How do you get a boy to start reading?
A bride, a book and a journey almost missed
I was not a very honest child. I can confess it now, but at the time I thought I was clever when I cheated on book reports. I fooled teachers for years - but at what price.
In school, we were given books to read and asked to write a report to share what we'd learned from the experiences of the characters and the places the book had allowed us to travel.
But I hated to read and no one was going to make me.
To me, reading was a chore. I felt pressured to read and couldn't see the joy in it. I had an elaborate system that allowed me to appear as if I had done the assignment. Just before the book report was due, I would read the back cover, the jacket sleeves and skim the first and last chapters.
Sometimes, to make my reports more believable, I would open the book and pull out a character name or quote from somewhere in the middle. I made up the rest.
I got caught.
During an oral exam in middle school, a teacher began to suspect the truth. She named a character from the book and asked me how I felt about that person.
I was confident as I expounded on the character and their place in the story. The teacher folded her arms and gave me a denouncing look. She told me that no such character existed. She made the character up to test her suspicion.
Then she leaned forward and told me that, while I was cheating to pass her class, I was actually cheating myself from the incredible journey that is reading.
I didn't fully understand until years later when I met a girl, Debbie, who was an avid reader. She was obviously smarter than me and had knowledge of the world she had gained through books. (She was also very wise, kind and beautiful.)
For reasons I still don't fully understand, she later agreed to marry me and things began to change.
First, I was around a reader - a person who truly found joy in literature. She shared exciting moments from her books and I listened. Then Debbie shared something even more powerful by giving birth to two sons in the first few years of our marriage.
On Debbie's recommendation I started reading Roald Dahl books to our boys at bedtime each night. I remember asking myself, "Who is this guy?" He wrote wild, adventurous stories in a way that I found myself laughing out loud along with my boys. That's when it hit me - it wasn't that reading wasn't fun, I just needed to find the right books for me.
So with the help of my bride and Roald Dahl, I started discovering books I should have read in school - "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "War of the Worlds" and "Treasure Island," which is now one of my many favorite books. I continued to read to my children each night for many years. All five of my children have heard me read nearly every Roald Dahl book ever published.
These days, I can't wait to finish one book so I can start another. Along with fun escapes and adventure, reading has given me a more open mind and made me a better communicator.
Today, as I remember myself faking my way through book reports, I wonder how many children out there are just like I was. And I believe all the new technology we have is not helping children learn to love reading. By relying on the Internet for information, they are missing the benefits that come from an old-fashioned, hold-in-your-hand, page-turner.
I encourage parents to take their young children to bookstores or libraries regularly and let them pick out a book that you will read to them or with them. (Ereaders will also do, but I still prefer a traditional book.)
Do what you can to get them away from the video games and computers long enough to discover the joy of reading. Find the books that will turn that key in their mind.
If you have a child like I was - especially a boy - who may not be motivated to read, may I recommend any number of children's books by Roald Dahl.
Some of these include The BFG, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, James and the Giant Peach, The Twits, The Vicar of Nibbleswicke and many others.
His characters are fun, different and very appealing to boys like I was, who do not yet know the wonderful journey called reading.