Friday, November 13, 2015

The story of a girl who became a reader

image from Etsy

My wife and I are avid readers. As a young child I would devour book after book, checking out a dozen at a time from the local library and finishing them within a week or two. My wife has many books at her bedside, ready for her to enjoy. She also tears through audio books on her daily jog and I listen to audio books in the car on the way to work. We have always tried to instill a love of reading in our kids.

My oldest daughter has also turned in to a book fiend. While in high school she would stay up until one or two in the morning on school nights because she could not put a book down. Our way of disciplining her would be to take her books away. My second son is also a voracious reader, easily consuming books in a matter of days. I don't have to worry about late fines from the library because he reads his books too quickly.

But this isn't a story about us. It's a story about my 3rd grade daughter, who struggled to even complete a book. She wanted to be a reader. She checked out books from the school library each week and would come with me to the public library every time I went. Sometimes she would check out picture books, but mostly she would get chapter books with unicorns on the front or fairies or young school girls. She would get started on the first few pages and we would dutifully record her progress on the weekly reading log. But if I wasn't beside her forcing her to read, she wouldn't bother to pick up the book and never finished a single chapter book.

I tried suggesting books that I though were on her reading level. At the library I would show her a shelf she could choose from. At home I would go through our personal library of children's books and select piles of them that I felt she could get through. She never liked my selections, instead getting ones from school, that she would never finish.

As a reader myself, I struggled with helping her read, but didn't know how. I thought if I found the right level and made it easy enough, she would be able to get all the way through. I had her read out loud to me, but that slowed her down and the books she was selecting seemed too hard in terms of vocabulary. Nothing seemed to motivate her to actually finish a chapter book.

Pernille Ripp has suggested that one way to let students become readers is to let them self select their books, regardless of the format (picture, graphic novel, chapter book) or level. It sounded like sound advice to me and I gave my daughter that freedom. However, she still chose books that she wouldn't finish.

Last week we were at the library picking up books I had on hold and finding books for my youngest daughter. As usual I let me third grader choose one for herself. She chose Dr. Nicholas is Ridiculous by Dan Gutman. I had never heard of this series, but, whatever, she could try it out.

That night when she was upstairs in our loft reading the book I heard a few giggles and she came down to me and shared what was so funny. I laughed along with her and praised her for reading and enjoying the book. Over the next day or so she kept reading the book, sharing moments that she found hilarious. She even took the book to bed, turned on the nightlight, and read a bit more before going to sleep. And then the miracle happened - she finished the book! She was so proud of herself! Her mom and I were so proud of her! She danced around the house and sang, "I finished my first chapter book!" and at that moment she decided she wanted another book from that series.

The next day we went to the library to return the first book. She wanted only one, afraid that she wouldn't be able to finish it. But I convinced her to take at least two "just in case she finished the first". The experience repeated itself, with her reading out loud to her younger sister each night before they went to bed. In the morning I found the book and this note:

And now she's on the third book she checked out from the series! She has finally succeeded in completing not just one, but two chapter books! I haven't had to coerce or cajole her into reading any of them. The confidence and excitement she achieved through this little accomplishment is amazing!

I know this doesn't mean she's suddenly ready for Where the Fern Grows or any other awesome books, but I can see how proud she is for her accomplishment. I believe that enthusiasm will encourage her to try more and more books. And I am completely content in letting her read through the entire series if that's all she wants.

In addition to Pernille's article above, here are a few other articles that have helped inspire me to not give up on struggling readers. There are many more out there.

Why Reading Sucks
20 Ideas for Creating Passionate Reading Environments Engaging Reluctant Readers


  1. Enjoyed this post. Found it on Dan Gutman's twitter feed. I'd looked at his web page & twitter feed after I read the first three book in his My Weirder School series. I'm an English teacher studying the publishing world--that's why I was reading his books. What you shared about your daughter is what kid lit author loves to hear. I'm so glad she found something she likes!

    Then when I clicked around your blog, I found more goodies. I work in a 1:1 iPad middle school and 1:1 MacBook high school in a small town west of Wichita, Kansas. Thanks for the time you take to explain how things work and benefit students. You're helping old timers like me, for I've taught 27 years.

    I've been having a hard time keeping up with the speed of the technological changes, but people like you and my colleague Jill Weber (check her out at or @jillwebs on twitter) inspire me. She's been talking to us about ThingLink. I twittered your post on that to her.

    Love how technology links us together, for I only found you because I read couple of chapter books and went to investigate the author. Small world.

    1. Thanks for your kind words! I'm so excited and proud of my daughter. I had read many blogs that talked about students just needing to find the right book, a book they could connect to for whatever personal reason. I'm so glad my daughter finally found one. It has really increased her self confidence.

      Thanks for making the connections as well. I'm always excited to share and hear from other educators. We are all in this together and need to hear what others are doing.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!