I had my 9th graders write a little essay about reading. I gave them a Malcolm X passage about how reading was liberating, and asked if reading was liberating or confining for them now, how it had changed, and what they thought it would be like in the future. I encouraged them to include specific details, but I tried not to tell them what to write.
“Up till I was in about third grade my parents forced me to read books like the ABC Mystery books. I hated it because I didn’t pick them out of interest, I read them because I was forced to. I also hated reading because it was hard for me growing up. I can remember my second grade teacher Ms. D--- helping me read my first chapter books. But as I got older I started to pick my own books and started reading and liked some books.”
“Unlike Malcolm X I don’t feel free when I read. Every time I have to read I am being forced either by a teacher like Mr. C--- or by my parents. I can’t recall one time where I have ever wanted to read voluntarily. One of the reasons I hate reading is because I don’t picture the scenes in the book all I see are a bunch of words. Reading maked me feel very trapped, almost as if being thrown in the Concord jail is a better place for me to be. Reading also gives me a headache. All of the makes me feel like reading is very confining.”
On the flip side, another common theme was the way other people—especially teachers—can influence kids’ reading in a very positive way:
“I think that overall I am a pretty strong reader and even though it can be boring at times I still think it’s fun. Earlier this year in Ms. A---’s Honors class I read “The Odyssey, by Homer. The book was long, confusing, and even boring for parts of it, but I still kind of enjoyed it. I thought it was pretty interesting when Odysseus and his men got trapped in the Cyclops’ cave, and they had to trick him into getting drunk so they could stab him in his one eye to blind him, so that they could escape more easily."
"Reading is very relaxing because it allows me to step outside of everything I was doing before I started reading. […] I remember a couple of weeks ago when Ms. K--- showed me where And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie was in the mystery section of the library.”
“I remember when I never used to like reading. Every time someone would ask me to pick up a book, I refused, or grabbed it and stared at it. Just the sight of a book would make me sick, but not anymore. It happened one day when I came back from school, I saw my older brother in the dining room reading a book. He seemed genuinely interested in it. The book happened to be Twilight, that was the book everybody was talking about then. Before he even got to finish the page he was on I stole it from him and read chapter after chapter each passing day. My fifth grade teachers had to beg me to put it down. When I went home that night my oldest brother had brought home Twilight on Red Box and he said he would only keep it for one day. So as the hours passed and the day turned to night, I was still struggling to finish the book so I could watch the movie. Finally I just placed my bookmark in and set the book aside. I popped the movie in the DVD player and settled back into the couch as the previews flashed by.”
“Right now I am reading Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, and it is one of my favorite books so far. I saw the movie and I was recommended by my summer baseball coach, Mr. N---, to read it. He told me that it was really good and he thought I would enjoy it because we both really liked baseball. I remember that he recommended it to me at Eagle’s Deli after one of our summer baseball games at Warren Field.”
“Even though right now I say that I love reading, I used to hate reading. It all changed when I met this person. Until 5th grade before I met this person, I didn’t really have any interest in reading. I though it was very confining. Once, when I was in the second grade, my mom almost spanked me because I didn’t read. (Unlike the United States, many parents spank their children in Korea.) It all changed when I met Ms. C----, my 5th grade teacher. When I first walked into her class, all the students stared at me because I was a new student. I had difficulties with English. She always helped me to improve my English. I still remember the first time she handed me this book. It was one day in winter, and we were released early from school because it was snowing so much. I was waiting for my guardian to pick me up. When I was doing my homework, she came up to me and smiled at me. I didn’t know what she meant by smiling. She said, “I have a present for you, A----. It is my Christmas present for you.” I was very confused. Then, she handed me a book. It was a small book with a black cover, and the title of the boook was The Giver. Looking at the old man in the front cover, I thought it would be boring. When I got back home, I started reading the book. That book with the old man on the cover changed everything about reading. It made me feel liberated, unlike other hard books. I felt like I was in the book with the characters. I could even see their faces in my head. Thanks to Mrs. C--- and a snow day, she opened a new world for me.”