Often on my site, in blog posts, I’ve talked about my rocky beginnings as a reader. By rocky I mean that when I was in grade school I didn’t want to read and would avoid reading at all cost. I preferred comic books and watching movies. This type of media consumption probably informed my writing style later on. Another post for another day. Anyway… A while back my mom and I were talking about my early struggles with reading. She asked me when I started to like reading novels. Try as she might she couldn’t break through to me. For years there was this dance. I’d be given a book. Either I would read the Cliffnotes–if the book was part of a school assignment–or I’d just stick on a shelf and turn on a movie. Then years later, on one random day, I just started reading for fun.
Thing is, you can’t force a kid–or anyone for that matter–to read. A person has to want to read. A person needs to seek out the adventure within the pages.
The answer to my mom’s question was easy. I remember when I started carrying books in my backpack, for when I was stuck somewhere without much to do aside from watching the passing of the clouds. I started seeking the adventures within the pages around my high school years. That was when my dad handed me Dean Koontz and Stephen King novels.
There was a moment in my Intro to Art class–I was a freshman–when two girls sitting across from me, both seniors, asked me, “Whatcha readin’?”
“The ‘Gunslinger’!” I told them. Without fear or bashfulness, both girls were cute, older, and completely out of my league, but regardless I launched into explaining to them about Roland Deschain and his quest for the Dark Tower and the Man in Black. I told them how the book tied into ‘The Stand’, that miniseries from years ago, and other King works.
That was the time I started wanting to read.
Now this leads to my second point…
I’m not the best person to ask about what children, middle graders, and young adults should read. When I was young I started out reading comic books. When I transitioned to reading novels I jumped into the deep end with adult novels.
Let’s make this simple: To me, young readers should be given books that are appropriate for their maturity. My dad thought I could handle “The Gunslinger”, “It”, “The Stand”, “Lightning”, on and on. Adult themes? Sure. But the novels taught me about courage, friendship, brotherhood, bullying. Most importantly, King and Koontz taught me how to face my fears and deal with being an outsider. So yeah, I handled the novels, I was mature enough to understand and deal with the narratives between the pages.
Part of maturity is seeking out knowledge and learning. Here is my second point: young readers should not be discouraged from reading books… any books. If a young reader finds a copy of a book that some stuffy, heads-up-their-rears conformists would like to ban from libraries and possibly burn then let that reader explore the adventure. Don’t take the book away! Unless you honestly have no faith in that the kid won’t slit their wrists or walk into their school shot up the place. Then… maybe take the book away. That said, taking away books violates our basic human rights to test, to question, to learn, to grow, and finally to choose.
What books should a young reader consume? I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask. When I write The Our Monster Chronicles I think about what my formative years were like, the trials I went through, and then I exaggerate those experiences to create fantasy. Thing is, I’ve been influenced by Stephen King… a lot. When someone asks what’s a good relateable story for teenagedom, I think “It”.
“We all float do here,” said Pennywise the demonic clown with pointed shark’s teeth.
Yeah, that was my YA reading. Let’s not get into the movies I was watching then and before then. Can. Of. Worms.
I turned out normal… kinda.