When the “reluctant reader” is your kid…

RobbieReadsWhen I was about 12, my parents and I went on a 3 week road trip across the country to visit my older sister in Colorado. In addition to my suitcase, I had a “carry-on” sized bag which was FILLED with books. I slowly went through them all on the course of the trip, reading my way though Indiana, Nebraska, Kentucky, etc. As a teenager, I remember staying up until 2am finishing a book one New Year’s Eve. Years later, I still consider myself a book lover, even though I don’t read nearly as much as I would like to. (I’m a teacher, so it’s really hard for me to find time outside of summer vacation).

The point here, is that when I hear people say they “don’t read” or “don’t like to read,” my heart sinks. I hear that from my students a lot, and it is like a punch to my gut, but since I don’t teach English, I try not to take it too personally.

When it’s your own kid? It’s a whole different story.

Thankfully, I haven’t yet heard the “I don’t like to read” line from my boys (they are 8 and 11), but the truth is, they are not yet truly “readers” in the way I would like.  Up until recently, getting them to read was a real chore and there were many afternoons when I had to cheat a bit when filling out the dreaded “reading log” for school. It hurt.

Mind you, reading aloud before bedtime was different– from picture books to Harry Potter to our obsession now with Percy Jackson, they love hearing me read to them. They clearly have respect and interest in storytelling, so that helps.  But a passion for the feel and smell of books? An addiction to grabbing the next book in a series and devouring it in a sitting? Not so much.

Until now. Without wanting to jinx anything, I can share that I’m starting to see the beginnings of a real love of reading in my boys, and for that, I am truly grateful to the authors of several fantastic series:

  1.  Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney:  Ok, you don’t need me to sell you on this one. The “Wimpy Kid” series (11 books and counting) is a blockbuster that has spawned several movies and a whole new style of writing.  The illustrations and layout make it easy for reluctant readers to get pulled quickly into the story, and Kinney’s obvious grasp of what’s important to kids keeps them hooked. I took the first three books out of the library before a school vacation, saying “Hey, my writer friends all say this series is great so I’ve been wanting to read it, but you can read it when I’m done…” By the end of the week, my 11 year old  had read all three and we were looking for the fourth.
  2. Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger:  We’re huge Star Wars fans at our house, so this is another series I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. The fact it doesn’t really have a lot to do with Star Wars ultimately matters very little because this is just such an inventive series.  My son’s 5th grade teacher was excited to hear he had started reading them (he just finished the 2nd book) because he sees them as an excellent way to introduce and discuss perspective. I’ve only read the first one so far and was disappointed I didn’t get to finish the second before my son returned it to school, so it’s probably a series we’re going to have to acquire ourselves.
  3. Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon:  I have to admit I haven’t actually read these because my 8 year old has gone through them so quickly I haven’t had the chance to!  I picked the first one up from the library on a whim and I’m still not quite sure how I convinced my son to give it a try— perhaps he wanted attention since his older brother was being lavishly praised for reading the Wimpy Kid books. Whatever the reason, I’ve been thrilled with the results: this series has been the catalyst for me finally figuring out how to use my library card for interlibrary loans since our local library only had the first three and my son is now on book 9. Similar to the Wimpy Kid series, these are a combination of block text and graphic-novel style dialog (though much more illustration-heavy), so they read very quickly, but in the end they are fostering a love of books and the concept of following a storyline throughout a book series.
  4. Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey: When I was in Germany with students last week, I was anxious to find an “authentic” book with the same flavor as those above so that I could get my students reading in German. When I picked up “Böse Jungs” in a bookstore, I was so excited– here was a book with lots of pictures, a hip style and very simple narrative that my students would love! I was a bit disappointed to find it was originally written in English (and thus not “authentic” for teaching purposes), but in the end, it was a huge find because now my OWN kids can read it! My 8 year old balked at first, but I bribed him into reading the first chapter, and that’s all it took.

Were you or your child a reluctant reader? What made the difference? Please share in comments!

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