I grew up home-schooled, which I think for most people implies I was an avid reader. This was true. I read a lot. My mom had a rule I read at least 30 minutes a day, which was no struggle. Reading was so normal and common for me, I didn’t think much about it. It was a time-killing activity I would complete with as much apathy as one who watches infomercials late at night. Sometimes by noon, I had finished with my schoolwork for the day. I would camp out in my room and read for 3 hours. I read in the car, before bed, while I procrastinated instead of doing my required household chores…
The problem—as an English teacher, I can confidently proclaim it as a problem—was I didn’t enjoy reading.
This changed when I met my now-best-friend Claire. She was a fellow homeschooler I met through our soccer team when I was about 11 years old. She was the epitome of an avid reader. The first time I saw her at the library was like watching a strange creature. I held one, maybe two, choice books while watching her empty an entire backpack of books into the return bucket and refill the bag to the brim with new books.
I spent hours, sometimes days, at her house. There’d be lulls in the day where we spent time in her room—AKA a library with some clothes and a bed—and read for hours. I, an avid talker, would compliantly read along with her, but Claire read for enjoyment. I remember getting bored one day after finishing another Series of Unfortunate Events book. She had no more in the series, so I asked her if we could go to the pool. She complied, but it was a day soon after this that we were in a bookstore. I have no idea why. I remember her showing me The Giver by Lois Lowry. She didn’t say much about it, just it was good and I should read it, but she said this about almost every book she saw.
Being 11 or 12, I knew nothing about dystopias, themes, or character development, but it stuck with me. Books do that, don’t they? It’s a bizarre experience when you hold a book; the weight, smell, font—they speak to you, not through your ears, but directly to your brain or heart, grabbing you and not letting you go until you read the words they hold. I ended up reading it; I don’t remember if I got it from the library or what, but I couldn’t put it down. I devoured every word, enjoying every page, finishing it in one sitting. I mourned the ending, frustrated with that darn cliffhanger! How cruel was that?
From that book forward, I realized reading books is a special experience. It really is. I read with voracity and investment. I have no idea why this book—of all the amazing books out there—changed me in this way. But it did, and I’m better for it. Not only has it made me a reader, for which there are countless benefits, it also taught my preteen self how different a world can be, how diversity and a value for life go hand-in-hand. The novel’s themes influenced me. Being a teen, I had the teenage angst we all go through. The commentary Lowry gave on the importance of pain and suffering in life so we can appreciate and realize the pleasure and joy that also exists in life was something I could appreciate. It connected with me through the age and relate-ability of the characters. It empowered me through its focus on the individual and what we as individuals can do if we are brave and bold enough, even as a teenager or child.
I believe it is important for kids to read books about kids, especially through the kids’ perspectives, such as The Giver, because it hooks them and brings them personally into another world, teaching them lessons vital in the real world and providing them an enjoyment for reading. So many times, I think teachers or parents want their children to read the “advanced” or “scholarly” classics, but it is equally important to provide them with relatable ones. They may not raise their reading levels, but will hook them and teach them “real world” lessons like empathy, the importance of friendship, and individuality. It creates a lifelong reader at a young age, which leads to better, more socially and emotionally apt adults. I have to wonder how the world would be different if our youth—and adults—were more bibliophilic.
Now, as a teacher, whenever students (or parents) come to me, telling me they hate reading, I tell them they just need to find that one book. The one that captures them and makes them feel like they are a part of those characters’ world. The book is out there; just keep reading.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ashley Yarbrough is a writer, mother, teacher, gardener, and many other things. She writes about it all here. Feel free to take a look!