For most book worms (and book bloggers) when it comes to your love of reading, it began at a young age.  There are many messages and posts online where people share the books that got them into reading.  But what if you had a bad experience with books?  What if you were reluctant to read as a child and grew up into an adult who dislikes or dreads reading books?  Do some people really dislike or fear reading for life?  Or could someone who used to dislike books become a bookworm given the right circumstances?

A shocking truth

I have a confession to make and that is that when I was younger…I would dread reading books!  Yes, I know it sounds strange, given how many books I like to read now, but back when I was young I never really enjoyed reading all that much.  As a child I used to enjoy reading story books with my Mum, looking at all the pictures and reading the large text.  Books like Brambley Hedge and Beatrix Potter (or indeed some Ladybird books) were my favourites as I used to enjoy just staring at the pictures for ages.  Although I enjoyed the stories, and sometimes glanced at the text, it was the pictures that I’d stare at for ages, and if a book didn’t have pictures, I just wasn’t interested.

As I went through primary school reading became more important and by the age of seven, the teachers started giving us lots of quiet reading time.  My teacher at the time presented the class with a box of books and we were supposed to take one book from it and read.  We could pick which book we wanted from the box but there was a catch.  We could only read the book that was colour-coded to our reading ability.  Each book had a little sticker on the spine, and although all of the interesting or fun looking books had colourful stickers like blue, red and yellow, I was stuck with boring grey, and the books in the grey pile, looked as dull as their stickers.

Grey books were some of the easiest to read, with green being the easiest.  Everybody knew that this really meant that the green and grey stickered books were for those who could not read well.  Until then I had been quite good at everything at school, I was smart, I usually did well in all classroom activities and mini tests, but the seven year old me started to feel bad, because if I had to read grey stickered books, then I clearly wasn’t that clever, was I?

Almost everyone in class were reading books that were in a higher category to me, including all of my friends.  In fact the only grey and green readers were those who were falling behind at school or who never seemed to grasp basic reading, or even writing (which I now realise was probably dyslexia – I don’ot know if anyone actually got help with that back then).  I didn’t want to be reading grey books but I had no choice, so I walked up to the box of books and saw that only two were there, they both seemed so boring to me, boring covers and the the blurb on the back seemed boring too.  I wasn’t going to enjoy this.

Frustration over words

As well as reading time once a week where we had to read one of the colour coded books (not all in one session of course), small groups of us would go off to the library to have one-on-one sessions with classroom assistants, or parents, who had come in to help.  I relished getting out of the classroom, I liked the library.  It was quiet and smelled nice (this was probably the start of my love of that book smell) and so when the teacher said it was my turn to go, I picked up my book and trotted off down the hall with a smile on my face.

The book I had been trying to read for a while now was just so boring, I never actually bothered to really read it.  I had tried at first, more than once, but I just couldn’t get into it, and the more I tried the more upset it made me.  Something about the words just didn’t go in, and I hated being stuck with it.  The only other grey-coded book in the box seemed even more boring than mine, but I knew that someone in the class must have a more interesting book, another grey-coded one, so I was waiting for the time when they were done with their book, so I could quickly swap mine with their more interesting one.  The whole ‘reading time’ in class, I’d spent pretending to read, while secretly keeping a look out on the book box.  There weren’t any illustrations inside the book, so I kept darting my eyes from the bland text, to the box and to the teacher to make sure she didn’t see me.  Nobody had swapped their book into the box yet, so I took the boring book in my hands down to the library, and hoped that maybe the nice lady there could help me to read it.  To understand what I was reading and maybe if she helped me, I might actually enjoy it.

Help or hindrance?

I sat down and opened the book at the begining and she told me to read it aloud to her.  There were a few other kids from my class doing the same with their helpers, I felt immediately awkward (I was pretty shy) but started reading aloud to her anyway. At first it was easy to read, the words were easy to read, although I had no real idea what was going on with the story, I hadn’t really paid attention to it.   It still seemed so very boring.  Where were all the pictures and illustrations inside, like those in my favourite books?  I kept on reading, slowly but easily, and then came a moment, a simple little thing, that would shape my life for years to come.

I got stuck.  I was reading aloud, and then I came to a difficult word, a word I couldn’t understand or even pronounce.  I froze.  It was a word with lots of letters in it, and a combination that didn’t make sense to me.  In hindsight it was probably a word like ‘beautiful’ or something similar where the pronounciation is not the same as it’s spelled), which is why it was so hard for my brain to comprehend.  I initially tried to work out the word, but something in my brain just didn’t understand it and I desperately wanted the woman to help me by telling me the word, or at least the first part of pronounciation.  I looked up at her, she seemed so tall compared to me, but I didn’t utter a sound I just stared.  She just told me to read the word aloud.  I looked at it and  said I can’t.  She said I could, and repeated herself again, and again.

Of course she was just trying to help, to get a child to continue reading aloud to practice.  She was being nice, doing what she’d been asked.  She wanted me to try and say the word, to start pronouncing it myself, to show me that I could work it out if I really looked at the letters.  But seven year old me, didn’t understand.  Seven year old me wasn’t able to speak.  Seven year old me felt stupid, frustrated and upset.  I felt stupid because I couldn’t say the word, and I knew that everyone else could.  I could hear the other kids in the library, reading aloud to their helpers, they were all reading words with confidence, at a reasonable pace and without problems.  But stupid me couldn’t do it, I couldn’t say the word, because I didn’t understand how to say it and I knew if I guessed I’d get it wrong. And I didn’t want to get it wrong.  I already felt stupid and I didn’t want everyone  else to think I was stupid too.

My cheeks burned as they turned a deep red, and I started to get tears in my eyes.  But the woman kept sighing and saying “Just try!”.  But I didn’t try, instead I clammed up and shut down because I didn’t want to look stupid in front of the others.  In the end, the session was over, marking the end of the school day, and I left the library having never learned how to say the word.  I felt like an idiot, I was holding in tears I would shed on the way home.  I got back to the classroom and stuffed that annoying grey book angrily into the box, I never wanted to see that book again!  And I left school, crying tears on the way home with the knowledge that I clearly was stupid, because I was bad at reading!

Behind and slow

My reading did improve as I grew older, but for a long time, I never felt like reading books.   By the time I was old enough for what we call middle grade fiction or older children’s (ages roughly 9-12), I spent time imagining my own stories rather than reading.  When it came to reading time in school we were now being asked to bring our own storybooks, but the books available on the shelf of my new classroom were there in case you’d forgotten, and I always seemed to ‘forget’.  The books were aimed for a slightly younger age group and had lots of pictures in them.  I enjoyed reading those!  They were mostly picture books about various time periods like the Victorians, the Romans, the Greeks, and I spent most of my classroom’s reading time just staring at the pictures and photographs of various furniture, tools and structures.  Re-reading these picture books again and again.

At home the only book I paid any attention to was a dinosaur one, and only because there were lots of illustrations, diagrams, maps, etc.  I never bothered to read about the dinosaurs themselves, just cooed over the images and the little boxes around the pictures that contained a sentence or two of text (which is all I could be bothered to read).  When I did go on a shopping trip with my friend from school one day (and her family) they took us to a book shop because my friend was an avid and very fast reader.  I always felt awkward with how slowly I could read compared to her, but when there was an offer to get me a book too, I suddenly wanted to read.  There were so many books featuring animals on the front, stories about animal characters and I really wanted to read them.  But when I got home, that book joined some others I’d gotten as gifts, gathering dust on the shelves in my bedroom.  There was just something about those books, all words and no pictures, that somehow made me feel like I just didn’t, or couldn’t read them.

A flawed thinking

For years I thought I didn’t like reading for fun (reading in school was a chore but had to be done) and when I did try it again, in secondary school, the only books I really got along with and enjoyed were simpler and shorter YA books.  I found I was able to face reading a book, but only a short one of less than 200 pages, but it would still take me months to read rather than days or week.   I took to reading non-fiction more easily, somehow the idea that something wasn’t a story, made reading easier, but it still wasn’t something I chose to do a lot at home and rather than reading books from start to finish I’d dip in and out of certain parts.  I mainly resevered reading for school time or during travel.

As I finished school and was presented with my grades, I was amazed that I got an A in GCSE English Literature!  I was spoon-fed the answers though :/ , and the books we took into the exams with us were heavily annotated, so I didn’t think much of my result.  I still had a reluctance to pick up a reading book, always choosing some other activity before reading.  And I knew my reading speed was slow, at least slower than a lot of people.  Yet here I am so many years since, and I now love reading, and blog about it too!  So what changed?  How did I manage to go from someone who was reluctant (and maybe feared) turning the pages, to someone who sits for hours on end reading huge novels?

-Find out how in part two of this two-part post here

Have you always enjoyed reading from a young age?  Have you or anyone you know ever struggled with their reading?  Do you know any reluctant readers?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂