From Charlotte’s Web to Charlotte Bronte: How to Grow a Lifelong Reader

This is an essay by Ry Mas.

I love to read and as far as I can remember I always have. No one had to force me or carrot and stick me. Each book that I opened revealed some new far off world that I could visit whenever I wanted just by opening the cover of a book. I don’t recall how old I was when I first learned to read or even who taught me, but I do recall the childhood book that had the biggest impact on my life as a reader; Charlotte’s Web. There was a magic for me in that story that seemed to light up every mundane experience. Was the common gray spider in the corner some wise old sage sent to lead me on to some greater purpose? Needless to say that was never quite the case, but, years later as an adult the magic of books remains.

I shared that magic with my children. My son now 18 was the recipient of my sci-fi and fantasy obsessions. I read him novella versions of Doctor Who and Star Trek. I also read him books about things that interested him, music, art, and magic. He found his own magic in the Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. As a mother while I feel pride in the fact that my son has grown into an adult that loves to read. I often ponder exactly how much influence I wielded over that outcome. If I use myself as the example I must admit that my love for reading did not occur because I was read to on a regular basis or because I saw reading as a past time modeled for me. It was actually quite the opposite.

Tube to Text

In my home television was the prescribed mode of entertainment. My father and mother divorced when I was quite young and my mother worked the 3-11 shift at the local nursing home. This meant that the majority of my waking hours were spent with my Nana. Nana could read enough to get by with paying the bills and the like, but, a reader for pleasure she never was. She instead watched her “stories”on television. I cut my teeth on General Hospital and One Life to Live. I absolutely loved them just as much as she did and spent countless hours glued to the tube to find out what would happen next.

Fast forward thirty years and the little girl who watched the daily perils of Luke and Laura with much aplomb can’t stand daytime television. In fact I rarely watch conventional television at all and instead keep a book log to remember which book I want to read next. I am currently moving through the works of Charlotte Bronte: Jane EyreVillette, and The Professor are all in queue. Though my attempt to reconnect to the classics might gain me the “mature” reader badge in all honesty these days the bulk of my daily reading includes a strange mixture of children’s favorites like, The Cat in the HatFancy Nancy, and Mya’s Magic Money Machine, interspersed with Developing the Curriculum and Principles and Practices of Teaching Reading.

I walk an interesting tight wire of teaching my young daughter to read while learning to teach classrooms of young daughters (and sons) to read. This means that my daughter gets the benefit of my experience and love for reading paired with knowledge I gain from peer-reviewed research on the “best” methods to create a lifelong reader. At age 6 and still in the process of building reading fluency she already loves to read. She recently told me, “Mama, I just can’t understand how anyone doesn’t like to read. It’s just so fun!” Out of the mouths of babes, but, the fact remains that many people, perhaps I dare say most people don’t like to read. Like my daughter I was initially baffled by this phenomenon and then intrigued. I decided to turn to educational research to find the reason behind this disdain for reading and perhaps a solution, a lure as it were for non-readers into the Eden of intrinsic reading. My exploration of personal experience combined with research and school observations revealed three issues of note:

Reading Barriers and Solutions

*Barrier– Adults that do not enjoy reading for pleasure often struggle with the reading process or suffered a reading related “trauma” during their formative years.

*Solution-This will first require a“diagnosis” of the adults current reading level. This can be touchy if you are friend seeking to change a non-reading pal into a reader. Those that struggle with reading can feel stigmatized. An easy discussion that begins with why your friend doesn’t like to read is the safest starting point. From there try offering a variation of, “You know I really used to have a difficult time reading. I struggled with ______; do you ever struggle at all?” If the answer is “Yes” you can direct them to the Education Insider’s list of 5 excellent free sources for adult reading improvement. Improved reading fluency can build a desire to read.

*Barrier– We all learn differently, for this reason those that are more auditory or kinesthetic learners may be less likely to be readers for pleasure. Even visual learners can be stymied by the text only format of books.

*Solution– Meet this potential reader in their current realm of entertainment. Are they die-hard movie/television fans? Many shows were based on books or graphic novels. Share those with them and they may be hooked. Are they radio/mp3 hounds? No worries, there is now a huge selection of audiobooks available. Audiobooks can offer the auditory stimulated potential reader the enjoyment of books in a format that they find more palatable. Grab the kinesthetic learners with books about the activities they enjoy. Books that instruct them “how to” can blend together reading and their love of motion.

*Barrier– Many adults lament that they do not read for pleasure because they simply do not have the time; all of their “read-time” is reserved for work or scholastic endeavors.

*Solution– The time factor is always a tough nut to crack. It is not impossible though. For many of us our lives are schedule based and we tend to honor those schedules. Therefore reading time must be scheduled as well. Encourage not reading friends to join you one hour a week for a homegrown book club. Or if even this is too much start an online lit chat with your friends. This will allow non-readers to get some reading in small doses with the goal of building a desire. Desire to read mysteriously can help a reader find extra minutes for the activity in a tight schedule.

Though research offers that these solutions can help convert adult non-readers into readers for pleasure I feel duty bound to note that the best solution is to grab potential readers while they are young. Multiple reports from the National Middle School Association warn that the middle school years are when we lose potential readers. The tumult of middle school can leave those on the fence readers with a total loss of intrinsic desire to read. Therefore if you have children or know someone with children strike early to keep them in the reading camp. Give books as gifts. Even better give gift certificates to book stores as gifts so that young ones can choose their own reading adventures. Throw family friendly reading parties wherein friends can bring their progeny to enjoy reading related fun. And never discount the old perennial favorite of volunteering to read to a child or classroom. What a difference a great reader can make to a young person’s reading life and overall future.

Read…Why?

The educational researcher Holden once offered that, “The path of a reader is not a runway but more a hack through a forest, with individual twists and turns, entanglements and moments of surprise.” This is a sentiment that I find both delightful and true, but, there are even greater rewards for the intrinsic desire to read. In The National Literacy Trust’s report Reading for Pleasure the following benefits were noted:

* increased community participation

* a better understanding of cultures

* increased general knowledge

* a greater insight into human nature and decision-making

These benefits alone should be a strong motivation for those of us in the “I love reading” club to go all out in an effort to convert our non-reading friends. As I look back on my beginnings as a reader I am thankful that I developed the desire to read for pleasure even though my upbringing could have dictated otherwise. I am thankful that I have shared that love with my children. Though I am not certain in which percentage this love of reading was transferred via genetics, example, or educational force I am certain that it will span a lifetime. I encourage you to have a look at your personal web and see whom you might entangle in a life-long love of reading. Loan them a book, share a literary website with them, show them an interesting author profile. Be it an adult friend or the children of adult friends let them know that there is a wise gray spider in the corner with a great story to share. You might just plant the seeds that grow a lifelong reader.

What steps have you taken so far to encourage other adults to read?

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Ry Mas is a freelance writer that believes true communication can bring about positive change and that one should never stop learning. Ry draws from her experience as a parent, yoga instructor, educator, and theater geek to craft together works of fiction and non-fiction. It is her goal to entertain, encourage, and spark positive change. Ry holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and is completing her M.A.T. with an emphasis on secondary education. She is also founder of The Urban Ashram. Ry’s first book Evangeline is now available. You can follow her writing adventures at CheapRent.theurbanashram.com

Photo: Some rights reserved by dchousegrooves.

4 Replies to “From Charlotte’s Web to Charlotte Bronte: How to Grow a Lifelong Reader”

  1. Thanks for a great post. Encouraging others to read is an important task I often neglect, because I’ve already got my nose buried to far in a book. I’ll have to try out some of your tactics.

    1. Thanks Chris! I think the love for reading is that great secret we keep to ourselves for a multitude of reasons. It is the greatest secret to share though and the rewards for all are unlimited. Good luck with your attempts to share. Happy Reading!

  2. Isn’t it a pity that there are so many barriers to something that can be a pleasurable activity?

    Another reason for not reading can be simply that they have poor eyesight and reading is a huge strain.
    Anjali

    1. Anjali,
      You are so right about poor eyesight being a valid reason for not reading. I myself have poor vision and I have noticed with age I am not able to read for as long as I once did without a bit of discomfort. What I suggest to combat this is the use of the larger font tool when reading from a computer screen. For good old fashioned books large print, good lighting, reading glasses, and eyedrops can offer some comfort and allow readers to continue reading.

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