Monday, March 21, 2011

Gateway Books

Post by Jenny

In the week since the NCW Conference, I’ve been mulling over a conversation I had with presenter and local author Justin Matott. As we both have two sons, his older than mine, we discussed boys and books—what boys like to read, what boys don’t like to read, what to do about reluctant readers, and the pleasure parents feel when our kids have their reading-breakthrough moment. Justin mentioned that young readers often have a “gateway book”—the book that gets them hooked on reading.

I’m so grateful that both my tween-age sons like to read. My older boy took to reading like a fish to water, so perhaps his gateway book was one of the well-loved picture books we read together over and over. But at the end of second grade, he discovered the Hardy Boys Mysteries. That’s right—the original series with the blue covers, penned by a team of writers known as Franklin W. Dixon. I don’t know why my son was so taken by the somewhat dated adventures of the teenage sleuths (I remember him asking me “what’s a jalopy?”), but he read them, one after another, all summer long.

But my younger boy would tell me that reading was “boring.” This is a child who was born with a spring inside him, who is happier on a trampoline than almost anywhere else on earth. Compared to that, reading was too passive. As he got older, he gravitated toward non-fiction books about animals, about space, about rocks and minerals, books filled with facts and photographs. He learned a lot—and so did I—but I still wondered when and if he would catch his brother’s chapter book fever. He loved it when I read the Harry Potter series to him, but he didn’t want to tackle it on his own. I’d get suggestions from other moms, bring home options from the library, but no chapter books really hooked him—until last year, when, at his brother’s urging, he began reading the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan. (I’m so glad that agent Joe Monti recommended this series to me at last year’s NCW conference.)

Like so many of you, I have always loved to read. As a girl, I read fairy tales, Agatha Christie, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allen Poe, Judy Blume. Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy was an early favorite, as was Wilson Rawls’s heartbreaking Where the Red Fern Grows. But I suspect that, as is the case with many women my age, my gateway book was Little House on the Prairie.

Do you remember your gateway book? How about your son’s or daughter’s?


Patricia Stoltey said...

It must have been a tiny book called Bewitched Caverns, a fictional tale about pre-historic cave dwellers -- An emotional attachment for the story (even though I don't remember the plot details) has stayed with me all these years, and I can picture the book's cover art.

April Moore said...

I remember the first Anne of Green Gables book being a gateway for me as a kid. My son got hooked on the Fable Haven books, by Brandon Mull and then the Alex Rider series. Luckily, he took to reading "like a fish to water" like your son, so it's never been a struggle.

Jenny said...

Pat, did you keep that book? If not, have you ever tried to find it?

April, Fable Haven is a hit in my house, also. I'm not familiar with Alex Rider...I'll have to check it out.

bfav said...

Ramona the Pest for me. Matilda by Roald Dahl for my reluctant daughter.

Justin Matott said...

For me it was Where The Red Fern Grows and ANYTHING Dr. Seuss! In Cold Blood brought reading to an entirely new place for me since I chose to read it in eighth grade the week before I went to spend a part of the summer in Kansas just miles from where the horror occurred. It is what drove the power of the story into my mind and started the germination of what someday would be my desire to influence through writing. Cheers to all you readers!

Jenny said...

Oh, Ramona, of course! My boys are up and down with Roald Dahl--it depends on the book. He's written some interesting stuff for adults, too.

Justin, I still love anything Dr. Seuss. And I read In Cold Blood when I was about that age, too--maybe a little older. I have family in Garden City, Kansas. I've been through Holcomb but have never seen the Clutter family home.

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