Making reading dangerous

Posted: May 23, 2011 in Reading
Tags: , , ,

When parents ask me how to get reluctant readers into books, I tell them to stop making it safe.

Reading should take kids to places they’ve never been before. It should crack open the world and expose its heart.

I still remember the thrill I felt as a child when reading books that were beyond my years.

One of my most vivid reading experiences came as an eleven year old with Reach for the Sky, the biography of legless World War Two fighter pilot, Douglas Bader. It was the biggest book I had ever read – 782 pages of tiny print – and to this day I can recall that book in more detail than many of the thousands I have read since.

Children are aspirational. They enjoy the challenge of reaching for things that are denied to them because of their years.

I say let them make choices that push the outer edge of the envelope.

When my youngest was 8 or 9 years old, he refused to read anything except Captain Underpants books. He had nearly a dozen of them up on his shelf and would read and reread them until I despaired that one of our brains was going to implode. (Mine actually did when he told me that he only liked books where he knew what happened next… )

I offered him all sorts of titles, hoping to whet his appetite for variety in his reading diet. Nothing worked until the reverse psychology fairy came to my rescue.

In a moment of inspired desperation, I pointed at a random book passed on from an older sibling, and said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t read that till you’re 11, it’s too old for you.’

Naturally, he ate it up. (And all the other ‘unsuitable’ books passed on from his older brother.)

The next day, I walked up to his school and asked the librarian to open up the Grade Seven shelves to him. ‘Let him read anything he wants,’ I said. ‘If it’s genuinely too old for him, it will defeat him or go over his head.’

He’s never looked back.

He is eleven now and is eight-hundred-and-something pages into Lord of the Rings (I suspect he’s skipping the poetry, but I can live with that).

  1. Little Hat says:

    Dangerous reads. A metaphor for an exciting life.

  2. chrisbongers says:

    Nothing beats the adrenalin rush of the forbidden, does it, Steve? 😉

  3. Little Hat says:

    I don’t know. I’ve always been a perfect son, student, partner, adult??? and a liar.

  4. Pure genius. Maybe I should ‘hide’ the broccoli too.

  5. chrisbongers says:

    I think sometimes parents spoil reading for kids by making it too much like broccoli. As long as you don’t have something truly unsuitable on the shelves, I say let them choose their own reading diet. 🙂

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