Joco Diversions

Emily Parnell — The joy of reading unlocks worlds and sends spirits to new heights

Updated: 2013-10-15T21:52:02Z

By EMILY PARNELL

Special to The Star

I stood outside the school, waiting for my son’s class to come out. My daughter ran to me, gave me a hug, handed me her backpack, then ran to play with a friend. I scanned the throngs of children until I finally saw his disheveled hair, striped T-shirt and shorts. He spotted me across the vast playground.

All noise vanished except for the dramatic orchestral music that swelled through the air. Daisies floated from the sky, and the world turned to slow-mo. We pranced toward each other across the playground and crashed into each other’s arms in an exuberant embrace.

“High five!” I yelled.

At the same time, he screeched, “I met my goal!!”

OK, there was no music. And no daisies. But he did nearly knock me to the ground and deafen me with his excitement, and we truly jumped together in happiness (and relief). My son had reached his quarterly reading goal.

For those not familiar with reading goals, his school has a system called Accelerated Reader that assigns points to books based on level of difficulty and length. The kids read a book, then take a quiz on the book, to earn their points. Their goal is set based on their individual levels and test scores. Parents have online access to their children’s goals and progress, and many, many books are in the system.

Unfortunately, my son has not been much of a reader. He has viewed it as a necessary evil. He does enjoy science books about various critters, and so he’s been collecting data on platypuses and hippopotami, and earning his points with those books.

But I knew that if he could just find the right book — the right series — that he could fall in love with the written words of fiction.

His sister was on the right track, often disappearing to her room to read. But my poor son dreaded diving in. And more concerning, he seemed to lack confidence that he was even capable of meeting his goal. I knew he could, and I was going to prove it — by making him prove it to himself.

We made little progress the first month. We were rusty at the homework routine and fell often to the siren call of after-school bicycle rides, activities and playing with friends. Slowly, we found a groove for the other work, but often bedtime would roll around and there’d be no time to read.

Finally, seeing he was falling dangerously short, I made an announcement.

“There will be no more electronics until you meet your reading goal,” I said. Normally, he is not allowed screen-time except weekends. Until he met that goal, even weekends were out. I added that if he didn’t meet it this quarter, the rule would continue to apply for next quarter too, meaning he’d have to say sayonara to Minecraft until nearly Christmas.

He was panicked (i.e., motivated). I promised to help him, and emailed his librarian with his likes and dislikes and asked if she could help him find a book at his level. The next night he came home with a book. He read evenings, then asked to read in bed. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I fixed a fire in the fire pit and he wrapped up in a blanket and read by the fire. In the mornings, he would read rather than getting dressed.

“Honey, we’ll be late for school!”

“Just a minute, mom, let me finish this.” I was proud. He was ravenous to read, consuming book after book. Reaching the goal was wonderful and empowering, but knowing he’d found the joy of reading, I knew he’d been given a gift.

Freelancer Emily Parnell writes every week.

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