As an author, I sometimes come across people who say they don’t read a lot, or maybe even at all. I have no real opinion on this, because I know everyone has their challenges, whether they are with specific reading issues, focus issues, economic issues or even just finding the time to read. Some people have not found material that engages them enough to create a desire to read. What I can say about it is I would be lost without the joy of reading. For me, reading has allowed me to transplant myself into so many different worlds, experience so many different moods, times, places, cultures. It has taught me to be less biased and more open to a world of possibility. My vocabulary is what it is today, thanks largely to the volume of books I have consumed as a reader. But it wasn’t always the wonderful experience I am blessed with today.
When I was a child, my reading ability was considered below average by my teachers.
It was my secret shame for many years that I was not at the same level as my peers. The school reading programmes would give the teachers a tool by which they could assess a child’s ability and then assign reading books accordingly. On levels, labeled ONE through TEN, we were given our readers and when we were finished with our book, we would read a bit back to our teacher and she would then take that book and give us the next one.
While all the other kids in my Grade Four class were reading Level FIVE and SIX books, I was stuck on Level THREE. It was a source of untold stress and one I could not take home to my parents. I’ve never told anyone about this until now. I hated those silly Level THREE reading books, and was determined to get up to the same level as everyone else, so I memorised only one or two pages from my book, then pretended to read in class when it was silent reading time. I’d make it look like I was finishing my book and then I would take it to the teacher and she’d ask me to read from it. I would turn to the pages that I’d memorised and ‘read’ them with a smug proficiency that she must have been able to see through, now that I think about it. Sure enough, I’d get the nod to level up and pretty soon, I was reading the Level FIVE and SIX books, along with everyone else. Only thing was, I couldn’t read them. They were too hard. I had created an even worse situation for myself, but I had to keep up the pretence!
I remember a turning point came towards the end of Grade Four when I got a particularly beautiful adaptation of Shakespeare’s best stories from our local library. It had lovely illustrations and the stories were in Grade-level English, so it was a book my mom was happy to take out for me. The difference between this book and the ones at school was, I REALLY WANTED TO READ the stories in this gorgeous book, so I applied all my fledgling reader knowledge and got to grips with the words on the pages. It was a large, thick book and we had to put a time extension on it twice, but I finished the whole thing. When I finally had to return it to the library, I was sad to let it go because it had opened the door to reading for me. I never saw that book again, and I have no doubt whoever took it out after me found the same joy and pleasure of reading it as I did. It was a truly magical experience.
After that, I read as often as I could, often under my covers by the light of a tiny flashlight. I read every holiday, I read in the bath, I read waiting for the bus and tried to read on the bus too (the motion sickness was my undoing there!). Reading became an escape and an obsession and the books got thicker and thicker and the piles grew higher and higher. I was limited only by the number I could take out of the library at one time. I was no longer limited by my reading level.
When I had my son, I was determined to make sure he did not have the same reading hangups I had as a kid. I bought him books from his first days, read to him, read with him and still indulge whatever his current reading obsession is, whatever that may be. He was enrolled in an early learning programme from the age of three and learned the invaluable phonics system. I am thankful and happy we did that for him. My son has an above-average reading capability that we helped hone by giving him a solid foundation.
If you’ve ever struggled with reading, you are not alone, even though the world can make you feel that way sometimes. I would like to offer some encouragement – even if you only read a little bit every day, read something. Read a little fiction, a little news, some non-fiction or magazine articles. Find what interests you, even if it’s comics! The stories are the important thing, not the style. I find word games are a great way to enjoy simple vocabulary exercises and there are some fun ones, both on and offline.
Reading is joyful. It is a gift and it is one we can give to ourselves over and over again.
I wish you all happy reading and many wonderful stories.