Monday, June 27, 2016

My Son’s Lost that Readin’ Feelin’

The next question that came in for me to address ran as follows:

“My 16-year- old son was once an avid reader—read historical fiction, fantasy, and children’s classics over and over again. Then, he fell out of love a few years ago. He says he only wants to read fiction about people his own age or present time. The YA genre is so problematic. Please!!! Can you recommend some books like Gary Schmidt’s (which I gave him recently at your suggestion) for the summer, to put into his hands and restore his love of reading?”

Don’t panic. I’m a firm believer that if he truly loved reading when he was young, he will return to it--as evidenced by his recent enjoyment of Gary Schmidt’s books.

There may be a couple of factors—or a dozen—going on here. I guess I’ll get the most sticky one out of the way first: electronics. Is he spending a lot of time with electronic games or on the computer? The habit is detrimental to reading. It’s hard for young people to get just a little exposure and be satisfied with that. It’s similar to their desire for junk food rather than vegetables. The ease of access and instant pleasure that comes from the passive play of gadgets wins over the more challenging, active, attentiveness needed to read. It’s a tough habit to kick.

But, if that’s not the issue, I think the most likely explanation is the simple one: he’s growing up. The children’s books he once loved aren’t satisfying his need to understand the world he is entering as an adult. Schmidt’s books are light and easy reading, but do tackle some challenging issues most young people face. He is having a need met there. I’m not sure a diet of only healthy young adult (YA) fiction is going to satisfy him too long either. There is a narcissism that is common at this phase of life, and too much of it is also unhealthy.

Perhaps it is just time that he start reading some more adult books. There are plenty of wholesome and engaging books for adults—I certainly hope—to whet his appetite. Sometimes it’s hard for us as moms to realize our “little boy” is on the verge of full manhood and has a longing for more than Lego and Little House on the Prairie. I am sure you are figuring this out, since you’ve written to ask and your son has made it clear that he is longing for something more mature.

Here is a list of some books you could try. Maybe it is wise just to select a shelf-ful, not all of them exactly “Schmidt-like.” He may test the waters in some new genres and discover some new passions that will remind him of his former pleasure in story.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.
I read this myself the other day with your son in mind. It’s about a boy who is suddenly faced with personal survival in the wilderness after a plane crash in the wilds of Canada. He finds resources within himself to deal with sudden isolation, hunger, and need for shelter and safety. It’s a riveting story without any of the typical crass or vulgar themes of today’s teen fiction. I am curious whether Paulsen’s other books for teen boys are similar.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.
The teen boys in my book club enjoyed this book immensely. It is about a family in our time, told from the perspective of one of the two sons, and is definitely not for little boys. This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in recent years.

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan.
This book was written for adults, but appealed to my teen son, not to mention to me. This was the first spy fiction story that has inspired an entire genre of literature in the last 100 years.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
This is another hit of the boys in my life, not that their mothers have any easier time putting it down. The subtle benefit to be reaped in this fast-paced novel is that it is about the world where books are dangerous. Danger always appeals to boys.

Dune by Frank Herbert.
If he once loved fantasy, science fiction might remind him how much. I have not read this book, but it has been highly recommended to me by a fellow homeschool librarian with four sons.

A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins.
This is a true story of a young man who set out on his own to walk the entire U.S. and all the adventures, trials, and people he met along the way.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
He may have read it in those “children’s classics,” but if he hasn’t, here’s a true-to- life in the south of the 1930’s that becomes a favorite of most anyone who has ever read it, not just teens.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
This Nobel prize winning book is often a high school literature choice, but I think is an important story for boys to think about. It will challenge his own value system in a positive way, and is a short and fascinating tale.

The Chosen by Chaim Potok.
This takes place in Brooklyn, New York, World War II era, and is the heart-wrenching story of a boy coping with the challenges of his high school years and member of a strict Jewish sect. Potok is one of our favorite modern authors.

Ash Road or Hill’s End by Ivan Southall.
These are both gripping, suspenseful stories of young people in Australia facing life-and- death acts of nature that give them the opportunity to discover their own innate courage and resourcefulness.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba.
This is the true account of an African teen who first faces famine, then grueling poverty, but because of his quest for knowledge and unquenchable habit of tinkering, single-handedly accomplishes the impossible: building a windmill to bring electricity and irrigation to their drought-stricken village. (Your son will love it, especially if he’s prone to take things apart; besides, it’s a book that gives him this idea).

Short Stories: Perhaps your son will find new authors by reading collections of short stories, which require less time and give a taste of an author without the commitment to a full-length novel. I recommend Flannery O’Connor’s, but Ray Bradbury, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald are other good collections to investigate.

For the joy of reading,


Monday, June 20, 2016

Growing Pains in Reading

Here’s another summer reading question:

“I would like to know any tips you have for my 11yo son who has struggled to learn to read. He is now able to read on his own; he read through all of the Three Boys series and is now onto The Happy Hollisters. (I still think he prefers to have me read to him and to listen to audio books, both of which we still do.)
“I would like to know how I can move him to different types of independent reading, and what that looks like for "school" reading. Maybe I would benefit from tips on bridge books (advanced beginner to beyond). He loves story, but I am not sure he loves reading yet, if that makes sense. I don't want to push him too soon, nor let him stay where he is too long. He will read, but I wonder if he still finds it a challenge sometimes.”

I understand your concern, but do remember that I am not a reading specialist and without knowing your son personally, can’t possibly make better than educated guesses. You know that I often joke that I have taught six children to read and can’t even read myself (other than Braille, of course), I discussed helping slow and reluctant readers recently, and there are quite a pile of very similar queries in my file.

Reading takes time. Boys take time. That said, growing up is incredibly swift and I sympathize with your consternation. Children simply refuse to fit neatly into tidy categories, and that goes for reading levels, “bridge” books, and all manner of other graduated readers series’. Still, try to be patient. He loves story, listening to books, and knows how to read—many mothers would be singing rhapsodies for such progress, even by age 11.

I don’t have any magic formula or special tricks up my sleeve, but do know that quiet encouragement and no pressure is key. The best I can offer is that, at this stage, you simply provide a wide array of books for him to choose from. He may poke at one a bit, then pick up another and flip through it, and I have personal experience with the disappointment you feel when that is as far as it goes.

In the Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, he discusses all kinds of strategies and studies regarding getting children into reading. You have probably already implemented all the good ones. One, however, was intriguing to me and I tried it with my boys all one summer and it got a slow-starter on the move and my unmotivated boy on the road to reading.

Supposedly, at least at the time he wrote that book, this was the only proven way to get children independently reading for pleasure. Children were allowed to select their own book-- any book of any kind, and were required to read it silently for 15 minutes. The key ingredient was that the teacher also had to be reading a book of her own in the room with the children during the 15 minute period. Apparently, this strategy was the most successful of all Trelease had investigated.

As far as schoolbooks are concerned, I would encourage him to read a bit out of all the appropriate grade level books, even if you still have to read a good deal. Gradually require a bit more of him. Children are often resistant, but must learn to make some effort. Once you know he can do something, he must be required to carry on and make progress. Work is rewarding, and if reading is work, we all know that it is supremely rewarding.

Offer some intriguing titles on many varied subjects for pleasure reading and keep them accessible. If he likes Hollisters, you can do worse than to allow him Hardy Boys and other mystery series. They may not be high literature, but he needs to build confidence. At least they still have good grammar and he is getting exposed to correct spelling. In addition, collect books on exotic animals and places, science fiction and fantasy, stories of heroes old and new. Variety is the key.

Last, if you don’t have one of the great books about books (such as Honey for a Child’s Heart, or Books Children Love), get one, and if you do, make use of it in choosing that grand collection of appetizing choices. You could even read titles aloud and tell him to pick those he thinks sound like something he might like to read in the next year.

Whatever you do, keep reading to him and have faith. We don’t have to sell stories, he was made to love them and will enjoy them himself when he’s ready.

For the joy of reading,


Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer Reading in the Car

I decided just to take this pile of summer reading questions in order, and this second one is a request for favorite audio books for the car.

Can anything beat making the trip shorter like listening to stories as the miles slide by? They keep the driver awake and the children quiet. I haven’t traveled much in the past few years, but when I do, make a trip to the local library to check out six or eight choices, hoping to have something to please everyone, making sure we don’t run out, or come to one of those annoying scratched CDs that ruins the story.

(Here’s a summer question for you: why do those skips always happen at the climax of the book?)

It’s a funny thing, but some books have become permanently associated with specific road trips in my memory. So, in no particular order, here are some that come to mind that our family has enjoyed:

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate Di Camillo

Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith

100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Madeleine Takes Command by Ethel Claire Brill

Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson

And for Mom, Dad, and older kids:

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Reading on the road makes all travel well.

For the joy of reading,