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Reader Stories

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Lance W. story (posted 07/27/22)

   So, I started reading novels by author Dianne Smithwick-Braiden somewhere around 2014. I’m an English teacher, and I taught with Dianne for thirteen years. I met her in 2002 when I was first hired to teach at NHAS in Amarillo, TX.

   Over the years, I discovered that Dianne was an avid reader. Yes, she taught science, but she was an avid reader. I can’t think of her favorite author, but she really, really loves reading mystery novels and trying to figure out who the murderer would is. It makes sense because she told me that she was fascinated with forensics.

   Anyways, like I said, I’m an English teacher, and at the time, I hated, hated fiction. My mom read every S. King book ever written until she passed, and every corner of her room was stacked with S. King books. I actually read Needful Things, and then, I was done. 

   I decided to just stick to non-fiction and the true stories. So, I’m bouncing along as an English teacher who doesn’t read fiction, feeling the pangs of guilt as I try to persuade my students to read “...anything, everything, fiction, non-fiction; it doesn’t matter. Just read!”

   So after Dianne published her first book Death on Paradise Creek, I sat at my desk in the corner of the room, which was in the southwest corner of the P.A.S.S. program at NHAS, during “sustained silent reading.”

   One of my students asked, “What are you reading, Mr. Weis?” I said, “This is a book written by Mrs Smithwick-Braiden.” She asked, “Who?” I said, “Your teacher, who is just next door!” “For real?” “For real!”

   What happened after that changed my life. This student started reading Dianne’s book with me. We would talk about different chapters and such, and this student really got into Dianne’s book. When we finished reading the book, she said that she had never read a whole novel before, and she said she really enjoyed having the book discussions with me.

   This is how my life changed. I have always believed that teaching writing is the best way to teach reading, so I always did a bunch of writing with students, and I let students just read whatever.

   When this student saw me reading Dianne’s book that day, she said, “That doesn’t seem like the kind of book you would read.” I said, “Actually, it isn’t, but Mrs. Smithwick-Braiden is also a good friend, and I like reading the stuff written by my friends as much as I read the stuff written by my students. She said, “I get that. Can I read it, too?” And then, BAM! Just like that, I was doing Guided Reading.

   I used Dianne’s books for Guided Reading. I had never done this type of teaching, but I started, and it is a good thing, too, because in 2016, T.E.A required me to do guided reading–that was the change; that was the thing that changed my life. If it weren’t for Dianne and her books, I may have never really understood what Guided Reading was, and I could have totally fumbled the TEA directives in 2016.

   When I left NHAS in 2021, we were being rated as an “A” school, and my students who had failed the STAAR, the Texas standardized test, over a hundred times combined actually passed it so that they could graduate from high school.

   Since her first book, I have been a fan of Dianne S.B. I have read all of her books. Death on Paradise Creek is my favorite because I really like the bank robber story that is set in the 1800’s at the beginning of the book. And I can’t remember if it is Death Under a Full Moon or Flames of Willbarger County, but one of these books has a creepy story about a tool shed that reminds me of my Dad’s tool shed back home. That story gives me a Sling Blade vibe–a vibe that’s jarring but one that peaks a strange curiosity, which gives me a bolt of adrenaline each time that I read it.

Danny H. story (posted 08/07/22)

   “I grew up with Dianne in the Vernon area, so was intrigued with her choice of settings she uses in her books. As I would read, I found myself trying to figure out the sites and landmarks that she uses in her book. 

   I’m not an avid reader, but the book is an easy read. I would sit down with the intent of reading a chapter, but would find myself reading two or three chapters without realizing it. I’ve finished her first book and enjoyed it. I plan to start the second book  soon.” 

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