Deborah Jackson

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Reluctant Reader/The Defiant Child

For the Love of Reading
Irony is a part of life.

I am a writer (in case you weren’t aware.) I love reading (in case you think I could possibly contemplate writing books without reading them.)

I have two children, a boy and a girl (oh, yes, the perfect family.)

I have ONE reader in the family, besides myself.

This is how it works, or how it worked for me. My first child was born, a girl, and she loved books. It stands to reason that a mother who absolutely adores reading will pass on that passion to her child.

She never liked dolls, or Lego, or fuzzy stuffed animals. She loved books. She used to go to sleep surrounded by her favourites: Curious George and Dr. Seuss, Charlotte’s Web and The Berenstain Bears. (We’ll miss you Jan.)

As she grew older, the stacks migrated from the protective wall around her body (I don’t know how she ever woke up without creases and striations all over her skin) to the night table, but the stacks never diminished. She eventually took a literary arts specialty in high school, and although her true passion is now visual art, she will never grow out of her love for books.

Four years after my daughter was born we had another child, a boy.

Now don’t think that I agree with the gender bias that suggests non-readers are all male; this is just a fact in my life.

The boy didn’t like books. In fact the boy didn’t like hockey either, or skiing or anything his parents adored.

My husband is crazy about hockey; well, he’s a Canuck, so what else do you expect. So . . . my son was required to learn this exciting, demanding sport as soon as his feet could properly support him on a single blade, not two. At four we enrolled him in the Mite Hockey League. He stood on his skates, quite well. And that’s all he did. Stand in the middle of the ice like an obstinate rock while the ebb and flow of four-year-old hockey magic zipped around him. (They stumble-skated back and forth on the ice and managed to flip a few pucks beside the net.) He would not move.

Next we tried skiing. I’d developed a passion for this sport in my university years and thought, what kid wouldn’t love racing down the slopes with wind in his face and gravity doing all the work? The sense of freedom and exhilaration, the blistering speed. What kid wouldn’t? My daughter did.

Every Saturday we’d truss him up, beg, borrow and steal (well, not really steal) ski equipment and set him up with lessons for an hour with the option of a full day of free skiing after that. One hour  later, when the eager-to-escape ski instructor returned our son to us, the whining would begin and wouldn’t end until we stripped off the skis and fled the slopes.

I don’t think my son hated hockey or skiing. He was simply determined to loathe anything we loved. We had bred a defiant child.

When it came to reading, though, the refusal just wasn’t acceptable. My son had to learn how to read—literacy is essential to success in this very difficult world. Plus, I was a writer. How could I explain an illiterate child? I had to ignite in him a passion for reading, if I did nothing else.

Thus began the endless parade of books.

This isn`t endless, because we`ve donated most of books to the school library, but I`m sure you get my point.

My son will never love reading. I came to accept that after a number of years, although it was painful for me. His teachers would chuckle at me kindly, at my hopeless efforts with full understanding and sympathy. Eventually he did learn to read, although never to love it, and that’s a reason to rejoice in itself.

This is what worked for him:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Hugo Cabret—a book that tells a story through illustration rather than simply text.

Nonfiction titles of topics he’s passionate about: gardening, plants, the universe and planets, rocks and minerals.

Wimpy Kid—not my favourite, but a Best Book of the Decade according to a children`s survey. Basically comics and graphic novels. If your reluctant readers like humour, try to interest them in a Wimpy Kid style of book, if they enjoy adventure and movies, furnish them with graphic novels.

I failed to entice my reluctant reader into the world of books, but he does love movies. We don’t share many passions, but at least we both appreciate stories (in whatever format), and we’re avid gardeners and amateur geologists too. I’m not a failure and neither is he; we’re just somewhat different and that’s okay. Not everyone can be a reader.

If you`ve had similar struggles, I invite you to share them. If something drew your reluctant reader to books, let me know. If you're a former reluctant reader and now adore books, what ignited your passion? I’d like to assemble a list of helpful advice and potential books, if not to create an avid reader then at least to awaken a spark and keep kids literate.


Kat said...

Would an ereader help someone develop a love for reading? Perhaps the combination of stories and technology can capture their attention.
I'm sure all parents follow a similar pattern to instill the love of reading: read to your child, let them see you reading, surround them with books, let them choose their reading material. It's all pretty standard.
I think it's still a huge positive that you both enjoy stories together, especially since you are a storyteller.

Deborah Jackson said...

Thanks, Kat. I think the move to apps for books and ebooks is a positive step for reluctant readers. They tend to prefer visual stimulation, and it will still engage them in stories.

Yes, all the standard steps are great, and sometimes they work. They weren't enough for my son. Simply saying the word "reading" turned him off. It took until this year for him to actually choose a few books without my prodding, and they were books like "The Elements" which is an interactive ebook and another on the Hubble Telescope, which was mostly photographs. But at least he wanted them :)

ProfessorBoris said...

I'm fortunate, both my daughters (6 and 2) have fallen in love with books/reading. Right now the 2 year old will open up any book and start, "One day..." :)

I am a book/reading lover, but I was not before. I had immigrant parents so my language skills were quite weak in elementary school, and I had a really nasty grade 2 teacher. Not the fertile soil needed to nurture a love for reading. Nevertheless, it was comic books in high school that saved me. That's all I needed; the mixture of art, visuals and words.

By whatever means I guess. Great blog by the way, Deborah.

Deborah Jackson said...

That's adorable, Boris. It's so exciting when they first start reading. At least it was with my daughter.

I find it sad that a teacher can have such a profound effect. You remember the best ones and the horrible ones. I had a Grade Eight teacher who really enjoyed my writing, and encouraged me enough to renew the passion, even years later. I know my son didn't have the best English teachers--they were more focused on what girls might be interested in reading. There was a particular book about a girl's life on the prairies (neither he nor I can remember the title) that he said was so boring. If anything, it turned him off reading even more.

Comics do tend to help many children. A visual component might be the key.