Turns Out, She Is a Reader

Josie Leavitt - January 13, 2014

The life of a bookstore staffer is full of interactions with customers. We listen, we suggest, we share and often we get to hear, sometimes months later, an update on either the book suggestions or discussions we’ve had. This is one of the real advantages of working in a small town; people follow up. I had a lovely moment over the weekend. A mom came in and filled me on her 13-year-old daughter’s reading.
girl_reading_a_book_while_laying_on_the_floor_0515-1002-0104-0834_SMUFirst, some background. In March of last year this mom came in with her three kids. Her middle daughter (the 13-year-old) had her head down and seemed a little dejected. The mom said in a whisper, that all could hear, “She’s not a reader, like her brother.” I took this in and said nothing. This kind of statement has always bothered me. First of all, everyone is a reader; as Elizabeth always says: “There’s no such thing a bad reader, they just haven’t found the right book.” I have taken this to heart.
Several weeks later the mom came in sans children and I took a chance. I asked about Taylor, the non-reader. Her mom practically cried about her frustrations with not getting her interested in any book no matter how hard she tried. I told Christy that to compare the kids to each other, especially when one child is having a harder time getting into reading, just sets her up for failure. (It’s amazing how many times a week, in bookstores all over the country parents set their kids up as readers and non-readers.) I asked what sorts of things her daughter was interested in: boys, math and her friends. I said with confidence as I handed herĀ The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, “Just leave this on the coffee table and say nothing.” In a house with all boys, I thought it this was a safe bet that the book would remain untouched except by Taylor.
This goes to rule number two: if a parents wants a child to read, then they should not push a book on the child. Let the child discover the book for herself. Book selection is critical to help a struggling reader. Sometimes, kids, like adults, get overwhelmed at the bookstore or library by the sheer number of choices available and just shut down. Plus, the repeated attempts to read recommended books that just aren’t engaging enough can discourage a kid.
I am thrilled to say that Christy came in and was practically bursting to tell me something: “She’s reading at breakfast now! There is always a book in her hands. Thank you.” We talked for a long time about Taylor and reading. By taking the pressure off FINDING SOMETHING TO READ, Taylor was free to relax about reading without someone checking in to see if she was reading. Also, hooking kids on a series is a great way to get them to keep reading because they’ve fallen in love with the characters and need to know what happens.
Here’s the beauty of reading: one good book experience begets another. Once someone realizes there are good books that appeal to them, they are much more likely to keep reading and try different things. All everyone needs is that first engaging book to get them started. For some of us that happens at six, for others 13. Taylor is now reading all kinds of books and loving them.

7 thoughts on “Turns Out, She Is a Reader

  1. marjorie

    Yay! You’re very wise. The leaving-the-book-on-the-coffee-table-without-saying-anything strategy worked for my older kid (we were on vacation in Mexico, so there was nothing else for her to read in our rental house) — and I dare anyone to resist Harry Potter. For the younger kid, who loved being read to but saw no point in reading for pleasure, the gateway drug was Zita the Spacegirl. Graphic novels turned out to be perfect for the way her mind works/the way she processes info. Zita flipped a switch for her. Reading = pleasure! Two years later it’s still hard to get her to try new things (she’s a big re-reader) but graphic novels have a special place in her heart.

  2. Lydia

    The Summer I Turned Pretty was such a wise choice on your part. Those books were amazing, and I LOVE to read. I think they could draw in any pre-teen or teen girl with hardly any effort.

  3. Gretchen Penn

    Thank you for your perfect insight. And including “everyone is a reader. `..some just haven’t found the right book yet.” Taking judgement and opinions away (by parent, teacher or friends) helps one find their reading world. Could even be cookbooks, music lyrics or computer code.
    Thanks again

  4. Nancy Silverrod

    I was always “the reader” in my family. I don’t remember not being able to read, and I can remember the first book I read in my school library when I started kindergarten. My brother who was 15 months younger than I had more trouble with reading, and it wasn’t until he was ten that he read his first book, voluntarily. I don’t know how he came across it, but he read The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse by Ursula Moray Williams under the covers with a flashlight every night. We knew he was doing it, but no one commented, and after that he also became a reader. He went on to become the editor of his law school law review journal. My philosophy as a reader and former children’s librarian is that a houseful of books of all kinds, and parents who read will ultimately create readers out of most children. Even my nephew who has dyslexia is now a reader – of graphic novels, some of them quite sophisticated.

  5. pam

    I work in Children’s Services at a public library and have found another highly successful strategy. — Without pressure, I say to the child, “When you read books for school, you have to finish the whole thing whether you like the book or not. But reading for your own enjoyment is different–you get to decide what you like. Let’s pick out 5 or 6 books you might enjoy [based on what they’ve told me about themselves]. Take them home, and read *just* the first two chapters of each one. If you like the book, keep reading. But you don’t care for it, move on to the next one. When you read just for fun, part of the fun is finding out what you like, kind of like sampling foods at a buffet, or getting that little spoon of a new flavor of ice cream at the ice cream shop before you buy a whole cone of it.” I have almost a 100% success rate with this approach. Not only can i get kids to take home books to try, but the next time that family comes in the library, the parent will say, ‘I can’t believe it! S/he loves X book you sent home! Do you have any more like it?’ — And besides overcoming fear of having to finish a whole book they don’t like, it also eliminates the ‘here, take this one, you’ll like it’/’no, i don’t like that one’ power struggle often see between the child and parent.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      Pam, that’s a brilliant strategy!! (I wish we could send home five or six samples from the bookstore, alas.) What I will adopt for the store is the insightful observation that some kids may be daunted thinking they will have to read the entire book even if they don’t like it (since that is the requirement for much of their reading). I always invite kids to sit with their little stack of recommendations and to read a few pages of each, to get a sense of the author’s style and see what they, the reader, are currently in the mood to read. Thanks for the tip!


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