December 14


This Book Lover’s Secret by Sandy Otto

Dear Nerdy Book Club family,

I have a secret.

You are the first people I’ve admitted this to.

My own children don’t love reading.

How did this happen, you might ask?

I’ll go back to the beginning…

I read to my children ever since they were babies. Board books, soft book, flap books, noisy books, and funny books with bright colors. We graduated to beautiful picture books with messages of love, kindness, and friendship. Then came the chapter books like Magic Tree House, Judy Moody, Junie B. Jones, Series of Unfortunate Events, Chronicles of Narnia, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

We read each day of our summer vacations. Reading books we chose, getting lost in the pages. Reading mattered in our household.

Harry PotterMy son read the Inheritance Cycle series, every Rick Riordan book, and devoured The Maze Runner on a summer trip to visit my parents in Arkansas. He and I had a love affair with Harry Potter, attending the Midnight Magic Party at Barnes and Noble on July 21, 2007: two of the first to get our hands on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ll forever cherish those memories, and adore J. K. Rowling.

With my daughter, it was the Twilight series. I read them first, and would pass them to her. We watched the movies together many times (the books were better). Yes, I was a “Twi-mom.” She read widely and enjoyed choosing books from my classroom library.

Somewhere between my son starting high school and my daughter starting middle school, reading became something they only did for school. They were no longer given time in school to read or given much choice in what they read. They often didn’t enjoy the books they were assigned to read.

This came at a time when extracurricular activities became a bigger part of their lives.

How ironic that my children’s reading interest declined just when I was evolving as a teacher who valued choice and providing class time to read. A teacher who began reading more YA than ever (40-50 books each summer). A teacher who nurtured students’ reading lives and worked hard to help them become wild readers. My own children and I were moving in opposite directions.

It’s not like I didn’t see it. I would come home with an exciting new book (or two…or ten) from the library (or delivered by Amazon). Instead of excitement about the opportunity to read the books before I shared them with my students, I heard expressions of “Another book, Mom? You read all the time.” Not said in admiration, but often with disdain.

My reading hobby had become something that took time away from my children, instead of something shared with my children.

A little piece of my heart was breaking.

Yes, I poured my energy into creating lifelong readers out of my students each year. However, I never gave up on my own two children.

In recent years, I shared my excitement over the books I read, reveling over their exciting storylines. Hoping that they might find one or more of them interesting enough to read.

I book talked with my daughter’s friends when they came over or when we carpooled to dance. I enjoyed inspiring their reading lives, hoping some would rub off on my daughter. I shared the synopsis of the books I ordered from Amazon or checked out from the public library: hoping one might capture their attention. I shared books my students loved, hoping that they might be more interested in other students’ favorites.

I’ve learned that there’s no guarantee that our habits will become our children’s habits. Many of you talk and write about the rich reading lives of your children: how you read the same YA lit, and how you can share book love with each other.

I hope that my children return to the wonderful world of reading. However, for now, I am fulfilled by being their reading role model.

I was the first to read to them. I turned the pages (and let them turn the pages), changing my voice to match the characters. I read their favorites over and over again, marveling at their excitement each time they got to a favorite part.

However, I don’t want to force reading. I want them to love it as much as I do. I want them to make reading a part of their life. Reading for pleasure. Yes, they do read in many different ways (texts, blogs, Twitter stories, Facebook posts, video game text, etc.).

But the act of opening up a book that they chose to read simply for the fun of it? That’s what I wish for them.

Recently, my son’s girlfriend turned him on to a science fiction book that I hadn’t read (and one that he liked). Another friend gave him a copy of Eragon, which he read a while ago but wants to read again.

As for my daughter, she read The Fault in Our Stars, Thirteen Reasons Why, and loved The Outsiders. Just a few weeks ago, she asked me about “that book you loved about the two kids who met on the bell tower ledge, ready to kill themselves.” Yes, she was talking about one of my recent favorites, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. She knew how much I cried over that one.  Unfortunately, one of my students was reading my copy, but I was excited when my they finished it yesterday. Maybe this will be THE book that gets her back into pleasure reading. Maybe the magic will return.

My children are 14 and 18. There’s plenty of time for them to rediscover the joy of reading. I was their first reading mentor, and I will continue to model book love. There’s no way I can turn that off.


Now you know my secret.

Sandy Otto is a 6th grade English teacher at Maple Grove Middle School in MN, and has taught for 22 years. She is a voracious reader, and loves being a connected educator. You can follow Sandy on Twitter @sandyrotto and can read her blog