The Book Whisperer
What was the last good book you read? This is often what I text my friend Nicole Hughes because she always has the best recommendations for heart-stopping, soul-stirring books.
Nicole and I were introduced in college. I remember this day vividly as it was one of my first college experiences.
"You have to meet these fun twins that live on my floor" a friend told me. Within minutes of this conversation two short, boisterous girls came clamoring out of a room. I instantly loved their passionate fast talk and knew I'd found friends. Nicole was one of those twins (you'll hear about her sister later this week).
Nicole's passion for reading didn't come out of thin air, she has been a lifelong lover of all things written and knew she always wanted to be an educator.
Emily (E): What lead you to education?
Nicole (N): I never considered anything else. I love learning and always enjoyed school. Some of my earliest memories are of lining up my Cabbage Patch Dolls and putting scraps of paper and broken crayons in front of them.
While teaching was a passion, after Nicole started a family and her husband finished his anesthesia fellowship that dream came to an end.
E: Why did you leave teaching?
N: I fell prey to society’s pressure to “enjoy every moment” of parenting. I didn’t want to be Stay at home mom (SAHM); it was never in my life’s goals. But, I listened to the magazines, the moms on the playgrounds, and the general culture of parenting in 2018, which makes you feel overloaded with guilt if you CHOOSE to work over being a SAHM.
E: Did you enjoy it?
N: I gave being a SAHM EVERY SINGLE PART OF ME. All of me. I tried so damn hard for 4 years, but part of me felt dead during this time. When my third baby was 1, my middle one was 3, and my oldest was 7, I had an epiphany that it would be another FOUR years until my youngest was in Kindergarten. I moped around for at least a year, depressed and resentful that my husband’s work schedule and no family around make it virtually impossible to get a teaching job. (He leaves for work at 5am / my kids’ school opens at 8/ teachers have to arrive at 7:30). I truly felt like there was no answer and I was trapped.
E: What changed?
N: One day, I picked up Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I didn’t expect great things, to be honest- I’m not a fan of self-help books. But, I liked the cover, I love to read, and it was on the library used book sale for $1. I started crying on the first page and basically didn’t stop. This part, in particular, stood out to me:
While reading this book, I decided that I WOULD go back to work. I was determined to figure out a way.
E: What were your first steps to dip your toe back in?
N: Once I read Big Magic, I realized there was no turning back and I had to find a way to teach again or I would never feel fully alive. I started volunteering in the classes at my oldest daughter’s school. The first day, I was in a 5th grade class helping with writing. My love for teaching had been sitting in a corner of my soul, forgotten and dying. Within 5 minutes in that classroom, I felt a level of fulfillment and purpose that I hadn’t felt in years. I remember walking out of that classroom that day, practically skipping to my car. I couldn’t wipe the grin off of my face. I was so happy and knew with certainty that I was going to figure out a way to get a job that could work around my logistical issues.
And that she did. Nicole has always been a creative doer and she took these skills and created the position of literacy coach for herself within her daughter's school.
E: How did you come up with the idea of literacy coach?
N: I taught in public school for several years, and two of mine had Literacy Coaches. Since their school didn’t have one, I decided that was my purpose. I love literacy and was ecstatic about the idea of helping in multiple classrooms and with different age groups. I emailed the Principal and set up a meeting. I created a presentation for exactly what I would do as Literacy Coach and provided research for why the school would benefit. I brought sample lessons and letters of recommendation. I wasn’t just trying to get hired for a job… I was also trying to convince the school to CREATE the job AND hire me. Needless to say, it worked! I think I even said “hire me on a 30 day trial run, and let’s see how it goes.”
E: What does a literacy coach do? Take us through a typical day or week in your life.
N: I work with different age groups. Sometimes, I do a single lesson, like reading a story and doing an activity with a preschool class. With some grades, I do longer units- like a narrative writing unit or a novel unit. In one day, I could go from a preschool classroom (reading books) to a 3rd grade classroom (writing haikus) to a middle school classroom (thesis sentences)
Nicole also publishes a newsletter that you can find clicking on the picture below. It's open to anyone and everyone.
E: Every parent wants to know, how do you get your kids to read?
N: Audio books! The research proves that listening to books on audio (especially while following along in a book) is very beneficial to reading skills. Plus, it’s enjoyable! The narrators on kids’ audio books are amazing!! I wish every parent would try and audio at least once! They will be hooked!
I also try to get my kids to start a series.
For my three year old LMNO Peas (The Peas Series)
For my five year old What If You Had Animal Teeth?
For my nine year old Encyclopedia Brown Box Set (4 Books)
And schedule time to read books out loud. All kids of all ages can benefit from hearing books read aloud. Check out the Read Aloud Revival podcast!
E: What advice do you have for stay at home moms that maybe don’t want to stay at home but don’t know how to get started on the path of creating a role like you did?
N: I felt TRAPPED. It was a horrible feeling of unfulfillment made worse by society’s pressure to “enjoy every second.” Once I finally shook off that guilt and pressure, I realized how much the guilt was weighing me down. I was a bit of a martyr for a long time, too- assuming there was NO solution to my desire to get a job. I wanted to be a teacher and not a sub. It’s hard to find a full time teaching job where I could still get my kids to school. I just assumed there was no answer and moped around, building more resentment toward my husband and everyone I knew with a job.
Like I said, after reading Big Magic(and having an exceptionally miserable day with my 1 and 3 year olds), I finally just decided: I AM GETTING A JOB. I just sort of put it out to the universe. I started telling everyone I know- friends, family, (and strangers) that “I love teaching and miss it every day. I need a teaching job that will work around my husband’s schedule.” Once I opened that idea and allowed myself to admit and OWN the fact that I wanted a job, I became desperate to get one. So, my mind opened up to more possibilities, which is what ultimately led me to this job.
Nicole has helped me with reading activities for my own children but she's also someone that sees when things need doing and simply does them. She contacted me about six months ago and asked if she could create a website for me. The site you are on right now, reading these words, was originally designed by her.
Words cannot express what this friendship has meant to me. This small but mighty woman has breathed life into my visions while creating her own. While she is the book whisper to children she is my dream breather. Thank you dear friend.