“More books, Mommy, more books!” I can still hear his newly found voice say.
He’d plead and although I was exhausted beyond what I thought my bones could bare, we’d read more.
In the moment, I didn’t really enjoy this reading time as it made my own eyelids feel like lead as I laboriously turned page after tired page. I was so over the stale pages of Goodnight Moon, Thomas the Train, and those blasted monkeys who kept falling off their bed because they were disobedient and couldn’t seem to learn a lesson from their monkey brothers.
But I knew this was essential. I knew I wanted my children to be readers and the only way to make it happen was to always be reading. So we read.
Over the years, I have fought with desperation to keep the love of reading alive in our home.
I began reading the Harry Potter series to X when she was in first grade and we didn’t stop until she was in 5th grade when she read Book 7: Deathly Hallows all on her own. We kept the spirit alive with Arianna and the Hunger Games and Divergent series. All of us read the books on our own, shared our favorite parts, then celebrated our shared adventure watching the movie when it came out. I even began a book club for X and her friends which allowed them a consistent summer gathering over Starbucks to discuss the books they were reading.
In the past couple years, with the addition of 4 non-readers to our home, we’ve barely held our ground as a family of readers. I didn’t have the advantage of early childhood reading together with the “final four” and it was painfully obvious. All of a sudden, as if they held a committee meeting and decided as a group how they’d collectively protest books, reading became passe, out-of-date, uninteresting, and “what lazy people do.”
To everyone but ONE. Who apparently wasn’t invited to the committee meeting.
I cannot even begin to tell you how many books this boy has poured through in the past 2 years. I can safely affirm it includes the Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner series, as well as every 39 Clues, Minecraft, I Survived, Boxcar Children, Encyclopedia Brown, Magic Tree House, and Goosebumps series. He’ll even read my books when he has finished everything he owns just so he can be reading something. His favorite of mine is Love Does by Bob Goff.
This year he won the Reading award for the 3rd Grader with the MOST AR (Accelerated Reader) POINTS. (Yes, I bursting with pride over his achievement!)
One of the best parts of this story is how well E owns his love for reading. He doesn’t let his sibling’s constant jeering even touch him. He just keeps on reading.
In an effort reestablish a passion for reading in our home we bought everyone a book or book series for Christmas. Several gave a pretty smile for my camera when they opened it but I could see beyond their platitude and confirm their persistent disdain for books. I didn’t mind, however, I was prepared to do whatever it took to make books a priority in my home again.
And to my incredible surprise something began changing this spring.
I’d find kids sitting on the couch giving every ounce of their attention to the beautiful written word.
When I’d open X or Adam’s door to say goodnight I would find them with only their reading light aglow, casting just enough light onto the pages into which they dedicated their last waking minutes. The sight was so beautiful, I almost cried.
Okay, so maybe I did cry. But only a few tears of joy. This. Was. Huge.
At the kid’s request we started going to the library every 2 weeks. I began finding books everywhere I went in the house (I never complain). I found kids sneaking out of their rooms after bedtime just to get another book from the bookshelf. Bedrooms had books scattered everywhere. Detailed accounts of what is happening in their books would flow out of them before I even entered the house returning from work.
My reluctant readers were becoming eager readers.
Literacy is alive once more!
To reward my eager readers I developed a Read-O-Meter for the summer.
Each book read earns a small reward. I’ve only had it posted for 5 days and I already have 2 kids at 4 books. Perhaps I should have made the rewards more challenging to reach but I’m okay with the positive reinforcement each reward gives them to keep on reading!
Literacy and the love of reading is absolutely foundational to the success of a child. Especially for boys. Most especially for minority boys, whose statistics for high school and college graduation steadily decline in our country, as I learned in a book I recently read by Lisa Bloom, Swagger. She details 10 urgent rules for raising boys in an era of failing schools and thug culture. Rich is staggering statistics about boys growing up in America today, she lays out Rule #3: MAKE YOUR HOME A READING MECCA.
The best way to do this, Bloom explains, is to model the reading yourself. You, as the parent must be a reader as well. Especially fathers, as boys must see that reading is not just for girls or people who want to be lazy. Perhaps this Father’s Day is a great time to give the gift of a new book to Dad (then give him uninterrupted time to read it).
Swagger also explains, in the world of education, 4th grade is the watermark year which generally determines a child’s success based on their reading level at this point. If they are not reading on level by 4th grade, their rate of high school graduation plummets. It’s simply too hard for them to keep up without the necessary reading skills.
Let me tell you, I may have got a late start with several of my kids but I refuse to let this statistic hold true for another one of my children.
Essentially, my point is this: if I have to bribe, bargain, reward, coerce, or even trick my children into reading – I will do it. I will spend money on books I cannot get at the library without batting an eye at my budget – it is this crucially important. I have even hired a reading tutor for the summer who will work with a few of my struggling kids to get them back on track.
I want my children to be readers. Only then, can they be world-changers.