He read ZERO books before he came to me. Not Good Enough.

He came to me pretty much hating to read. This tall freshman, eager to talk and laugh, and constantly wanting to do anything else but open a book. He admitted that he read zero books his 8th grade year.

The first book I got him to attempt was Game, a chapter book of about 160 pages that took him four weeks to get through. Every day I had to put a hand on his shoulder and whisper “Get to reading.” Next, he tried Gym Candy, and while he seemed to read it faster, he couldn’t tell me much about the plot or the characters.

Finally, with a stroke of luck, this young man picked up Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach. I had book talked it a week or so before, reading the first few pages to the class. At the time, R.J. wasn’t interested. When I saw him with this book, I hurried over and practically begged him to give it a try. “Okay,” he shrugged and moved away from the bookshelf toward his table.

Every day for two weeks, R.J. came to class and told me how much he had read. “I like this book,” he smiled at me more than once. He finished this book in two and a half weeks, and then took himself to the bookshelf to find I’m with Stupid. (At the time, we thought this was the next in the series.)

When I finally made it over to kneel by R. J.’s table and conference with him about his reading, he told me that the beginning was hard to read because the main character’s family was “weird,” but he really liked the parts about football. We talked about character development and how the main character Felton changes throughout the book. “He grows up,” R.J. notices. I asked him what kinds of questions he would ask the author if he had the chance, and then I remembered:  I follow this author on Twitter.

“Hey, R.J., let’s take a picture of you reading this book and tweet it to the author. I bet he’ll respond.”

“No way…. Oh, okay.”

So we did.

RJ tweets to author

RJ tweets to author responses




R.J. left class that day feeling pretty special. He will finish his fourth book this week. His personal reading goal for the whole year was only FIVE.

Now, here’s the really cool thing:  While wondering the exhibition hall at NCTE in Boston, I struck up a conversation with the representatives from Sourcebooks Publishers. They asked if I knew of the books by Geoff Herbach, and, of course, I had to tell them about R.J. Then one of those very sweet insightful women reached under the table and handed me this:

Fat Boy cover

She understands the value of nurturing readers. She’s helped me make a difference in the life of this young man. I wish I could describe the yelp I got when I told R.J. he’d been gifted with an ARC of an ARC — how cool is that?

I’d love to hear your best “Conquering the Reluctant Reader” story. Please share.


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2 thoughts on “He read ZERO books before he came to me. Not Good Enough.

  1. Derf Backderf December 8, 2013 at 9:33 pm Reply

    Say now, that really picked my spirits up!


  2. Gary Anderson December 4, 2013 at 9:27 am Reply

    This is a similar tale — a senior who didn’t see himself as reader. He made it to senior year never reading any books, those assigned for class or anything else. He had never been in a class where independent reading was a daily expectation. When he arrived in my class where we read each day for ten minutes, there was nowhere to hide.

    The book that got through to him was Derf Backderf’s graphic novel MY FRIEND DAHMER. He read it, read it again, and then said he didn’t know there were books like that. Then he read YUMMY: THE LAST DAYS OF A SOUTHSIDE SHORTY. Then he read DAHMER again. Then he read STITCHES by David Small. Now he’s reading MAUS. So far, it’s all graphic novels, which doesn’t bother me for two reasons: (1.) This is a guy who was a non-reader. Now he’s a graphic novel reader. I’ll take it. (2.) I see an increase in sophistication in what he’s reading within the graphic novel genre. He’s growing intellectually through these choices.

    Is he where I would like him to be as a reader? No. Is he going in the right direction? Absolutely.

    Can’t wait to get my hands on the new Geoff Herbach book! He’s visiting our school in February.


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