I have a two-year-old at home. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her eat… At least when I’m home for dinner. She’s very picky. But my in-laws tell me that she eats all day, like a blue whale, she goes around the house eating everything in sight. I guess I just never see her with food in front of her that she likes. They tell me she likes chocolate yogurt and also cheese. I can’t remember the last time my wife and I served chese and chocolate yogurt for dinner so… Instead, every night when we sit down to dinner, she looks at the plate and says, “I don’t like this.”
This reminds me of early adolescents and reading. I smile to myself when I hear middle school boys say they don’t like to read. Girls too of course, but it’s mostly the boys. I usually respond, “Saying you don’t like to read is like saying you don’t like to eat, you just haven’t found the right book (or, to extend my metaphor, FOOD!!)”
When I was in middle school I was crazy about sports. Especially basketball. Because my older brother Marty played on his high school team, and I idolized Marty, it was my goal to play well enough to make my high school basketball team. I wasn’t much of a reader then. I grew up in Brooklyn so when school was out, as soon as I got home, I got my ball and I went to the park and played basketball until the sun went down. When I was a freshman in high school, I made my high school basketball team. I was beyond excited. Okay, here’s where I admit it, I was a jock, at least I was when I started high school.
But then, when I was in ninth grade, Memorial Day weekend, I got hit by a car and I hurt my elbow badly. I was in a cast all summer and I wasn’t able to go to the beach or play basketball or really do anything active. It was so boring. I was driving my mother crazy with all my complaining. She couldn’t take it anymore and she insisted that I read the books on my summer reading list from school, at the beginning of the summer! My high school gave you a list of books from which you were required to read two over the summer. Motivated initially through sheer boredom I began reading the books on that list. I know that George Orwell’s Animal Farm was on the list, and maybe Huckleberry Finn. I started to become a reader. I loved it. When I was finished with all the books on my summer list, I read Marty’s summer list too. I discovered a whole new world through reading and I’ve never looked back. I remember reading Peter Benchley’s Jaws that summer. I had seen the movie but the book was so much better. In fact, I was surprised that people even wrote books like this. It was so scary and cool. The number one lesson I learned that year is that everyone loves reading, as long as you find things that you LIKE to read.
Reading is so important. The statistics are clear, students who read are more successful in school and in life than students who do not. 20 minutes a day, that’s not a lot. I’ll confess there are days that I don’t get to “leisure read” for 20 minutes a day and I regret that, but I have a job, kids and a mortgage. I miss the days when I was 12 and a day stretched out ahead of me like a grassy field waiting for me to run around and do whatever I wanted. I wish I did more reading then because I sure had more time for it than I have now.
As the summer approaches, make every effort to encourage your children to read. Help them to find books they like, on topics in which they are interested, and buy them the books or take them to the library to borrow them. Our middle school library is a great place for your child to find books they like. There is no one with more knowledge about adolescent literacy and passion for reading than our librarian Pat Minikel. Children should go to the library and speak to Mrs. Minikel. She can help them find books. It could start them on a lifelong passion for reading!