When a Book Grabs Them and Won’t Let Go

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The question echoed quietly down the halls of his school as his teachers shared their concerns. It was a constant topic in telephone calls between his parents and their family members. The question, “So, how’s he doing in school?,” was always answered with:

“Stevie doesn’t like to read. It’s a fight.”Reluctant 1

Stevie is now a 5th grader whose parents are successful college graduates, one being a credentialed public school reading specialist. Additionally, Stevie has received years of special needs services for a physical condition unrelated to his clearly strong intelligence and active social nature. All of the many concerned adults in his life and his special needs condition got him every bit of attention he’d ever want or need to support him becoming a reader, yet he hated to read.

Stevie’s home is crowded with books. His room has well-stocked bookshelves. Even his area in the back seat of the car is filled with books. And we’re talking good books, not those awful phonetically boring books. I mean fun, beautifully illustrated, age-appropriate and even famous books with catchy titles and delightful plot twists. But none of them caught Stevie’s interest nor help him make progress toward becoming a reader.

His previous teachers were adamant that he needed to be given books he could handle and, of course, since he didn’t read much, he couldn’t handle much. So as he grew older he was always given “on level” books that in their simplicity tended to be uninteresting. Still his teachers felt he could somehow use them every day to become a reader.

Reluctant 2 What?! Who wants to do something  every day that we don’t like and we’re not good at? Not me. And not Stevie.

Then on one recent day when Stevie was riding in the back seat as his mother was driving home from an errand, he slowly and quietly said, “Mom, I’ve got a problem.”

Wide-eyed, his mother looked at him through the rearview mirror. Every possible negative contingency flashed through her mind. “What now?,” she thought.

Stevie continued: “Mom, I love it so much. I can’t stop. I can’t stop reading.”


Stevie had a great teacher this past year. She mirrored what was going on at home and in the car, by placing books everywhere throughout the classroom. She encouraged her students to stop reading books they didn’t enjoy and to look for another until they found one they liked. As a result, Stevie had quietly read dozens of books in the Geronimo Stilton series.

Meanwhile, a group of Stevie’s buddies had discovered the Amulet series, graphic reluctant 3novels about kids finding their way through a fantasy science-fiction maze of challenges and rewards. Curious, Stevie looked for one of the novels on the  classroom bookshelf. There was one left—not the first in the series, but it didn’t matter.  Stevie grabbed the book and then it grabbed Stevie, and apparently it wouldn’t let him go.

Now, Stevie is on his way to being a self-determined, lifelong reader. The recognition of his need to self-select books seems to be the key. He reads what he enjoys. If a book is too hard or no fun, he chooses another.

Could reaching reluctant readers really be that simple?

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