and a winner of a 2016 MSLA President's Award
I do not think it is absolutely necessary for every child to love to read.
While it is an absolutely incomparable feeling when you see a student connect with a book, or blow through an entire series, or finally find that one book that they cannot put down, I understand that those ephemeral experiences are not always going to happen. Your mileage may vary.
Same went for the student who barely cracked a smile at Duncan and Dolores by Barbara Samuels, a book that I took out of the library so much as a child that I can still recognize the blue gingham spine from across the room. And the girl who dared to tell me that she did not even shed a tear or quiver a lip at The Bridge to Terabithia or Where the Red Fern Grows, two books that came pretty close to incapacitating me for days due to excessive weeping. As a lover of books and lifelong reader, it can be very jarring to realize that some may not be as enthralled with the books we fell in love with at a young age.
Soon, as all librarians do, I learned that this is not the end of the world. The girl who did not care for Kit Tyler eventually fell in love with Dork Diaries, and the student who did not laugh at Duncan hiding under the cabinet giggled uproariously at Click, Clack, Moo, and while Old Dan and Little Ann could not coax a tear out of that reader, she did report that 11 Birthdays was awesome and should be made into a movie. You begin to see students gravitate toward content they find interesting.
However, while there is a lid for every pot, the lid may not rest happily and securely. While I introduced many a reluctant reader to a book about a topic they liked, and the readers did read these books, but ultimately did not fall in love. I gave them time to read, access to all the books, choice of different varieties, you name it. “I just don’t like to read,” they said. This simple statement alternated between being a direct challenge to me and a great insult, like telling a person in Patriots gear that “Tom Brady isn’t that great.” I would ask the student why they did not like to read, and sometimes they would say it was boring, they did not have time to do it, they would rather play on their devices, or they found reading difficult—all reasons I could work with to find them something they would enjoy. But there is always the occasional answer of, “I don’t know. I just don’t like it.”
We do not expect every student to love math, science, or social studies. But when a student professes not to like reading, it triggers an automatic reaction to change the child’s mind, assuring them they have not found the right book or the right way to read yet. (To be clear, not all of my “not-for-me” readers are low readers, some of them are and do not like reading because they find it difficult, but some are very capable and proficient readers who simply do not derive the same pleasure from the act as others may, and those are the kids I am writing about.)
I will not lie and say that it does not feel like shards of glass in my heart when a student dismisses Just As Long As We’re Together as “boring.” I will not deny the pang I feel when a student asks me “do we have to get books at the library?” It hurts, it really does. But instead of making it about forcing or tricking kids to love reading as much as I do, I have come to think of it as rather encouraging kids to find out how they connect to reading, most often as a social act.
A few years ago, I noticed one of my “not-for-me” students begin to consistently check out The Hardy Boys series. Now, seriously, this series is old, so old that I considered weeding it out. When I asked him why he chose them, he said, “My dad told me that these were his favorite books when he was a kid, so we’re reading them all together.” This reader connected with reading as an intimate activity shared with his father.
So now, I search for connections that students can make to reading, rather than trying to find the one book that will send them into L-O-V-E with reading. I send home ideas for parents to make reading a family event so kids will associate it with spending time together. I have fifth grade boys that are in a “book club” during their library time in which they discuss graphic novels, a social event that involves reading. I post “I feel like…” signs over books so if a student is feeling a particular emotion that day, they can reach for a book that may help. If reading for these students is a bridge to something else rather than a means to its own end, then so be it.
I will never stop trying to suggest books for kids who “don’t like to read,” but I realize now that some kids just do not enjoy it, like I do not enjoy onions. (You can prepare them any way you like, but at the end of the day they are still onions and I will remove them from my plate with the precision of a heart surgeon.) Now I will show a book to a student and suggest they read it with their parents or their siblings, or if I have multiple copies, encourage students to be “book twins” or “book triplets” and read it together. These positive associations may be just the ticket to sparking that love of reading, and in many cases, it does.
Kate Powers in the Library Media Specialist at the James M. Quinn Elementary School in Dartmouth, MA. In her first year, she initiated school-wide independent reading initiatives that propelled Quinn to first place in the state in the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge. Since September, Quinn has logged nearly 1.5 million minutes read by students in grades K-5.