Columns > Published on September 2nd, 2022

Turning My Sons into Readers

I quit teaching back in early 2013 to pursue the more noble profession of writing dirty zombie stories. I had taught every academic subject at one point or another, including reading to fourth and fifth graders, as well as English and literature to middle school kids.

I have two sons of my own, and both struggled with reading along the way. The older of my two sons had particular trouble with it. We took him out of the school he was attending at the time to homeschool him—not because we didn’t like what they were teaching, but so we could focus more on his areas of struggle, including reading.

High Interest, Easy Accessibility

Both my boys are sensitive kids, the older one in particular. I was writing horror full time and the shelf in my bedroom was full of novels I’d written and anthologies I was in. Some of the covers were graphic. Zombies in particular freaked him out. There was nothing I had written that he would have ever been interested in reading.

The summer before his first year of homeschool he went to summer camp. We were allowed to email him a short message each day that the camp would print out and deliver at mealtime. We sent him news from home and a corny joke with each email. I also included a short chapter of a story about kids at a summer camp battling aliens.

We sent the latest chapter each day and saved the final chapter of the story for when we picked him up. As I sent these daily emails, I didn’t know how they were being received because he wasn’t allowed to write us back. Did he like them? Was he even reading them? When he saw us, the first thing he asked for was the final chapter.

Using my teaching background and my storytelling skills, I worked hard to create a funny, high interest story with simple vocabulary for the struggling reader. Later on I fleshed these stories out and published them as the Lake Scatter Wood Tales.

You Read, I Read

For my son's first year of homeschool—which was his fifth grade year—we decided that for reading, we would just read. No quizzes, worksheets, or big assignments to start with. We were just going to read and try to get him excited about reading.

Having my sons laugh out loud at what I’ve written is pretty cool. Having parents contact me and tell me about their children laughing out loud means a lot, too.

We let him pick books he was interested in from a list of modern titles and classics for his age group. We started with The Indian in the Cupboard and then The Borrowers. We read a chapter a day. I read the chapter the night before, he read it the next morning during school, and then we talked about what happened. Very quickly, he went from struggling to read to reading fluently. He became excited about reading. Reading with me was one of his favorite things.

Every fifth book, he got to choose anything he wanted, including stuff off the list. He chose the fifth book in a crazy Minecraft series he had been reading on his own. So, I had to read the other four books and then read book 5 with him. This was not my preferred reading, but I pretended like it was the best thing I had ever read in my life. I showed nothing but excitement for everything we read.

He liked series and was a completest. We read all the Narnia books. He read all the Lord of the Rings books. He read all the Percy Jackson books plus everything else the author put out. He started reading on his own outside of school time. He was a reader now.

Round Two

The younger of my two sons still wasn’t thrilled with reading. We had a summer reading system for the boys to earn screen time. He served his time, but wasn’t reading for fun yet like his big brother.

We had a ton of books to choose from at this point and we’d buy them just about anything they wanted to read.

We started him off with these books about magic wolves based on a Minecraft streamer's world. There were a lot of plot holes and story issues, but I pretended like it was the most exciting thing I had ever read in my entire life. I dropped everything at reading time and acted like I couldn’t wait.

Toward the end of the series, even my son started to notice some of the flaws in the story. “They sure did skip a lot of stuff to get to the ending.” “That plot twist came out of nowhere.” “That ended a little easy.” I just sort of nodded along and said, “Yeah, I guess that’s true,” instead of shouting, “I know! Why are you making me read all of these?”

My wife even asked me if the books were really that good. I looked around to be sure we were alone and whispered, “No, this is torture. I feel like my brain is melting.”

Then, we reread the same Minecraft books my first son enjoyed. Do you have any idea how many books I love that I’ve only read once? I was revisiting this series like it was award winning literature. But my sons liked it, so the author has my respect.

My younger son was still struggling a bit with decoding words, so we broke out the Lake Scatter Wood books, now all published and professional looking. He read without tripping over the words and laughed out loud at parts.

If I had to choose the work I'm most proud of, I’d be torn. I think I’ve done a good job with a couple of the adult horror books I’ve written. I'm also very happy with the response I’ve gotten from Lake Scatter Wood. Having my sons laugh out loud at what I’ve created is pretty cool. Having parents contact me and tell me about their children laughing out loud means a lot, too.

As of the time I’m writing this, my younger son is reading Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. The vocabulary is at a bit of a higher level than what he’s been reading up till now. He enjoys the story and the humor. As he reads aloud to me, I try to strike a balance between correcting words, helping him decode words, and just telling him a word to keep the flow of the story going. Over just a few days, he was suddenly buzzing through bigger words with ease. He’s not reading Lord of the Rings for fun yet, but I can see a huge difference in his reading ability.

Just Read

We talk about themes, symbolism, metaphor, etc. in the books my sons read as the curriculum calls for it. More than anything, my goal is for them to love reading. I want them to read on their own because they want to. I can’t imagine many better gifts they could take away from their education.

Get Lake Scatter Wood Tales Book 1 at Bookshop or Amazon 

Get Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library at Bookshop or Amazon 

About the author

Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in beautiful Conway, South Carolina. He is a full-time writer of horror and speculative fiction. Jay left his job as a teacher to become a full time writer and has never looked back. Well, that’s not entirely true. He wants to be sure he isn’t being followed, so he looks back sometimes.

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