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Thursday, October 29, 2020

What if learning to read was a quest?


How I became a Man of La Mancha?

When I was eight years old, I was at the library with my grandfather. The library was his church, his place of hope, peace, and wonder. He would read at his favorite table, with all the other old men. Old men from every corner of the world. They came in all colors, accents, faiths, and they love to debate, laugh, and read world news.
I would sit on the floor doing my homework. This was our routine, He read, every read, and everyone talked about what they read with each other. Those old men talked as if everything in the world depended on the words they were reading. I thought it the norm for old men to hang out at libraries and debate everything they read. Years later, I realized their common threads were they were immigrants, union members, and war veterans.
One day, the old man asks me. What are you reading in school? I said I don't know, but all the books are about Ted and Sally, and their dog spot.
He said let me see your book?
He said oh this is bad, who are these kids, they don't look like any kids I know, and who lives like this? He passed my reader to the other old men, they all agreed this was all wrong, the kids could not be real kids. No one lives like this.
I did not understand it, so I asked what do you mean Grandad?
He said look little Jess? These clothes are all wrong, too clean, too neat, and the games they one around here plays like that.
Then, he said come with me, he walked over to the roller deck files, wrong down a title. We found the book on the shelves. He pulled down one heck of a thick book, he looked at me and said this is what you should be reading. Don Quixote The Man of La Mancha....he hands it to me.
I counted the pages over 800 pages, I said this is too big, too many pages, too many words, and there are no color pictures in it Granddad. This is an old man's book, not a kid's book. I like Ted and Sally.
No one likes Ted and Sally. I don't want you to read it alone, there no fun in reading alone. We shall read it together. We call it our quest. I had no idea what the word QUEST meant, but to say no to that old man was not in me.
So, the quest began, and I found myself over the next two months becoming another Man of La Mancha. I also found myself laughing, talking, and telling every kid I knew about Don Quixote and his faithful squire Sancho. I loved Sancho and I loved reading with that old man. Truth be told I often would read no more than a paragraph, and often struggle through that, but then he would take over....and my mind would fly away to La Mancha. He vividly illustrated the adventures of those two men of La Mancha. He painted with his hands, arms, feet, facial expressions, and words. He was a master storyteller who weaved it all, bringing every adventure to life. Often asking me what I thought...asking me an 8-year-old boy what he thought. I lived in a world of children are seen, and not heard. He gave me a voice.
Two years before he died we went to see Peter O'Toole play Don Quixote....our mind flew away to La Mancha in that movie house.
Some teachers focus on letters, words, and sounds. I focus on giving voice to young readers. I studied with the best literacy researchers and educators, giants in the field. They enlighten me, but, that old man who never graduate high-school, left school in the 6th grade. He gave me a voice and giving readers a voice makes them life-long readers.
We found ourselves, impossible dreamers,
Dr. Jesse P. Turner
CCSU Literacy Center Director

If you like to listen to the tune I listen to on my morning walk through a gentle rain this morning? Its the Impossible Dream by Peter O'Toole

"To dream ... the impossible dream ...
To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To love ... pure and chaste from afar ...
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ..."
"This is my quest, to follow that star ...
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ...
To fight for the right, without question or pause ...
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ..."
"And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest,"

Grandad, your grandson is always and forever a Man of La Mancha 


  1. What a beautiful story - I too am a fan of the man of La Mancha and I’m actually in the middle of Don Quixote right now! Your granddad sounds like quite the man!

  2. What a beautiful story - I too am a fan of the man of La Mancha and I’m actually in the middle of Don Quixote right now! Your granddad sounds like quite the man!

  3. I read Don Quijote De La Mancha in grad school, at George Mason University, while getting my MA in Spanish. I read the entire book (2 volumes) the summer before the Seminar Course on Cervantes with my Profesor from Spain. I spent my entire summer reading it aloud to myself in Spanish, for hours on end. I savored every word and laughed out loud. The semester's seminar was one of my greatest learning experiences.

  4. I tutor students who struggle with reading. One of them learned through "Star Wars".