I’m in a minority among writers. Most author bios I read refer to the their lifelong love of reading, that they started reading at a young age and devoured book after book.
I am not one of those writers. Don’t get me wrong–I love to read. Now. Not when I was a kid. When I was a kid, reading was the last thing I wanted to do.
I vividly remember my first grade teacher calling a meeting with my mother. They discussed how I was behind, how I just wasn’t picking up on reading the way I should be. They wanted to put me in a special reading group. I’m not making a judgement call on the teacher, regardless it made me feel like I wasn’t very smart. All the other kids were getting it and I wasn’t. Before that point, I hadn’t been concerned. I felt like I was learning and slowly getting better. I was trying hard to do what the other kids were doing. After the meeting, I felt there was something wrong with me. I was embarrassed when they pulled me out of class for the special reading help. To add to my negative feelings, I was also placed in speech therapy. I needed it. I’m glad they did it. But, as a kid, it didn’t feel good. It reinforced my growing belief that something was wrong with me.
My second grade year was much the same. I was in the lowest reading group. Going to the library made me nervous. Books were for people who were good at reading. If I checked out a book at my level, the other kids would know I could only read baby books. Classmates would discuss books they’d read and I’d always find a way out of the conversation or lie and say I’d read the book and agree with whatever they said about it.
When I changed schools for grade three my file followed me. Again, I was in the lowest reading group. I hated it. I looked at the kids in the higher groups and envied them. I changed schools again the year after and the year after that. I loved story time, when the teachers read to us, but reading for myself was tough. I could read, but I was slow. I couldn’t skim and it took me a painfully long time to get through a book, but I got it. I understood all of it. I hated being in the low group because the stories were too simplistic. I wanted more even though I knew it would be hard.
In the sixth grade I changed schools again, only this time there was a glitch. My new teacher told me that my file hadn’t arrived yet and he wanted to know what reading level I’d been in the year before. So I lied. I’d been in the highest level, of course. He put me in that group and I was determined to stay there. I worked hard. When my file arrived, my teacher and I had a little talk. In the end, he allowed me to stay in the group since I seemed to be doing well there.
In junior high I was moved into the talented and gifted program and continued on in advanced classes all through high school.
Now, I’m an avid reader and a writer. I’m still a slow reader. I still can’t skim. I still read every single word, but I feel that it’s made me a stronger writer.
What I’m hoping you take home from this–don’t write kids off if they don’t pick-up on reading when you think they should. Give them time. Help them to feel good about reading instead of feeling a ball of anxiety in their gut every time they look at a book.
And if you’re a kid like I was, don’t label yourself. You are smart. You are a reader. Find someone to help you find a book you can read and that you’re interested in. And whatever you do, keep reading. Do NOT give up on yourself!
2 thoughts on “To Reluctant Readers and Those Who are Concerned for Them”
So cool to learn this about you. I too hated reading till I was thirteen and read The Outsiders (which lead me to the bookworm world). But i have always been a slow reader too, can’t skim and also read every word. i think it’s important that others are aware of those who struggled but persevered. I hope they find it encouraging. Ask me if I thought I’d be a writer/editor when I grew up LOL, that should have been a joke, yet here I am, challenging myself everyday.
That’s the key word–perseverence. Not Panic. One of my kids’ teachers tried to push the panic button. She said that he’s just not getting it, which sounded oh so familiar. I told her that he was a bright boy and he’d be fine, and he is. In fact, my reluctant reader was the first to read my book. Slow can be good.