Can reading ever be as good as it was when you were a kid?

Photo taken in 2005

One positive thing that I’ll occasionally have the pleasure of seeing as a teacher is a kid who finally “gets” that reading can be enjoyable—there is something truly magical about matching up the right book with the right kid, and in that lucky moment, that child’s reading life is [hopefully] changed forever.

“Mrs. Meidell, reading’s just not really my thing,” confided one of my male students to me.
“I’m sorry to hear that. You know, all the other boys are talking about how totally awesome the Michael Vey series is—maybe you should check those out. If nothing else, you’ll at least know what they’re talking about.”

One week later…

I am telling the kid that he absolutely has to put the book away when I’m giving instruction from the front, and he audibly lets out a sigh as he closes the book up. (And I also get a little note written on his reading log from his mom that says, “Thank you SO much for recommending that series to my son—this is the first time ever that he’s loved reading something!”

I’m not saying these moments happen nearly as often as I’d like them to, but I have to remind myself that it’s so great that they’re happening at all–in a world filled with endless entertainment that requires no energy or work on the part of the consumer, it’s amazing that I can get ANY kid to “switch over” to reading who wasn’t already in that zone to begin with.

When those moments happen though, I’ll admit that I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy—there is nothing that can match discovering a truly great book as a kid: I mean, as a kid, you still have the imagination to fully appreciate the fictional world an author has created, and you are eagerly searching for characters that you can relate to, which are two things I’m not as adept at (or as interested in) as an adult.

It is only now that I’m older (and wiser!) that I appreciate how much the reading I did as a child influenced me. Reading books like the Boxcar Children and The Secret Garden and The Giver taught me that it’s important to take care of other people, that it’s important to make the best of the situation you have, and that some decisions will change your life forever. As I entered my teenage years, books like the Alice series (by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor) and Harry Potter let me know that I wasn’t alone when it came to feeling awkward sometimes about growing up and everything that included.

Another thing I didn’t appreciate until I realized it was basically almost nonexistent was the ability I had as a child to truly get “lost” in a book—to tune out whatever was around me and place myself wholeheartedly into a story. Sure, I still love to read, and sure, I can still use my imagination (in a somewhat limited way) to “see” the world as the author wants me to.

But it’s not the same.

The smell of new books and the rows of novels filling my bookshelves now still brings me great pleasure, but it’s nothing to how it felt as a child to see that the Scholastic box had arrived at the classroom and that that day–that very day!–I was going to get the new books my parents had bought for me. (Note: One thing I will eternally be grateful for is that no matter how tight things were financially for my parents, they somehow always found ways to get us new books. Thank you, Mom and Dad!)

Perhaps this is all on my mind because we’ve been reading the poem “On Turning Ten” by Billy Collins and talking about the bittersweet nature of growing up. Maybe it’s because I’ve recently realized that few young adult novels hold the same thrill that they used to for me even four or five years ago.

Whatever it is, I hope that those of you in positions to influence children make it a part of your life’s mission to help them experience the magic of childhood reading while they still can.

How has reading changed for you over the years?

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