written by Patrick Flores-Scott
I’m very happy for this opportunity to write a guest post here at Imagination Soup! I’m an author of a couple of Young Adult novels and a former reading specialist. But, growing up in the 70’s and 80s, no one paid much attention to my “reading life.” My teachers and busy young parents assumed I was a developing reader. But the truth was, despite devouring box scores and league standings in the sports sections of both Seattle daily newspapers, I was a struggling reader. I loved stories and I could read the words, but I had a difficult time connecting my hyperactive brain to the new worlds, characters and information presented in the opening pages of chapter books and novels. I didn’t know how to slow my thoughts down enough to focus and connect. After a few pages, I’d realize that I didn’t retain a thing. And I’d give up.
In 1976, I attended the opening event of Seattle’s concrete sports monstrosity, the Kingdome. My family filed in with 60,000 fans to check out the new stadium and watch a soccer match between our hometown Sounders and the New York Cosmos, who featured the aging Brazilian legend, Pelé! My mom being from Brazil’s tiny neighbor and soccer rival, Uruguay, I was fully aware of Pelé and was thrilled to watch him score two goals in person. Even more exciting was watching him execute his patented bicycle kick, barely missing another score.
At home, we had a thick paperback biography of Pelé. It featured tiny print, long paragraphs and adult-level vocabulary. I must have re-started that book a hundred times. I’d pour over the pages of black and white pictures in the middle of the book. I’d read from the very beginning, learning how he’d grown up poor and used a grapefruit in place of a real soccer ball. Or I’d dig through and find that spot about Pelé joining the national team as a young teenager. But there was so much of that book I couldn’t access. Eventually, I’d get tired toss the book aside. It was just too many words. And there were so many competing thoughts in my swirling, hyperactive brain. I needed to know about Pelé, and Jim Thorpe, and Joe Louis and Wilma Rudolf…but I didn’t have the books to help get me there, the books that might just launch me into a world of reading.
So, I figured out how to fake it in school. How to listen to discussions in class. How to write a high school English essay without actually reading the novel. How to navigate myself to a college major in which reading was not fundamental to my success. I’m not complaining. I believe I became the writer I am in part because of these early struggles. But, I wouldn’t wish them on anyone else.
In the years since, working schools as a teacher and as a visiting author, I’ve been amazed to see how much things have changed, how hard teachers and librarians work to find kids that perfect book that might just be the key to turning a struggling reader into a voracious reader.
Now, like so many teachers and librarians out there, I understand that getting to know each individual young reader is the key. Asking them the right questions. Doing the little bit of work to find out what makes sparks their curiosity. And, maybe that kid who spends their reading time pouring over the pictures in the middle of a sports biography written for adults, will be offered access to all the legends in the bold colors of picture books, or the concise, sharp writing of modern middle grade and young adult non-fiction.
The following are a few amazing books I would have loved way back when. (Okay, I love them now!)
Pelé King of Soccer/El Rey de Fútbol by Monica Brown, Illustrated by Rudy Guttierez.
Undefeated, Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
A Nation’s Hope, the Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis by Matt de la Peña, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
Wilma Unlimited, How Wilma Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull, Illustrated by David Díaz
About Patrick Flores-Scott:
A longtime public school teacher from Seattle, Patrick is a stay-at-home dad and early morning writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is the author of two young adult novels, Jumped In and American Road Trip.
Note from Melissa: Thank you, Patrick, for sharing your story. What a powerful transformation to go from struggling reader to reading teacher and YA author! You’ve inspired all of us who work with children.
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