Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Words 'I Don't Like To Read' Don't Mean What We Think They Mean

A Phrase I hear, especially from boys of a certain age, is 'I don't like to read'.

I always find that statement heartrendingly sad because I am a bibliophile, and I can't imagine life without books.

I can't imagine not having more books than book space. (I just bought a new bookcase yesterday. Picking it up today. I am soooo excited!!)

I can't imagine what it would be like to be in a room in my house that doesn't actually have books in it.

When I am looking for a book to read, I frequently just run my finger across the spines, reading the titles and reveling in the stories that flash through my head in their entirety at that simple glance.

If one title leaps out at me, I pull it off the shelf and lose myself. Sometimes I don't read any of them. Just remembering how much I love the stories is enough. I can get on with my life after that. How could someone not have this as part of their every day experience?

One of the things I sometimes do before I perform is ask kids if they like to read. Then, I ask if there is anyone who doesn't like to read.

For the kids who don't like to read, I ask them follow up questions.

How many of you like to read about sports? Monsters? Dragons? Cars? Horses?

What I soon discover is that when kids say 'they don't like to read' they often mean they just don't like to read the stuff they are forced to deal with in school. They read other things, but somehow, those things don't count.

Last week, while I was in Florida, several parents asked for my help with their kids. 'My kid doesn't like to read? What do I do?"

If the kid is standing there, I ask the kid, "What sorts of things do you like?"

One kid looked at me defiantly, "Math."

"Did you know that Pythagorus, who was a great mathematician, told his followers not to fart because he thought  that whenever they did, a piece of your soul came out of their bottom?"

He started laughing. His mother was a bit surprised. I said to the kid. "Have you ever read the book, the Return of Rumpelstiltskin?"

"No." He responded, but he wasn't so surly.

"Rumpelstiltskin comes back, and they have to use multiplication to stop him."

"Really?" He was grinning now.

I turned to his mother. "If he likes math, there are books out there that have fun aspects that are about math. Look for those. He can read a little, wallow in some math. It is the best of both worlds." His mother looked thoughtful, the kid looked hopeful.

I can't always find a connection with a kid, especially if they tell you they don't like anything, but with my new appreciation of graphic novels, my arsenal for suggestions just got huge.

Recently I recommended adding Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side to a third grade classroom when the teacher told me her students were interested in humor.

Last Wednesday, I was caught in a huge rainstorm in Florida while on my way to an after school program for a show.

These are the driving laws in Florida as far as I can tell:

1 - The state has the 'optional' turn signal law in place, and most people exercise it
2 - ⅓ of the population is not allowed to drive above thirty miles an hour regardless of whether they are on a throughway or the highway
3 - ⅓ of the population is not allowed to drive below ninety miles an hour regardless of whether they are on a throughway or the highway
4 - People driving black sports cars are often in stealth mode and refuse to turn on their lights during storms even though it is supposedly the law, and the sheeting rain makes it impossible to see them until they are right next to you

By the time I got to the library, I was shaken, furious, and annoyed. Perfect.

When I entered into the space, the organizer apologized because there were only six or seven kids there. The librarian rousted about two more out of the main library.

I didn't care about the numbers. My attitude about storytelling in libraries is whoever shows up gets stories, and as long as the audience outnumbers me, it's a show. If only one person shows up I'll still tell...but don't tell anybody.

Anyway, the kids sat near the front, and I asked the questions: Who likes to read? Is there anyone who doesn't like to read?"

The only person who didn't like to read was the eleven year old in the front of the room who proudly held up his hand. I was late getting to the library, and so didn't ask my follow up question.

I told several stories, one of which was, A Knock At The Door. It is one of those tales where a mother leaves her children home and they are tricked into opening the door to someone who wants to do them harm. The mother saves them at the end.

When the story was over, I book talked half of Heckedy Peg. I end my little book talk with the words, "If you want to find out how she gets her kids back, you'll have to go and find that book."

The librarian went to find the book before I was finished with the set, and he returned with the book as well as some of my books.

When the set was over, the kids went for Heckedy Peg, but the eleven year old beat them to it. They were all crowded around him silently. Some kids couldn't see, and they began to complain.

I smiled. "Why don't one of you read it aloud to the others?"

The eleven year old jumped up! "I want to read it to everyone! Can I?"

"Sure." I said without batting an eye.

He went to the front of the room. The organizer apologized and said that parents had come to get their kids. The eleven year old was crestfallen.

"You can read it to everyone tomorrow." I looked over at the organizer. She nodded The eleven year old grinned. The librarian said, "We'll hold it for you guys."

I went out and got in my car. The rain had stopped, the sun made a brief appearance, and the world was easier to navigate.

Honestly, if the world had still been drowning in rain, I wouldn't have cared. The smile on that kid's face at the prospect of reading that book to the other kids made my entire trip down to Florida worth it.

If they tell you they don't like to read, they might actually believe it...that doesn't mean they are right. Don't give up on them.

Happy Reading!

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