It was the first day of classes for my middle school students. Each period I stood at the door and warmly greeted my new students. Ten years later, I still remember meeting Matt for the first time. Matt was an eighth grader and after I gave my standard welcome, Matt looked me in the eye and replied, “Hey, Dude, I don’t read!” Whoa…I was taken aback and struggled for an appropriate response. I said something like, “Have a seat and we’ll see what we can do about that.” I decided to let the “dude” part go. Obviously, at fifty-seven years old I was not what you’d call a “dude”.
Matt presented me with a challenge, but he was not the first student to do so. I was determined to find a book that would reel him in and begin to change his adversion to reading. I figured Matt needed something short, exciting and relatable. Just the year before, I had discovered a series of books published by Townsend Press. They were affordable and although I was wary of some of the content, I knew many of them would appeal to middle school kids. The first one in the series was called The Bully. Unfortunately, if you’re a middle school student, you probably have the experience of being a victim, bystander or perpetrator of bullying. The book was fast-paced and easy to read. I thought it might be the perfect pick for Matt. Bingo! Matt ate it up. Of course, I served up another delicious read as soon as he finished it and so the journey began. Within a month, I often had to ask Matt to stop reading and attend to the lesson, promising him that before class ended there would be time for independent reading. I left that school at the end of the year, but not before I ordered the entire series of books for Matt to keep. Matt had become a reader and I hope that today his love of books has set him on a path to success.
Years before, I set up a Reading/Writing workshop in my sixth grade classroom. Most of the kids were eager to choose books and write letters to me and their classmates in response to what they were reading. This year, however, Donny was my challenge. Donny would abandon one book after another. He was “bored”. He didn’t understand it. He didn’t have time to read. There were a million excuses. Fortunately, my own son was the same age. Joe, like Donny, loved sports. At the time, Joe, along with some of his buddies, was engrossed in a book about Michigan’s “Fab Five” basketball players. I knapped the book as soon as Joe was done and brought it to school. Donny’s eyes lit up. He knew about the Fab Five and I didn’t even have to give the book a sales pitch. Donny devoured the book within a week and even submitted his required response letter. In fact, I still have that letter. In it, Donny admitted that this was the first book he ever finished. Donny was hooked. That year, we worked together to find appealing books and soon Donny was reading right along with his classmates, finishing over ten books during the course of the year.
Finally, I remember when one of my own sons was in seventh grade and began reading Stephen King books. I wasn’t too happy. I thought some of the content was inappropriate and wanted to put the kabash on them. Wisely, my husband talked me down. Prior to this, our son read proficiently, but wasn’t what you would call an avid reader. Mike, my husband, thought we should just let this go. I gave in. Those Stephen King books were the start of a life-long adventure for our son. He read voraciously through high school and college. I remember chuckling at the array of books on his nightstand when he was in high school. Greek Mythology and Kurt Vonnegut books lived comfortably next to Beevis and Butthead joke books. You just never know what will turn the reading tide for someone.
There’s lots of ways parents and teachers can confront aliteracy and of late, I’ve investigated many of them which I’ll share in later posts. However, my own experiences convince me that discovering that first, powerful book can be a game changer. Often youngsters cannot do this for themselves. They need adults that care enough to consider their interests, scour the library shelves, ask for recommendations from others, and not give up on them. Is aliteracy living at your house? Do you care enough to confront it? Guaranteed there’s a book out there that is your antidote to aliteracy…you just need to find it!