April 24

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A Letter to Our Struggling Readers by Jen Petro-Roy

I was one of those stereotypical bookworm kids. The glasses-wearing girl who curled up with a book on the corner of a couch, who sprawled out on my bed or ignored everyone else from the backseat of a car. (Bless my lack of carsick genes!). I loved long books with zillions of pages. I loved books with paragraphs full of lush descriptions. The librarians knew me by name.

I was easy to reel in. I was easy to hand books to. But what about the kids who don’t get sucked into pages and pages of prose so easily? What about the kids who might have a limited attention span? The ones aren’t used to seeing their lives reflected in books, so they automatically turn away from the suggestions and booktalks of teachers and librarians?

It is those kids that I wrote P.S. I Miss You for. My book is written entirely in letters, and was inspired when I re-read Dear Mr. Henshaw a few years ago. Beverly Cleary’s masterpiece is much shorter than mine, yet it still manages to convey a world of emotion, feeling, and experience in those few pages and in those (sometimes) short letters.

If kids are struggling with short attention spans, they can read a few letters at a time. They don’t have to see that Chapter One is forty pages long and steel themselves for the flood of words ahead of them. But strung together, these letters make up a story, a whole book that they can be proud of reading. A book that might introduce them to a lifetime of stories that will show them that they are not alone. That it’s okay to be someone who struggles with reading. That it’s okay to be different in whatever form that takes. Whether you’re gay or straight, have pimples or clear skin, struggle in school or never have to study at all.

Not that there’s anything wrong with long books. As a former librarian myself, I know the rule. “For every book there is a reader.” But that’s what authority figures forget a lot, I think, when we celebrate the big readers. When we have contents to encourage kids to read as many pages as possible and talk about filling out elaborate summer reading charts.

Sometimes getting through one chapter is a victory. Becoming a reader is a journey, and we can guide it one letter at a time.

Jen Petro-Roy is a former teen librarian, an obsessive reader, and a trivia fanatic. She lives with her husband and two young daughters in Massachusetts. P.S. I Miss You is her debut novel.