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The Reluctant Reader

Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

My nephew turned seven this month, and reading is probably one of his least favorite things to do – mainly because he has difficulty with it. With tutoring, school intervention, and help from family, he’s made huge progress, and is slowly becoming more confident with reading. But while he hates to read, he loves it when someone reads to him. So we read Pete the Cat (WHAT is up with that dude?), Minecraft books, Frozen, Dr. Seuss, and early readers. His after-school daycare bag is stuffed with at least 10 books; when I asked him why there were so many, he looked at me like I was crazy, and said very matter-of-factly, “I love books.” In my tote bag, I myself had four books. I get it. I understand the security that comes with carrying around books, “just in case” you have time to flip through them. You just feel better having them with you. I mean, I start to get nervous if I “only” have one book with me.

He loves hardcover books – I think because they seem more “grown-up” – and he’s written spin-offs on David Shannon’s No, David! (Although my nephew is very frustrated that he is relegated to making paperbacks. He is on the hunt for hardback blank books.) When I got him hardcovers for his birthday, he asked me to tuck them into bed with him. There they slept, snuggled against his little chest. The two of us often have auntie-nephew trips to the bookstore, and on the way home, I’ll often catch him sniffing the pages of a new book. Pure joy.

But then we get home and reading the book becomes a foreign concept to him. If I’m lucky, he’ll let me read it to him before bed, or even better, he’ll read it to me with my help. He loves books and hates to read. The kid baffles me. I don’t quite understand this contradiction. Although perhaps it’s like the person who appreciates art, but hates to paint. Maybe I’ve taken for granted a love for reading that came naturally to me.

The book What to Read When has been a great help in guidance for appropriate books for different ages, and Jim Trelease’s classic The Read-Aloud Handbook is on my bedside table. What have other parents and family members done to help the children in your lives learn to love reading? Are there any books you loved as a child or your children can’t get enough of?