The Magic of Reading a Real Book

Many times in the course of being a parent one of my children does something or says something that makes my heart swell. Tonight was one of these special moments.

My son is seven. He has been reading for about three years now. Last year he transitioned from reading aloud to being able to read to himself. His fluency and reading ability is well beyond his age level. As a former reading teacher and future author I could not wait for him to reach this stage. I looked forward to being able to give him books and watch him read them with the same enthusiasm that I had for reading. My husband is an avid reader and even my daughter who is six loves to read. I see us as a reading kind of family so I will admit I was a little disappointed when his love of reading did not take off as I had anticipated it would. My son had the skills but not the desire.

He has always adored listening to me read to him and he even enjoyed taking turns reading chapters aloud in stories like Harry Potter so I could not figure out why he would not pick them up and read them on his own. He would read his assigned homework reading without arguing and he would blast through his summer reading books without any complaint but I could tell he was not enjoying what he was doing. Reading for him was a requirement or a means to get a reward but never a pleasure.

Tonight that all changed. My neighbour has always bought my children little gifts for holidays and their birthdays. At Christmas she gave my son an amazing gift. The book One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson has sat on my son’s shelf since December. He picked it up this morning and began to read it. By the time he left for school he was twenty-five pages into it. Tonight he finished eating his evening meal, he had his shower without complaint and he headed up the stairs. I assumed he planned on watching television but when I went to check on him I was pleasantly surprised. I found him curled up in his bed reading his book. He turned to me as I was quietly closing the door and said, “I love this book mum. It is not like any of the others I have ever read. Can I stay up a little later tonight so I can read some more?”

My eyes filled with tears. It is one of those moments in parenting I have waited ages for. It is on par with him saying his first few words or taking those first wobbly steps. I of course agreed to let him have a little later bedtime because I was so thrilled.

I sat down and began to think about what made this book so different from all the others that had been put in his hands. Then it dawned on me, he has never been given a real book to read on his own before. The other books have always been levelled readers designed for education. His first books were laden with phonic lessons. His recent ones are to test comprehension and boost vocabulary. His school does not have a lending library like my school did when I grew up. Children in his school borrow books from the classroom. The only problem with this is that so far the books have all been levelled. My son reads many of these books because there is a reward system in his school. For every ten books a child reads they are given a bookmark and for every thirty they can select a book.

I now assume that despite having a shelf full of real books in his room he was still associating reading with the mundane books he gets from school and he would not entertain reading them because of that. Reading is a learned skill that is useful for many obvious reasons that we readers take for granted every day but the gift of enjoying reading is like having a treasure chest filled with adventures just waiting to be taken.

Do you remember the first book that made you become hooked on reading to yourself for pleasure?




About Billie Jo Schinnerer

Born and raised on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment in eastern New York. Formerly a primary and middle school teacher. Moved to the North West area of England in 2003. Now a mother of three and a wannabe author.
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12 Responses to The Magic of Reading a Real Book

  1. Zen says:

    Awww. I can only imagine how happy that made you! The type of book can make all the difference. =]
    I remember two books that I often read – Thumbelina (which is the first book I ever picked out myself when I was four) and The Cat with the Feathery Tail and Other Stories by Enid Blyton (it was the first /thick/ book I bought, so I was pretty pleased with myself, haha).

    • I used to love going to the library and picking out books. I remember reading the Frances books by Russell Hoban when I first learned to read. I had my mother read them to me so many times before that she was not sure whether I was reading them for real or by memory. I think my first thicker book was Fudge by Judy Bloom. I am just so pleased he will get to experience that type of magic.

      I only started reading Enid Blyton books as an adult. I was raised in America and they were not as popular there as they were in the UK but I love them now.

  2. Awk, so sweet. It just took the right book to bring him around! That’s wonderful, Billie Jo. I can imagine how much it means to you. My son loved to be read to, and can read well, but he’s 24 now, and has never had that break through moment where reading became more than a means to an end. It would have meant so much to me to see that happen for him. You’re very fortunate, and so’s your son.

    I can’t recall one specific book that did that for me. I think I always loved reading, even the boring Dick sees Jane run type books we begin on. It’s a romance that’s lasted, I can tell you that.

  3. E. A. Hughes says:

    Ah, fond memories! I have a one-and-a-half year-old daughter, and I, too, am looking forward to that day when she loses herself in a beloved book for the first time. Reading your post made me a little emotional (shocking for a Brit!), thinking about what that would be like.

    It’s so interesting to note what you observed — that the ‘assigned’ reading books do not inspire a love of reading. I have a teacher friend whose primary goal, it seems is to inspire a love of reading in his 10-11 year-old class. I am firmly convinced that those kids will grow up with broader, more flexible minds as a result, and will be more open to explore and have new ideas than their less privileged counterparts.

    I’m one of those who was always reading. I remember the Alan Garner books thrilling me when I first began to read on my own, as well as a healthy diet of Enid Blyton and fairy tale books left over from previous generations in my family. It was the ability to really ‘get lost’ in the pages of a book that captivated me — I would snuggle down on the sofa or my bedroom floor, swathed in blankets with my apple and sandwich to hand, and dive into the words to the exclusion of all else.

    I’m just happy to be returning the favour now I’m able to!

    Many congratulations on your son’s breakthrough. May you have many happy years of reading ahead!

    • As a teacher, I heavily immersed my students in a whole language approach to learning to read. There were only “real books” in my classroom. I only pulled out the heavier educational phonics based stuff for those that truly struggled to read and only as a supplement to a well balanced diet of good old fashion read aloud and shared reading adventures with real books. Your friend seems to have the right approach. With all the flashy gadgets out there these days begging for our attention, I believe a love of reading needs to be established early if it is to thrive.

      I have to admit growing up in America I never encountered Alan Garner books. I only recently came across his name when I was looking into Cheshire area authors. His work is on my to read list.

      Thank you for your comments and I wish you and your daughter many good reading adventures ahead.

  4. Shadlyn says:

    My first…I’m not sure. I was one of those who hit the ground running. But some pivotal books:

    Little House on the Prairie Series – this was my mom’s “d’aww” moment, because she read the series to us at night before bed, and then when we finished I immediately picked it up and read it again to myself. A pattern of repeat reading to “set” the memory that persists to this day.

    The Black Cauldron (and the rest of the series) – when I saw the movie, I wanted more.

    Dragon’s Milk – It was my first real experience with an entirely made up culture.

    The Perilous Gard – Taught a very young (Second grade?) me that physical attraction to a fictional character can happen with very few words of description indeed.

    Bunnicula (and series) – One of my first experiences with genuine humor in book form. Kids, accept no substitutes, no matter how many they try to cram down your throat.

    I remember being sick of “grade level” books before I hit second grade so I understand where your son is coming from! Thankfully my mom kept a varied library in the house and (with the exception of a handful of horror/romance novels which I read anyway when she wasn’t looking, just because they were forbidden) encouraged me to browse and pick out my own tastes.

    • I read the entire Little House series in second and third grade. My friend and I were obsessed and used to pretend to be Laura and Mary at recess. We were a little on the nerdy side. 🙂

      I never encountered Bunnicula until I was a teacher but it is by far one of my all time favourite books for kids. It was one that I had multiple sets of in my classroom so it could be enjoyed by them all.

      Your mom had the right idea! And yes, I used to sneak a book or two here or there that I knew my mom would not exactly want me to read but then again I printed off the school’s banned reading list in high school and started from the top working my way down reading them too.

  5. Evelyn says:

    God, that seems so long ago. I feel like I have always read.
    In the 2nd grade, I got yelled at for reading Are You There God, Its Me Margaret by Judy Blume. So I know for sure, she was my first author obsession…

    • Loved her too but I think I waited to read that until I was in third grade. 🙂

      • The Judy Blume I got caught with was Forever. Fourth or fifth grade, I think? But I don’t remember being overwhelmed or confused by the sexuality of the story, despite what the adults in my life seem to have expected.

        More often than not, I don’t think we give kids enough credit with regards to reading material.

      • Ah, the famous page 81 of Forever. I just shrugged when I finished reading it, it did not confuse or overwhelm me either. I knew the V.C. Andrews books I read were a little “naughty” to be reading so young but I think that was because I knew incest was an even bigger taboo than under age sex. I think the fact they were a bit controversial made me read them even more.

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