The other day, I asked the Bob on Books Facebook Page membership “when did you discover you loved reading?” As of this writing, thirty-six people responded and it was unanimous that they fell in love with reading in elementary school or before. The oldest was in sixth grade. Some always loved reading, enjoying being read to and even learning to read before they went to school. One woman claimed she read at a twelfth grade level in first grade!
There were several things I learned from my informal survey:
- Time spent with parents or another adult reading stories contributed to a love for reading for some.
- Learning how to read opened up the wonderful world of reading for some.
- One reader shared how she didn’t learn to read until sixth grade due to issues related to Aspergers, and how dedicated Special Ed teachers persisted when she started falling behind and resented reading. Now she loves reading and commented, “I enjoy reading so much now and will continue on for more years to come.”
- For many, it was a particular book that opened the wonderful world of reading. People mentioned Huckleberry Finn, Charlotte’s Web, the Little House books, A Wrinkle in Time, Nancy Drew mysteries and monster books.
- Trips to the library and bookmobile were important for a number of individuals, and getting a library card of one’s own was empowering.
The funniest reply I received was, “When I realized I wasn’t getting siblings, ever.”
Just yesterday, I came across this in How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick:
“Learning to read in first grade is the start of future academic attainment that has significant implications on adult health status. By third grade, students transition from learning to read to reading to learn, meaning that an inability to read hinders learning across all subjects. A study in the Chicago Public School system found that 80 percent of children with above-average reading scores in third grade graduated high school compared to 45 percent of those with below-average reading levels.” (p. 65)
Elsewhere in this book it was noted that life expectancies in the U.S. can differ by as much as 14 years between those who fail to graduate from high school and those with sixteen or more years of education. Often, these differences are associated with zip codes and a complex of challenges.
Years ago, two friends co-wrote a book titled Read for Your Life. I wonder if they realized how literally true their words were. It seems that fostering the skill of reading, and hopefully with it, the love of reading, ought to be a national priority. How I wish a president would be willing to shut down the government for adequate funding to ensure every child learned to read. God bless the Special Ed teachers of my one respondent who persisted until she learned not only to read but to love reading!
So what do we say for the adults who did not develop a love of reading as children? Actually, I don’t think we are so different than children. We don’t like being lectured that we should read. Far better to read a book on something they find interesting and love that makes them want to read more. Far better to discover that talking about books can be enjoyable (do we need book groups for reading neophytes?). Sometimes there may even be a learning or visual difficulty that has made reading a chore all one’s life. Wouldn’t it be great if employee health plans included help in these areas. I suspect it would more than pay off in productivity.
I do suspect we who have always loved reading need to be careful with adults just learning to love books. We should not intimidate them with an avalanche of book recommendations or be book snobs looking down on choices that we might think are “mind candy.” After all, who doesn’t enjoy candy at times? And as we watch the child-like birth of a love for reading, we may recall our own first love.