Reading for Fun is Serious Business by Lisa Schroeder
When I visit with kids and talk about being an author, I tell them they may be surprised to learn that I didn’t major in Creative Writing or English in college. I majored in Business, and worked in Human Resources for a number of years. Reading a ton of middle-grade and young adult novels was my schooling for becoming an author. Well, that and writing a bunch of bad stories, too. Just like anything, the more you practice, the better you get when it comes to writing. And I have always believed reading a lot is really important to becoming a good writer as well. (If you can do it on the patio, in the sunshine, even better.) But I didn’t have any proof, per se, that reading affects writing, until my youngest entered middle school.
I should back up here for a moment and tell you that my older son was an avid reader during his elementary and middle school years. When he discovered something new to be excited about in this giant world of ours, we’d have so much fun going to the library to find books on that particular subject. I remember during his owl phase he fell in love with a novel about a man who adopted an injured owl and the owl became like a member of the family (sorry, the title escapes me).
But my younger son was very much a reluctant reader. I tried to get him to love reading, but it just wasn’t happening for him. First of all, reading didn’t come as easily as it had for his older brother. I read to him and with him for a long time, but I think it still felt like work to him a lot of the time. He was barely meeting state standards in reading, and his writing scores were actually below standards. I had no idea what to do, to be honest. Fortunately for us, something in middle school happened that changed everything.
And that something was Literacy class.
Every other day, for thirty minutes, students went to Literacy class and they had to bring a book or magazine or comic to read. It could be anything they wanted to read, but they had to bring something. Occasionally they did vocabulary words, but ninety percent of the class was simply reading for fun. During those three years, I worked hard to make sure my son had books he enjoyed. If there was something he didn’t like, we’d talk about why and we’d go to work finding something else for him to read. This is when he discovered Rick Riordan, Gary Paulsen, and Suzanne Collins (most know her for The Hunger Games trilogy, but he enjoyed her Underland Chronicles series, too). It was a Rick Riordan book that he brought home one day and said, “Mom, I’m almost finished, and it’s so good, I’m going to do that while I eat my snack, okay?” Um, okay? ABSOLUTELY! After he read The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, he said he told all of his friends they had to read it because it was one of the best books he’d ever read. Now he wasn’t just reading, he was talking to his peers about what he was reading. Wow!
Now, I could stop right here, because that’s success in my eyes. Finally, finally, my son was excited about reading. If I read a book that I thought he’d like, I passed it on to him, and when he was finished, we’d have a great time talking about it. So awesome, right?
But the story doesn’t end there. As much as I dislike the pesky state assessment tests, they are, sadly, a fact of life. But by the end of middle school? My son was meeting standards in writing!! Coincidence? No. No way. And I know a lot of Nerdy Book Club members are nodding their heads right now, because you get it. Reading for fun – that is, letting kids choose what they read and giving them time for that in school – has so much value. It’s not wasted time, and I wish we could get every school across the country to understand that. For those of you who do understand, and who work tirelessly to do what you can do to give kids the time, the space, and the books to fall in love with reading, please know there are lots and lots of us who appreciate what you do!
My once reluctant reader kid is now in high school, and has study hall every other day. I told him early on, “We should make sure you have a book to read when you’re done with homework. I’d rather you do that than play on your phone or something.”
His response? “Yeah. Me, too.”
Lisa Schroeder is the author of over a dozen books for kids and teens, including the YA novels I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and the Oregon Book Award finalist THE BRIDGE FROM ME TO YOU as well as the middle grade novels IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES and MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS. She loves tea and cookies, flowers, family hikes, books and movies that make her laugh and cry, and sunshine. Living in Oregon, she doesn’t get nearly enough sunshine, but the hikes are amazing. You can visit her online at www.lisaschroederbooks.com or on Twitter at @lisa_schroeder.