GROWING A READER by Janet Gurtler
Given my career choice, it’s not a big surprise that I love books. I love reading them and I love writing them. They smell good, they feel good, and, most of the time, they come in a pretty package. What’s not to love?
If you’ve read any of my books, you might guess I’m a big fan of realistic fiction. A book that makes me cry is a book that owns my heart. Of course, everyone has their own taste. I grew up in a family of readers, my mom and my dad, two brothers and sister all read for pleasure. We all have very different tastes in books. (Perhaps we even silently judge each other just a little, but that’s what family is for.)
When I had a son of my own, I assumed he would be a reader, too. I read to him all the time. I even vaguely remember reading to him before he was born, in utero. I think it felt kind of awkward and weird, but he was my first and, hey, I’d read somewhere it might make him smarter. I wanted to do everything to give him advantages. Especially read to my stomach.
Time went on as it does, and it became apparent to me that my son was a reluctant reader. He struggled with reading in grade one. It didn’t come easy and things that were hard weren’t all that interesting to him. While his friends began reading chapter books, he wasn’t the least bit interested. I tried not to panic. We tried lots of different books. Silly didn’t get his attention. Mystery didn’t intrigue him. Magic Tree House was okay but not enough to take on himself. He did like scary books and we read lots of Goosebumps books together, but he wasn’t ready to read those alone.
Grade Two came and went and he was still a little behind on his reading. I admit it, it was kind of concerning. I met with his teacher a few times. Then there was Grade Three and his Pokémon phase hit. Fortunately, Pokémon included books. Graphic novels really but we called them books. Real books. And he read them. He loved them. He read them alone. He asked for them. He collected the whole series. It made him proud.
By fourth grade he got caught up in another book craze – The Diary of A Wimpy Kid. He read them all. He even asked for one for his birthday. Picture my heart soaring. That was also the year my book I’m Not Her came out and I went to BEA. I returned with a bunch of ARC’s for him to try. When summer came, I did something lots of parents do (even if we don’t always admit it). I bribed him. I told him if he read a “big” book over the summer, I would pay him and he could get the race suit he had his eye on. (He’s a competitive swimmer)
He picked an ARC from my pile called Return to Exile. And he LOVED it. He read it in the car, instead of playing video games. He got mad at my husband and me for talking too loud when he was trying to read. I was thrilled.
After that book, he started to get hooked. He’s not a voracious reader and he’s still very selective about what he’ll read, but when we find the right book, he’s a true reader. He devoured the Hunger Games. We tried a bunch of books in between and some he’d start but wouldn’t finish. He loved Divergent so I saw a pattern. Dystopian. And then The Fifth Wave. Aliens, for the win. He has a certain taste, and doesn’t read much outside of it, but he’s a reader. His Grade Seven teacher recently remarked on his vocabulary skills and attributed it to reading.
My son has no interest in the books I write. He politely asks about them, and what they’re about when I’m writing them, but he doesn’t ask to read them. It doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m a firm believe that no book is for everyone, but for everyone there is a book. Sometimes you have to try a few to get the right one.
Janet Gurtler is a bestselling author of Young Adult Fiction. Professional reviews have compared Janet’s work to Sarah Dessen, Jody Piccoult and Judy Blume. Her most recent book, Sixteen Things I Thought Were True was selected as a JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD SELECTION for Spring 2014.
Janet’s work has been selected as Canadian Children’s Book Center, Best Book for Teens and also selected as top YA Fiction Titles for The Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. Her work has been included in the Bank Street Books Top 100 Fiction and has been nominated for YALSA awards. Janet is also a double Rita Finalist for her YA, I’M NOT HER.
Visit Janet at www.janet-gurtler.com or find her on twitter @janetgurtler.