DGS English teacher Thompson reflects on the role books have played in her life


Jacqueline Barba

Thompson shares the books she’s loved, the books she’s hated and the books that she remembers from her childhood in a reflective Q and A centered around literature.

Before English teachers were educators, they were simply readers. Indelibly, the role of an educator, especially one who specializes in teaching about literature, is tied to their own roots in the world of books– the ones they loved, the ones they hated and each one in between. DGS English teacher Kierstin Thompson looks back on the different books that have shaped her background as a reader; from her favorite childhood book to the one book she would recommend to every person she meets.

Q: What is the first book you remember reading / being read to you?
A: A book that I have really warm memories about as a small child being read to is “The Monster at the End of This Book,” which is a Sesame Street [book] with Grover, because my dad used to love to do all the Sesame Street voices. I used to love that book because he would talk to me as Grover and we actually still have recordings, 8Tracks on tapes, of my dad talking to me as Grover. That’s a book that I have really fond memories of.

Q: If you had to name a specific book that you hated, which book would that be? Why? What made you read it?
A: There are lots of books that I’ve hated. I absolutely hated “Catcher in the Rye.” I could not stand the narrator at all, [I remember being] just super frustrated. I remember reading it but just hating him all the way through — and I understand that’s the point — but I still don’t like it. The other book that I hated, it’s this really fantastic book all the way through to the end. It’s excellent all the way through to the very end, and then the ending is so incredibly lame and frustrating. I can remember physically throwing the book down whenever I finished it because I loved [“The Magus” by John Fowles] so much and was so angry about the ending.

Q:What was the first book you read that resonated with you? What made it special?
A: The first book I can remember being really compelled by as a young reader, as a young independent reader, was “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” My mom would take me to the library all the time and I just loved that book, I wanted to read everything by that author. That was the first time I was like “Oh my god I love reading, I just want to keep reading.” Something that really resonated with me, like a powerful reading experience as more of an adult, there have been so many it’s hard to pinpoint. I think what always draws me in is I want something that is typically character driven, typically asks me big philosophical questions, either about my life or about human existence or humanity, and then always has really beautiful language choices. [A] book that I’ve read recently that just stunned the socks off of me was Ocean Vuong’s book, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.” Probably one of the best novels ever written, period.

Q: What book are you currently reading? What made you pick it up?
A: ”Interior Chinatown” is the last book that I finished reading, and I read that because my sister bought it for me for Christmas. She loves to read, so she is always very careful about picking books that she thinks I would like.

Q: Sometimes there are books that feel like they come into our lives at the perfect moment. Has this ever happened for you, and if so, when and with what book?
A: I think there’s probably been a few experiences like that. I’m thinking of this book by A.S. Byatt, that was about literary researchers, and kind of how absurd their lives are. It’s meant to be funny. It’s called “Possession.” I think that book came to me at a time when I was taking myself too seriously in college. I really lost sight of what it meant to just be a college student and have fun and be silly. I think that book came to me at the right moment because it pointed out [that] there’s a level of silliness in taking yourself too seriously. That it’s good to care about what you do but also, let it go, go have a good time. Don’t be so serious about things that you end up regretting it or other people can’t stand you.

Q: If you had to recommend one book to every person you meet, what book would that be and why?
A: It’s a book by Alan Ahlberg and it’s called “The Jolly Postman.” It’s a picture book. The reason why I would recommend it is because it makes reading fun. Every single page is a different activity– it’s like a game, an envelope you get to open up, and they all have to do with different characters from fairy tales. My children all love that book and it’s just one of those books that is fun and silly and the illustrations are beautiful and [it] makes you think differently about the different fairy tale stories. I think that would be the book.