“She’s Not a Strong Reader”

Josie Leavitt -- August 2nd, 2011

It amazes me how often parents just make blanket statements in the store, in front of other customers. Yesterday, this very earnest, friendly teenager, maybe 14 or so, was busily looking at the Young Adult section. She’d bring up a book to the counter and ask if we had it in paperback. We didn’t. Or if we had the first in the series, we didn’t. It seems every teenage girl had been devouring Jenny Han and Carrie Jones this weekend and our restock shipment had not come in yet.

She resisted help at first. But after two failed attempts to get the book she wanted, she finally let me help her. I got her a wonderful stack of Libba Bray and Sarah Dessen and left her alone, only to have her mother announce to me, “She’s not a strong reader.” As if that explained why her daughter was taking her time to choose the right book.

I cannot say enough how much this irritates and saddens me. As someone who grew up “not a strong reader” until I was 10 or so, I can recall the sting of hearing that from careless teachers. But to have a parent just blurt it out in the middle of a crowded store in front of siblings must be terrible. I told the mom her daughter was picking great, age-appropriate books. She sighed and said, “She just has the hardest time finishing a book.”

I told the mom that there are lots of reasons kids don’t finish books, mostly it’s because they just don’t like them. Not liking a book and being a poor reader are not the same thing. Some kids need more time to choose books, and that can seem like indecision, which makes some parents anxious. This young woman was the opposite of “not a strong reader.” She carefully choose books, reading the back and the first few pages of each book. Strong readers do this. They are deliberate in what they want to read. She would pop to the register and ask me questions about several titles and then just as fast would retreat to the happy world of our YA section.

She paid for her Sarah Dessen book with her own money, kept the receipt, and gently hugged the book to her chest. She smiled as she left the store. I noticed that she had started  reading on the way out the door.

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