For a long time it was an activity I could evade with ease. In fact, my creativity was not even challenged until I was well into elementary school. In kindergarten and first “I don’t want to”, was deemed a valid excuse. Naturally second and third graders have absolutely no bladder control, and thus responding to “Alex, how about you read? ” with “I gotta pee” had a 100% success rate. By fourth grade I had learned that I could win a free trip to the nurses office by shoving a pencil into my nose and making it bleed, a skill that carried me straight into middle school.
Sixth grade was a different world. Now you’re probably wondering “Did you really hate reading that much? ” And the simple answer is yes… but why? When I first started school, I was surprised to learn that I was apparently the funniest kid in the room. It seemed like every time I opened my mouth the other boys smiled and laughed. It was incredible, I kept talking and talking, just absorbing the attention, until I realized what they were laughing at: me. Before years of speech class I had an uh-uh-um issue with stuttering and a pwoblem pwonouncing my aw’s.
And so hearing myself speak, an activity that was, and now is again, among my favorites, became something I could not stand, even after I had overcome these obstacles. Thad once been embarrassed to read, but by sixth grade it was simply an ability that I struggled with. For almost 6 years | quietly followed along without ever reading aloud or alone. I had learned to vary my methods of getting out of classes instead of learning to enjoy them. I avoiding English with constant nose bleeds and bathroom breaks, even adding the exotic “complications finding my book” excuse to the list; however, my teacher’s response had changed.
Instead of pleading for me to participate, he penalized me with poor grades and gave me sharp warnings about my “reluctance to learn”. I did not hesitate to ignore both of these approaches (an easy task for a trained veteran like myself) until it became impossible. In November of my sixth grade year I broke my forearm, an injury that forced me to miss two and a half months of gym. So while all of my friends spent two hours wrestling and playing basketball on Monday and Friday mornings, I was trapped behind a small desk face to face with my mortal enemy: Mr. Burroughs.
During our awkward breakfast dates in the class room, I was given a choice: I could either study for my other classes, or could earn back credit by reading and discussing books of my choice with him. I (of course) refused his offer. I chose to spend my mornings sleeping, despite his obvious displeasure, and quickly learned that Burroughs was just as stubborn as I am. That Friday afternoon, I was greeted at home by a very pissed off dad, and was informed that until my English grade rose out of the Crange and into the A’s, I could kiss my cell phone, my XBox, and NFL Sunday football goodbye. Monday was a different day.
I walked in that morning, prepared to protest my generous extra credit opportunity like a true jack-ass, Captain Underpants in hand. Instead I was surprised by a rule change. In Mr. Burroughs’s hand he held my new “free” reading book, Pendragon: The Merchant of Death. It was well over threehundred pages, and was probably the first real book I had ever read; it showed. I stumbled along the first chapter, and then crawled my way through the second as he read along with me. I hated every second of it. I was forced to be in a room with a teacher that I hated, forced to read a book I didn’t get, and forced to do it with a fake smile on my face.
Somehow, it all changed overnight. I was so bothered by how little of the book I understood that I convinced myself to pick it up and try again the next morning during my free period, and what I discovered was that I actually liked it. Suddenly my free periods and nights became consumed by Bobby Pendragon. and as he traveled through space and time to save civilizations from collapse, I traveled twenty blocks each morning to do the same for my grade. I love reading because of all the ways it changed me. It made me a loud and energetic kid. It made me a productive and happy student and all it took was ten books.
I began to participate more, and as I became more engaged my grades skyrocketed. The pop quizzes that had been the bane of my existence became an easy grade booster for me. Mr. Burroughs transformed for my arch nemesis into my favorite teacher. Today I am actually thankful for that broken arm. What had originally seemed like a punishment from God turned out to be one of the most positive occurrences in my life. I love reading because, without it, I wouldn’t be the same person… and I’d probably still be bringing Captain Underpants to school.