Thursday, January 24

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, January 24, 2019 4 comments
I confess I wasn't much of a reader in my childhood. From age 4 to almost 9, I lived on a 100-acre farm (most of it forested), where I spent many happy afternoons imagining adventures with a host of imaginary friends, a few barn cats at my heels. Being cooped up inside looking at paper was the stuff of school, the stuff of have-to, must, and you'd better.... Out among the trees was the stuff of color, texture, and life of all kinds. The worlds my imagination built were more real to me than Dick and Jane, cursive, and George Washington.

I suspect this concerned my parents a bit. They were both big readers who filled our house with books and magazines. They often read to me at bedtime, and on long car trips, Mom or one of my sibs would read aloud to us. Several books of the Narnia series got us through the insanely long drive from Pennsylvania to my grandparents' house in western Montana.

My parents rarely, if ever, watched TV. In fact, my oldest siblings grew up without one in the house. I was, according to them, lucky to even have a TV. It was black-and-white in an era when absolutely everyone else had color, and we got only four channels out in the sticks--the three major networks and PBS. The 70s weren't known for realistic programming--aside from the Bionic Man, Wonder Woman,  and Fantasy Island, were the distant luxury worlds of The Love Boat, and the sanitized "Old West" of Little House on the Prairie. These shows, plus The Wonderful World of Disney, and some Saturday cartoons made up my entertainment diet, which was quite time-limited. When I complained about my meager TV time, "Go play," was the usual response. So I did.

We ended up having to sell the farm because my father had a mental health crisis. My ability to get lost in my imaginary world saved me, I think. Out in the woods, I could process my anxieties. Nature soothed me and brought joy in a very dark time for our family.

Our new home was a more manageable three acres, part of it wooded with a creek, so the adventures--and my source of nature therapy--continued there. Through a school friend, I soon got caught up in an obsession with horses. Her family had kept them sporadically, and she took riding lessons from a stable near her house. Many a Saturday, I trailed her around the barn, soaking up knowledge about how to care for these amazing creatures.

My seventh-grade reading teacher somehow caught onto the fact that I didn't really read for pleasure, though I had no struggles other than a lack of interest. One day during study hall, she called me over to her closet at the back of the classroom. "I hear you like horses," she whispered conspiratorially. "Check this out." She handed me a book with a gorgeous bay mare on the cover. "You want to borrow it?" Boy, did I ever.

I read every horse book Mrs. Brooks had. Over the next two years, I read nearly every horse story my public library had, and there were quite a few. When I finished those, I read other books written for middle schoolers, most notably Madeleine L'Engle's work.

During the same period, I was placed in the gifted program, and our advisor got us playing Dungeons and Dragons as a problem-solving and creativity-building exercise. D&D draws on historic and fantastical lore from many, many sources, which opened up even more avenues for reading for me. And the storytelling aspect of role play also captured my imagination.

Soon I was writing my own stories. Not just short works, but the beginnings of full novels with large casts of characters. The itch to create worlds with words was a natural outflow of many, many hours spent in creative play early on. My writing only grew from there, and my love of reading continued to flourish into an English degree and a career in publishing.

So if you have a reluctant reader in your house, take heart.  Not every writer starts out bookish. Model good reading habits. Keep your home full of books that are cool to look at. Read aloud to this child and as a whole family, enjoying and discussing a book together. Limit TV and computer time. Give lots of outdoor playtime in nature. Be patient for the right opportunity to let your child follow their passions in pleasure reading.

Have you seen other reluctant readers go on to become writers? What encouragement would you give to parents of reluctant readers?


  1. I love this! So far all my children love to read, but I'm definitely going to share your experience with other moms. :)

    1. Aw, thanks. I think the pressure to achieve in school has only become more intense, which makes free play so essential for kids' development. Also less screen time, more nature.

  2. Even though you didn't read a lot in your earlier years, it sounds like you received enrichment from the natural outdoor surroundings around you.

    I'm guessing a lot of former reluctant readers who are now writers are now writing the books that they themselves would've wanted to read when they were reluctant readers.

    1. For sure having outdoor time and lots of free play enriched my imagination. And my parents modeled reading, so it was really just a matter of time before I connected the dots, so to speak. I hope that encourages other parents!

      I can only speak to my own experience about what I gravitate toward writing, but it's the genre that first grabbed my attention as bingeable reading material--young adult.