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May 5, 2023

Finding the spark: Jen Joyce | My Bookmark

Jen Joyce (she/her) is Reading Partners’ managing director of national programs. Her earliest memories of reading were taking trips to the library with her mom and grandma. Jen was diagnosed with severe dyslexia in kindergarten, which meant reading didn’t come easily to her. Her mom and grandma would read to her during those library trips, which kickstarted her journey as a lifelong reader. 

In first grade, she started attending a public magnet school for students with dyslexia. There, she proudly became a reader. “I have never forgotten the book “Sun Up” which was the first book I read independently,” she says.

the velveteen rabbit book cover, sparkOne of her favorite books as a child was her grandma’s version of The Velveteen Rabbit. “I loved the illustrations and the story,” she says. “Like many kids, I imagined my toys being alive when I wasn’t in my room, so the idea that my favorites would be real one day made me happy.”

Jen also loved the book Puppy Pie. It was her mom’s favorite childhood book, and Jen used to love hearing her and her grandma read it to her. The story is about a little girl named Jenny who’s making a pie for her dog’s birthday. “Jenny was a little girl who loved good things to eat… and most of all, Jenny loved apple pie… When her mom asks her why, Jenny said she likes it because it is ‘twingly’. Her mom asks what that means, and Jenny says ‘it means that it is nice, it means that it is sweet, it means that it is twingly!”

“To this day I don’t know when I fell in love with apple pie for dessert but I’m pretty sure it was because of Puppy Pie,” Jen says. 

puppy pie book cover, sparkSince her days reading The Velveteen Rabbit and Puppy Pie, Jen has come a long way in her reading journey. 

“Because reading was difficult and because I distinctly remember the pride I felt when I unlocked the power to read as a child, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” she says. “As I worked in schools as a teacher and witnessed first-hand the inequities and barriers to access, I’ve realized how lucky I was to be in a district where there was a public school to support my individual needs…” 

Jen soon became passionate about making sure that all students have access to high-quality literacy opportunities. 

“Over the years in my classroom and with Reading Partners, I’ve had the privilege of watching hundreds of students learn to read, make the connection, and unlock the gift of reading, through their determination and hard work,” she says. “That NEVER gets old and I burst with pride every time they look up realizing they read on their own, joy in their eyes and pride on their face.”

In thinking about the kinds of books she wishes were around when she was a kid, a few authors and titles come to mind: “I love books by Peter Reynolds for kids, they are fun illustrations that celebrate so many different children in the world and always have a powerful message for the reader! I have the distinct honor of selecting the books in Reading Partners’ curriculum and I love finding new books for students and tutors. Some of my current favorites are The Water Princess, Crown; An Ode to the Fresh Cut, Pink and Say, and When Aiden Became a Brother.”

Jen firmly believes that literacy is the key to unlocking a student’s full potential. “Whether it is to be an empowered and engaged member of their community, to achieve the goals they have for their own future, or to know the joy of escaping to a fictional world created by authors, reading is the foundation to get them there.” 

When students have the ability to read, the possibilities are endless. And all they need to get hooked on reading is a spark.

“There is a book waiting for each student to light the first spark, and they have to be able to read it. We have a responsibility to ensure they have access to high-quality instruction and the skills they need to find their book, find their spark, and go from there.”

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