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How I accidentally got my book-hating tween to love to read

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It seems like only yesterday that my toddler and I were swimming around in a nursery full of wonder, splashing in the sea of a couple hundred brightly colored books — and loving it. When my son turned four, I decided it was time to get serious about developing a love of reading. That meant phonics lessons and lots and lots of story time.

As a former first-grade teacher, I knew I had to foster an interest in reading at an early age and continue to nurture it to help my child be successful. The National Education Society cites a report from Educational Testing Services that says children who read at home are better readers and even have better math skills.

After all, that had been my job for eight years — to develop a love of learning, mainly a love of reading — in other children. I seemed to perform miracles on a daily basis in the lives of my 25 students. So fostering a love of reading in my child would be a cakewalk, right?

Not even close.

Fast forward to last spring. Despite his reluctance, my 10-year-old is actually a good reader and has a robust vocabulary (yes, I’m bragging a bit here, please forgive me). However, he’s generally not interested in reading for pleasure. He’d bring books home from school, but only because he was required by his teacher to check them out.

Occasionally he’d voluntarily read a Hero Factory/Bionicle book or a Minecraft book because it suited his interest at the time. All of those were “chapter books” of about 25 pages — tops. And most of the pages were illustrations. He refused to read anything of real substance. How in the world was I going to change this?

By accident, of course.

We are careful about what our kid views. I usually watch everything first to make sure it’s appropriate, and I often consult Christian Spotlight, a website that reviews and rates movies based on content, before letting him watch. So one day when he asked if he could watch “The Hunger Games,” I wasn’t comfortable with the idea, despite the fact that most of his friends have read the book and/or seen the movie. I had also read the book when it first came out — it was my first purchase on my Nook — and was familiar with the story, so I told him it was a no-go.

His begging persisted for weeks. Finally, in an effort to stop the ongoing beseeching — knowing that, because of his distaste for reading, he’d never agree — I confidently said, “You can see the movie right after you read the book.” I expected that to end the discussion.

But that little turkey grinned and said, “Okay. Let’s do this! Don’t you have that on the Nook?”

He started reading the novel that night. For the first time in his 10 years, I didn’t have to rush him to go to bed. Nightly, he’d voluntarily cuddle up with the e-book and read sometimes for an hour. Then he’d beg me to give him five more minutes. I’d peek in from the doorway of his bedroom, my heart gushing at the sight of my child finally devouring a book, and a novel at that. I glowed, giddy with excitement, as I watched him relish Suzanne Collins’s 348-page tale. And yes, I did quiz him daily to make sure he was actually reading it (Mama is no fool).

When he finished the novel, my husband and I praised him, to the point that you might have thought he was the first person to set foot on Mars. But he seemed confused by our excessive praise.

Finally, he said, “I don’t get what the big deal is, Mom. I read books.”

That’s when it hit me. My son had zero idea of what he had just accomplished. And that made me sad. A trip to the library was in order, to pick up a print version of “The Hunger Games.” The heaviness of it made a loud thud as I plopped it on the kitchen island. It took him a minute to realize what it was. He looked at me, looked back at the book, and then locked eyes with me.

“This is the book you read, buddy,” I said. His expression was priceless.

My son admitted that if he had seen that book in print that he would’ve never made the deal with me. He said there was no way he would’ve even cracked the cover. He would’ve happily lived out the rest of his childhood without seeing the movie. Had I initially checked this book out of the library, he would’ve instantly felt intimidated and defeated. He wasn’t put off by the hundreds of pages on the e-reader because he couldn’t see them. He was only looking at one page at a time, instead of psyching himself out over the massive size of a printed book.

I’d love to tell you that this was my plan all along, but that wouldn’t be the truth. It was an eye-opening moment for me. The experience has made a big difference in my child’s life as an independent reader. His confidence went through the roof, and his reading scores are even higher. Now when he sees a book he wants to read, the size doesn’t intimidate him, although he still prefers to read longer books on an e-reader.

On that Friday following his completion of the book, as a family, we watched “The Hunger Games.”

It was amazing to hear my 10-year-old compare, contrast and critique the book vs. the movie. I loved it when he was livid that a certain character portrayed in the motion picture didn’t fit the way he’d imagined her while reading. After his fifth time watching it, he asked if he could see the second movie, “Catching Fire.”

And you know what I said?

“Sure, buddy. Right after you read the book.”

Renee Davis is a mother, writer and former educator. She lives in Florida with her husband, son and dog. She blogs at The Stay At Home Scribe, or find her on Twitter @RDavisWriter1.

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