The Reluctant Reader
by Dan Rice
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My first grader is a reluctant reader. At times, he is even violently opposed to reading. He enjoys being read to, but ask him to read and watch out––cue long and dramatic temper tantrum.
Part of his reluctance stems from the fear of making mistakes. One of his earliest and favorite phrases is I don’t know. He often pulls out variations on this when asked to read or sound out a difficult word. We tell him that it’s okay to make mistakes, but he remains not entirely convinced.
Although he knows all his phonics, he struggles to put sounds together. This, coupled with his desire to avoid making mistakes, quickly leads to frustration and giving up altogether. Insisting he persevere often leads to a meltdown.
The Bob Books
At the recommendation of his teacher, we purchased him the Bob Books: 104-Book Deluxe Reader Collection by Lynn Maslen Kertell. At the time of purchase, it struck me as a little bit pricey, but knowing what I know now, I’d pay far more for these books.
At the beginning of first grade, my son seemed practically preliterate. I don’t know if it was indeed the lack of ability to read or just his violent opposition to it that made him so. Nevertheless, he reluctantly began to read by starting with the easiest of the Bob Books, which are straightforward stories with three-word sentences.
It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. He still whined and cried about reading, but he could get through an entire book with some help. He still reads the Bob Books. Some are advanced enough to inspire temper tantrums, but now at the midway point of first grade, he’s on the verge of meeting grade-level requirements in reading. He still has other struggles, mostly with writing, but the recommendation by his teacher to try out the Bob Books was fortuitous.
My son has always enjoyed reading time, but holding his interest is a struggle. I think he enjoys the closeness of reading together as much and often more than he does the stories. The first time I recall him being enthralled by a story was when we read the Glitter Dragons Series by Maddy Mara. He saw the novel in a book fair catalog and insisted he wanted to read it. It looked far too advanced for him, but we purchased it.
The book was too advanced for him to read on his own, but it turns out it was perfect for being read to him. He loved the story of the girls traveling to the magic forest and discovering they could turn into dragons. Magic, friendship, and adventure––what’s not to love? I ended up reading the entire series to him, and he enjoyed each book. After completing the trilogy, I struggled to find more books to engage him. The same author has more dragon books, but those didn’t interest him.
Purely by chance, we stumbled upon The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey, a comedic series of graphic novels featuring predatory animals trying to be good. We’ve already devoured two of the books in the series, and he is still ravenous for more. Fortunately, there are 15 books in this series. I’m eager to discover how many we’ll finish before he tires of the tales.
You Never Know What Might Inspire a Lifelong Love of Reading
Aside from his fear of making mistakes, the reasons for my first grader’s reluctance to read remain largely a mystery. My wife and I have always been diligent about reading to him. He’s aware that his older brother reads by himself every day and that I do too. He even expresses the desire to read at a fifth-grade level so he can play Pokémon with his friends.
Screens have something to do with it, certainly, as they’re untaxing portals into fantastical worlds. Spending most of kindergarten doing remote school didn’t help, but I suspect he’d still have some problems, maybe not quite as pronounced, even if he did in-person school that first year.
Despite the challenges, and following his own timeline, my son is beginning to discover the magic of reading. As with many things in life, persistence, patience, and kindness are vital in encouraging reading. That and always being on the hunt for stories that will ignite the imagination, and hopefully, inspire a lifelong love for reading.
About Dan Rice
Dan Rice pens the young adult urban fantasy series The Allison Lee Chronicles in the wee hours of the morning. The series kicks off with his award-winning debut, Dragons Walk Among Us, which Kirkus Review calls, “An inspirational and socially relevant fantasy.”
While not pulling down the 9 to 5 or chauffeuring his soccer fanatic sons to practices and games, Dan enjoys photography and hiking through the wilderness.