The Reluctant Readers’ Rhapsody
written by Tom Phillips
In the fourth grade, I stumbled upon a certain infamous detective. From that moment on, it was nothing but deerstalker hats and earl grey tea for me. Of course, my mother wouldn’t let her ten-year-old check out Sherlock Holmes, but our librarian steered me toward a series called Three Investigators. I was distraught because the first book was checked out, but after some bribing, I checked out the second book. The Case of the Stuttering Parrot. It was the first book I ever read on my own, from cover to cover. This was a huge feat because I am dyslexic.
My mom knew I had a problem with reading, but back then, they didn’t really know enough about dyslexia, so I, unfortunately, was undiagnosed. All she knew was that I didn’t like to read and would only be interested in books if my older sister Annie read to me. You don’t have to have a learning disability to be a reluctant reader, but in my experience, reluctant readers seem to fall into one of two categories. Either they think reading is boring, or they think reading is hard.
Either way, convincing your child to read is a nightly battle every parent tussles with. It is a fight almost as famous as the great “Brush Your Teeth Debate” and the “It’s Time for Bed Town Hall.” But just like the infamous “Eat Your Vegetables Conflict of 1800 Hours,” we know as guardians, we are right. We believe that if our children stare at a dead tree and hallucinate for half an hour nightly, they would be five times more likely to graduate high school, stretch their vocabulary by 13,700 new words, and be in the top 10% of their class.
But how? How do we compete with the Tik-Toks and the Videogames, social media challenges, and whoever the heck Mr. Beast is? Well, it’s simple. We don’t. You can’t force your kids to read. They don’t care if you loved a book when you were a kid, and they could care even less about if Nancy Douglas’s son has read all of the Percy Jackson books before his fifth-grade year. (No one thinks you’re special, Brian.) Our job isn’t to force our kids to read. Our job is to inspire our kids to read.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, Tom (my name is Tom, by the way), “How did you go from being a reluctant reader to an author who wrote one of the greatest mid-grade detective novels ever to be published on June 7th, 2022 by a guy named Tom?” I thought you would never ask.
I have been infatuated by stories from before I can remember, whether it was movies, books, or just sitting around the campfire telling scary tales. But the adventures I loved most were about a man who dressed up like a bat or a group of mutants led by a bald guy in a wheelchair.
Even though it was a struggle to read, I would willingly fight through the words for a comic book. The issue was that when I was a kid, my gatekeepers never considered comic books a valid form of reading. They were wrong. Sadly, they were wrong about many things (I’m looking at you, bowl-cut hairstyles). Parents today are too focused on WHAT their child is reading when they should be focused on WHY their child is reading.
If you want your kids to love reading, you must first teach them to love stories. It doesn’t matter if they are reading the 6th Harry Potter book or the user manual for a toaster. If they love it, let them read it. If your kid loves comic books, then take them to the Batcave. Let them swing across the city with Spiderman. Let them learn what it is to be a mutant or a meta-human. Graphic novels and audiobooks are also a great way to spark a kid’s imagination. Once they learn to love the story, they will learn to love reading the book. It’s only dull because they haven’t found anything that interests them yet.
If they seem interested but still feel like the reading is too hard, take my advice and have them tested. There is no shame in having a reading disability, and if caught early, you will spare your child from a lifetime of pain. I know because I am not only the president of dyslexia for men. I’m also a client.
I didn’t find out I was dyslexic until I was in college, but once I learned of my disability, I found ways of doing my class work and ultimately began to thrive in school. Even though I was finally succeeding, I still had a chip on my shoulder from 13 years of failing academically. One day, while I was at my folks’ house one weekend helping clean out the garage, I found an old box of books. It was the Three Investigator mystery novel I had checked out in the fourth grade (Sorry, Mrs. Sulsbury). I must have loved it so much that I never returned it. Long story short, It opened up a new world of reading for me. The stories of middle-grade books were entertaining yet easy to read. I felt accomplished in my reading with cleaner fonts, larger text, and fewer words a chapter. Three investigators led to a Series of Unfortunate Events, which hooked me on A Christmas Carol. Then I started to advance and find books my age. I am happy to say I did end up reading the entirety of the Sherlock Holmes collection, but if I am honest, Enola Holmes is more my cup of tea.
I began my writing career because I wanted to write a book that focused on the reluctant reader. I wanted to write something funny, fast-paced, full of twists and turns. I wanted to write a book that would cause kids to be cuddled up with a flashlight way beyond bedtime, trying to finish just one more chapter. I wrote The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves to teach kids that first impressions are not always correct, that strength comes from your flaws, and that anyone could be a hero if they think they can. My book is written for the Tommys of the world. The ones who can build modern miracles out of legos enthusiastically use the wrong word in a sentence, and a math test comes back with a margin full of doodles. I wrote Curious for the curious. Be you a detective or a thief, there is a place for you in this world.
So, whether the books are Harry Potter or The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves, don’t push reading down their throats. Take them to the library and let them find something they love. Let them check out that Minecraft book or peruse the non-fiction section on sharks. Help your child become a self-selecting reader, and you will help your child become a lifetime reader. Once they find their voice, no one can ever silence them.
About Tom Phillips
As a child with dyslexia, Tom Phillips eagerly absorbed stories shared by his mother and older sister, nurturing his love for storytelling. Today, he writes engaging books that children can enjoy independently or as shared reading experiences. Drawing from his passion for storytelling, Tom has built a successful career as an artist and video editor in Los Angeles, California. His notable work includes editing for the renowned LeVar Burton Kids, and he is currently crafting a screenplay for a major film studio.
A devoted armchair detective and avid Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, Tom is an ardent fan of crime dramas. In his downtime, he can often be spotted strolling with his wife, Autumn and their trusty canine companion, Dr. Watson. Through his personal journey and creative endeavors, Tom has become a champion for young readers, particularly those who face challenges in their reading journeys.
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