Tuesday, March 27, 2007

As a writing and reading coach, it was a frustrating moment for me at the school book fair. A mother wandered in with her son, about 13, wanting to get him a book. I’ve known him for about a year, and he has excellent writing abilities.
As I was telling his mother about his writing skills (she only speaks Spanish, so he translated for me), it came as quite a shock to learn that he doesn’t like to read!
“No!” I told him. “That can’t be so! You write pretty well. What do you like to do? What are your interests?” He hummed and hawed and finally admitted he liked comic books. Aha! ”I have just the books for you!” I said, and dragged him to the cartoon series, “The Bone,” which is a popular seller with the students. I am a big advocate of getting kids to read – and for the most part I don’t care what it takes. If it’s a cartoon book or that silly guy, Capt. Underpants--about a school principal who turns into a chaotic hero wearing diapers—that makes them read, SO BE IT!
Why? Because reading can save their lives! It helps to nurture, water and prune them for the future. If this seems hard to believe, many college graduates I know, including myself, read comic books. I know one college graduate who read comic books until age 26! It’s a great place to start and, like with anything else, they will graduate to the next level.
About the age of 12, I fell heavily for historical romance novels. I read one after another. I couldn’t put them down. I finally went comatose from reading the same plot. (You know, the one where the guy has jet black hair, the “panther” walk. Lo and behold, because of myriad misunderstandings, the most gorgeous woman who ever walked the face of the earth and the panther guy just can’t seem to get along.)
About age 15 or so, I stopped reading romance novels. All the guys looked the same (see above), all the gals looked the same (see above), and there was just no way they could communicate to make their romance a go – until finally, the fog cleared and they saw each other as they truly were! Finally.
And amen. That was enough of that. (I’m not dumping on romance novels. They are great. I was just ready to move on.) I graduated. And read different novels after that….Those romance novels just brought me to the next spot. So I was excitedly showing this student the “Bone” series, which I realize is a bizarre bit of comics that the mother just looked at with a poker face. But it actually stoked the boy’s interest, and I knew we were getting somewhere.
Until the mother made him put them back on the shelf. Trying to honor her request, I pulled out another fantastic book. She shook her head and said: “No animales.”
But all I could think about was: this isn’t about the mom. This is about what her son likes. And he likes animals. We put that book back on the shelf, too. I was disappointed.
Not as much as the young boy was, who probably will go on not enjoy reading – until he’s told, yes, go ahead and read what you like.
Feeling somewhat dejected about the whole thing, I was happy the next day when the student wandered back in by himself. I don’t know what exchange his mother and the student had, but there was definitely a difference about what he picked to read. He bought two books, both about World War II, including Theodore Taylor’s, Air Raid-Pearl Harbor!
I’ve since been reading that book and it’s a remarkable retelling of the days prior to the attack – and a great lesson about the many layers of human mistakes – that led to us, as a country, to be so unsuspecting of Japan’s intentions.
It reminds me of the similar mistakes we can make as parents, when we decide exactly what our children should or should not read – when our most important determination should be just to get them to read, read, read – and read again.
No matter what we like.

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