My sister Jackie once told me that J. K. Rowling saved her son Ben’s life. His weak reading skills in third grade worried her. She wondered why he never picked up a book for fun. She talked with his teachers, trying to figure out the problem. She took him to the library, played alphabet and words games with him, and gave him cool books for presents.
Then his fourth-grade teacher started reading the first Harry Potter book to the class. Ben fell in love with Rowling’s young wizard. Jackie bought the book, and Ben read it himself. Whenever a new Harry Potter came out, he had to have it.
Ben became the type of reader, like his mother, who could not put down a book once he got into it. He spent some family vacations with his nose in Rowling’s latest adventure tale rather than playing in the sand.
Lots of parents are worry warts like Jackie. It turns out, she just had not found the right book. But she did not give up, and her persistence paid off. Ben became a great reader.
Remembering Ben’s story recently made me wonder what made other kids become readers. I decided to survey my family and friends to see what books had turned them onto reading. My husband John struggled to read Carry on Mr. Bowditch. By the time he finished, John had joined the lonely ranks of boys in his South Chicago neighborhood who loved books.
I got many different answers to my survey. Several women plowed through all of the Nancy Drew mysteries and a few got into the Bobbsey Twins. Black Beauty and other horse stories had a following. Some members of the younger set went for Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. Box-Car Kids was another favorite series. Other folks once enjoyed the fright fest of R. L. Stine.
There was some overlap, but the variety of books that hooked family members and friends was striking. Some differences were individual and, yes, gender-based as well.
My first take-away from this non-scientific survey may be obvious to plenty of teachers and parents: different books turn on different kids. What does that mean? Kids should have lots of choice and variety to check out at home and in school libraries and bookshelves.
Another take-away: Don’t give up. If your kid does not like the available selection, offer something else—another series, another genre, another author— until something sticks. Just keep trying. The payoff can be life-changing and life-saving. Your persistence could build a reader for life.