There once was a little boy with beautiful chestnut eyes who loved to read his Pat the Bunny book in the rocking chair that his mom found and painted, perfectly suited to his size. When his dad worked every night, he, his Brittany and his mom passed the hours immersed in books learning about construction trucks, animals and their habitats, sharing bible stories, captivated by Franklin and his friends. As soon as he could speak, he asked his mom to put on the tape stories in the car the moment his car seat was buckled.
The years passed and this little boy wanted to read the stories to his mom when he learned to do it all on his own. He laughed at the parts he knew were funny and he made the voices just like his mom did.
When his little sister came along, he didn't want to read the stories she wanted to read, and so this little boy decided he wanted to read in his room all alone. He wanted to lose himself in the world of Harry Potter quietly, sometimes well into the night, long after his sister was fast asleep. His mother stood in his doorway and saw the reading light projecting onto his thick copy of the book she just bought him that afternoon. She knew it was the end of an era. She knew now that he had launched into a reading life.
Eventually, this little boy became a growing boy, towering over his mom, and baseball bats, football pads and fishing gear gradually and imperceptibly replaced books. Hours of practice made this young man strong and lean, but too tired to read the way he once did. His mom, a Reading Specialist, thought this was impossible. She'd seen other young boys say they didn't want to read, but surely THIS boy would always loved to read. It was their "thing". She'd offer him books about World War II, about hikes on the Appalacian Trail and biographies of famous baseball players. But, those books sat unopened on the bookshelf.
"Mom, I don't have time, I'm too busy", he said. "Besides, books take too long."
Time etched away and the boy's father was able to spend more time with him now that his shift had changed to days. His mom noticed that this strengthening relationship became a much more influencial force in the boy's life. The boy was now old enough to accompany his dad on hikes and hunts, to talk intelligently about sports and politics.
"I can't believe he doesn't like to read anymore, " his mom said one day to his dad, heart-broken and dismayed.
"Don't worry. He's reading about animal behavior in the Audubon books I gave him. He's reading maps and charts to understand the geography of where we're hiking this week, he's reading rules and regulations of sporting manuals, sun-up charts, time-tables, he's reading the biography of Dustin Pedroia so he can figure out how to be a pro-ball player and he's reading Ted Williams batting techniques books with diagrams. I gave him Henry David Thoreau's Walden this afternoon and told him to spend some time with this book," his dad replied to her.
"His reading doesn't look like it used to, he has generated the purpose, but he's reading," he assured the little boy's mother. For the first time, she became aware that she was not the only person her son was observing as a reader. She realized that her husband had been modeling different kinds of reading all along.
This little boy was my son and there was a period of time in the middle school years when I was beside myself because he had stopped reading for fun and I AM A READING SPECIALIST, for goodness sakes! I thought I had failed him because I searched far and wide and still could not find books he loved. He had stopped talking to me about the books that once brought him so much enjoyment.
Then I got smart. I listened more closely to him. I listened to what he wanted to know. I asked him to teach me about the specifics of animal tracking and learned the vocabulary one needs to know if they're going to talk about fly fishing. I appreciated the role his dad had in showing him that reading serves many purposes. He is a curious reader, who needed to know more about ducks, more about fishing with different types of lures. I ordered magazine subscriptions to In-Fisherman and Sports Illustrated. I realized that the research he was doing on the internet about animal behaviors IS READING.
At stages in their lives, boys' reading lives are influenced by models they have at the time. These models don't necessarily need to be mom or dad, but they need to be readers. When they see these people reading for many purposes, they do the same. I had to wrap my head around the idea that the stage in which I found my son, he was influenced to a greater degree by how and why he saw his father reading. His father, not necessarily a conventional scholar but educated, encouraged him to synthesize his reading, challenge his thinking and read from many sources in which math, social studies, sciences are applied. My son read for purposes other than I had taught him, but that's because I wasn't his only teacher.
So, I let go just a bit.
And then I trusted, that someday, he will read Pat the Bunny with his own children in the evenings, with his Brittany.