Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Guest Post by Maggie Hames: Dealing with My Own Reluctant Reader

A few months ago, my friend Maggie Hames contacted me with a problem, asking for some help. As she describes below, the solution was not too difficult and was a terrific success.

Book Her, Gail! Dealing With My Own Reluctant “Reader”

This is one of those good news/bad news stories. The good news was that my four-year-old daughter Julia was developing an interest in all sorts of media: tv, movies, and apps. And whether the media was educational or entertainment, it was fun encouraging her to talk about the messages she got from the media she was beginning to really love. The bad news is that her interest in books nearly disappeared.

Her bedtime ritual of a “story” had come to mean that my husband or I would recount the plot of one of her favorite films and repeat it to her as if we were making up the tale then and there. Depending on how tired she (and I) were, I could weave a short, medium, or long synopsis of Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, or Aladdin. But I couldn’t interest her in a book, which bugged me no end! Before too much time passed, I wanted to nip this in the bud.

Luckily, my friend and colleague is Gail Terp and she’s one of the best in the business when it comes to dealing with reluctant readers. She created the blog, Best Blog for Kids Who Hate to Read. At four years old, my daughter doesn’t read yet, but her disinterest in books was disturbing. Gail came up with a great plan for us. Step one was sending Gail the link to the collection at our local library so she could suggest books easily available to us. Gail didn’t want to use books we already owned, which was smart. If you want to get excited about books, go to the library!

A few days later, my daughter received a letter in the mail from Gail. It read, “Here is a set of 3 books for you to read with your mom. When you have finished reading them, please let me know your favorite. If you can tell me what you liked best about the book, that would be great.” Gail listed Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, Press Here by Hervé Tullet and Friday Night at Hodges Café by Tim Egan. 

Getting a personal letter in the mail absolutely thrilled Julia. And when we went to the library, it was the first time we ever went looking for a specific book. Julia found it interesting to work with the librarian to help us find our books. And when one was already checked out, Julia searched for an alternate and chose Duck on a Bike by Dave Shannon.

We went home and I read Caps for Sale to Julia. She immediately wanted it re-read to her. I took notes for Gail, then went on to the next book; and then the next. That night, we read the books again at bedtime. I was thrilled to pieces. A few days later, Gail sent Julia a copy of her favorite of the three, Caps for Sale. Every night since, we’re read the book, (along with another from our collection) including Gail’s inscription. It makes Julia feel special in a way that’s hard to describe.

Seems like it only took the gentlest push to get her back into the world of books. The amazing thing is that Gail never used this specific technique before. She told me, “As a retired teacher, I have lots of experience coming up with plans, so that part is rather second nature. Plus, appealing to a child’s sense of helpfulness is almost always a good idea.” You can say that again. I think bringing in a person outside our family turned the trick. It made my little girl feel special to get a letter in the mail but also to have the opportunity to “help” Gail with her opinions on the list of books (my own little book reviewer in the making). Gail’s program really lit a fire under both of us and gave Julia a sense of purpose. At the end of the day, it was Gail’s depth of experience as a teacher that made this “problem” simple to solve. Hooray for Gail Terp. And as we begin a new school year, hooray for teachers!

This was such a fun opportunity. So often, all a reluctant reader needs is the just right book. Thanks, Maggie and Julia for letting me be part of your reading times!

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