How to Discourage Young Readers: Turn Books Into Numbers

In first and second grades, I had a hard time with reading. There was trouble in my family. My mother had been hospitalized, and my dad was a struggling graduate student, caring for two small children. I got stuck in the lowest reading group at school. I sat with other “under-performing” kids, obsessively drawing pictures of horses.

Oddly, I was a whiz at arithmetic. I’m guessing that numbers didn’t scare me, stripped as they were of drama. But stories? The ever-shifting relations among words and meaning? Too risky.

Decades later, books are my profession. Yet how I learned to read can’t be distilled into an easily reproduced action plan with “metrics.” I’ve been thinking a lot about reading education lately, in part because my seven-year-old son has yet to discover the joys of chapter books. (I’m a little worried, though I know I shouldn’t be.) More to the point, Accelerated Reader, the bane of many a literary parent in the public schools, has clumped into my awareness like a bully with no sense of humor.

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