To Reluctant Readers and Those Who are Concerned for Them

girlreading1I’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 classroom-488375_1280what 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.

girlreadingWhen 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!

girlreading2

 

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Writing With Kids in Tow

 My kids are my priority and my writing needs to fit around them. The writing has to be Photo_080410_006flexible, not the kids. But there’s more than a few times where there’s tension between the two.

In my house there’s a never-ending demand for food, probably because I have boys. One day stands out in my mind. I had made everyone breakfast, cleaned up from breakfast, and put a load of clothes into wash. I promised myself once this work was complete and the children otherwise occupied, I would spend some time writing.

After five minutes of writing my youngest finds me. “Mom, I’m hungry.”

“We just had breakfast.” I check the clock. It’d been almost two hours. “Why don’t you go and have a banana.”

He disappears up the stairs. I sank into a scene in my book and I was just gaining speed when Mom & Jasonhe appeared at my side again.

“I’m still hungry.”

“How hungry?”

“Really hungry.”

Heavy sigh. Shoulders slump. “Okay.” I close up shop and go upstairs to make lunch. 

Here’s a few strategies that have kept kids and Mom happy.

Contract a time. If they’re home, especially over school breaks, I contract an amount of time with them. “Mom’s going to go write for one hour.” I set a timer. “I don’t want to be interrupted unless it’s an emergency.” They’re usually pretty respectful, but if they forget I point to the timer. It’s also been helpful to frame this in terms they understand. “How do you feel when you’re in the middle of building Lego and I tell you you have to go to bed?” Then they can understand how the interruptions feel to me.IMG-20130826-01206

Involve them. When I need a teenage word, I ask them. One day I was searching for a name for a villain. I asked them over dinner and we had a lively and hilarious discussion. They came up with some great villain names. Another time I told them a story and asked them how they would finish it. They’re amazingly creative and came up with endings I never would have thought of.

Keep them informed. I had been furiously editing one of my manuscripts when my son asked what my book was about. It struck me that I had never told them what this particular book was about. So I pitched it to my son. As I went on the edge of his lips started to curl and his eyes got wider. Was he holding back a smile? When I finished he let the smile go. “She’s a superhero,” he said. I cocked my head to the side. I hadn’t thought of her that way, but I could see his point. Not only did he help me to see my protagonist in a new light, but I now had him rooting for this book too.