One of the questions directed to the 2018 nErDcamp Kansas author panel was to name our favorite book. This is a tough question for me. To some, though, it’s an easy question and many of the authors listed book titles without hesitation. I’ve always been a little envious of the people who express such resolution and love for a book or books, especially when it comes time to name the books from one’s childhood.I had a tough time learning to read. It was a struggle. I’d look at the page of text and see an overwhelming mishmash of words and letters. I’m sure that now I would have been diagnosed early and prescribed a program for my reading disorder, but those things were rare in early 1970’s education. Especially in a lower middle class Catholic school and even more so for an early elementary school kid who seemed to keep his head above water in class. I was lucky, though. I had parents and a few teachers who noticed my problem and put me on the road to reading. My most vivid, non-recess, non-field trip, non-playday memories of first and second grade are when my teacher or a volunteer aide would pull me aside to another room and work with me on the Controlled Reader projector.
In the dark, quiet classroom, I learned to focus on the left word of a sentence and move slowly to the right. I practiced and practice from one filmstrip to the next on moving my eyes from right to left. I practiced this without moving my head. Things got better!
Reading was possible.
(There’s a really cool Wired story by writer Lisa Wood Shapiro on how she works to overcome her dyslexia and how technology is helping people become readers.)
We didn’t have a boatload of books around the house when I was growing up but we had some. I learned to be a better reader through the assistance of my teachers and parent but I still struggled through the middle grades to actually BE a reader. I loved the JUNGLE BOOK. The Disney movie captivated me from a very early age. We had a series of illustrated classics with about twenty pages of text per illustration. TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS, TREASURE ISLAND, a few other titles I can’t remember, and the JUNGLE BOOK.
I loved that book.
But I never read that book.
I picked the book off the shelf a thousand times. I looked at the pictures a thousand times. Each time I tried to read that book but I reverted back to seeing each page as an intimidating blob of letters and words. Frustration would set in and I’d snap the book shut and return it to the shelf.
I know I should have said something to my parents or teachers. I should have sought out help. But I was a big, shy kid and didn’t want to trouble anyone with this embarrassing problem.
Then something wonderful happened. A salesman came around the house and convinced my parents to buy a set of the World Book encyclopedia. My parents made a difficult decision to spend money we really didn’t have on this set of books. They even splurged for the annual yearbook!
I found my reading life in those encyclopedias. School work forced me to open them but the magic of information given in short bursts of text and pictures contained within was pure magic. Something clicked in my reader-brain. I figured it out.
I slowly became a better reader and a smarter kid. The set of World Book encyclopedias led to the Guinness Book of World Records which led to comics which led to the Hardy Boys which led to…my eventually reading the JUNGLE BOOK as an adult. And you know what? It was as fantastic as the story I held in my head all those years.
So next time I’m asked at an author event what my favorite book was, I have an answer.
The World Book.
After my Dad died in 2015 and my Mom was preparing to move out of their house, she called and asked me what I wanted of their stuff. I know her “stuff” meant furniture, dishes, etc. but I, without hesitation said I would like to have the World Book encyclopedias and yearbooks they used for the past twenty years as a decoration on top of the cabinets in their kitchen.
My Mom laughed and thought I was joking. She still thinks that. She’ll probably never know how important those books were to me and how huge of a role they played in making me who I am today. I probably never really knew how much of a sacrifice it was for my parents to make the investment to buy this set of encyclopedias and the annual yearbook every year. These books are history. Part of our history.
Reading is reading is reading is reading.
Let kids read what works for them.
Reading is indeed a superpower.