights of the Reader is the one exception. It resonated so deeply that I a part of me believed it was written for me alone. In reality, I didn’t want to share because finding fault with the book would be finding fault with me.
I didn’t consider myself a reader until late in life. Brian Selznick’s 526 page masterpiece, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, began to shift my belief. It’s wildly inventive storytelling format mixed text passages with long sections of images. The American Library Association’s decision to award Hugo Cabret the Caldecott Medal legitimized alternative formats as “distinguished” among librarians and teachers. Most importnatly, it showed me the power alternative media can have on reluctant readers. The change that would occur as students delighted in the new found confidence that comes from finishing such a hefty story opened my eyes to the powerful transformation that happens when we believe that reading is, in fact, for us.
All of us, even the most disenfranchised reader, equates books with intelligence. The bedtime story programmed us all. What a shameful feeling it is to fight picking up a book. After reading Pennac’s 10 Rights of the Reader, I saw my early reading life through a completely different lens. I spent hours pouring over my dad’s old Peanuts collection holed away in my grandparents attic. I copied out Bob Dylan lyrics to avoid doing my homework through most of middle school. Mornings spent reading The Boston Globe’s sports section from cover to cover gave me something to talk with friends about in high school— I was a reader all along. I assumed the stuff in class was “real” reading. I never saw myself in the assignments. When Pennac snapped me out of autopilot, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I had seriously been cheated.
Perhaps the most important function of education is to shape our sense-of-self as a learner. This doesn’t happen through speeches or the occasional triumph. It takes place in the hundreds to thousands of interactions that are as easily forgotten as they are brief. The wisdom in Daniel Pennac’s words places a child’s self-perception first and foremost. From the common sense to the controversial, I’m finally able to release my hold on these ideas without concern for how others might judge them. I’ve just seen these “rights” restore confidence in too many kids to care whether or not they ruffle feathers.
1. The Right Not to Read
2. The Right to Skip
4. The Right to Read it Again
3. The Right Not to Finish a Book
5. The Right to Read Anything
6. The Right to Mistake a Book for Life
7. The Right to Dip In
8. The Right to Read Out Loud
9. The Right to Be Quiet
10. The Right to Read Anywhere
The rights are either direct quotes or slightly altered summaries of Daniel Pennac’s work. If these ideas resonate with you as well, please support the wonderful work Candlewick Press is doing on behalf of children’s literature and purchase a copy of The Rights of the Reader from your local independent bookstore.