Reading to Win

Gabe and I are reading this book series about twins who travel into stories. Alex and Connor are caricatures of 12-year-old tweens at the beginning—sister Alex is a smart book worm with few friends and brother Connor is the jokester who doesn’t like or do well in school. But then Connor discovers that he likes to write stories of his own. Books later, they travel into his stories to save the day and that’s when they discover that spelling counts.

Instead of being served rotisserie chicken by an all-girl pirate crew, they are served a live and squawking chicken with a rosary around its neck. Rosary Chicken has now become a bit player in the plot, showing up at the oddest of moments. That’s our joke: Actions have consequences. Rosary Chicken.

From Land of Stories: An Author’s Odyssey, page 130. Illustrated by Brandon Dorman

The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer is the third series of books that Gabe and I have read together, following the seven Wings of Fire books by Tui T. Sutherland and the five (and counting) Fablehaven books by Brandon Mull.

Tween literature has come a long way since the days when teachers begged boys to read the sports page of the newspaper. Turns out boys like to read about more than sports. And if the stories are good, they will keep reading them, as many as the author can write. Like Erin Hunter, author of the Warrior books, a series about soldier cats. There have to be 40 of those things. And they are never available at the library.

Gabe is not the only boy in his class who reads. They ALL read. They share books with each other. They meet on Clash Royale and talk about books. They stand around at football practice and soccer practice and talk about books.

They have conversations like this on the phone: “Meet me at the park. Bring nerf guns and the football. And a snack. And the next Warriors book because I finished the other one.”

I’ve never had a 5th grader before, so maybe this is normal for 5th grade boys to read like crazy.

But I don’t think so.

Here’s what they do around here to support reading.

First, they run reading like an Olympic competition. It’s fierce. Accelerated Reader (AR) points are a BIG DEAL. There are free lunches and medals for every 100 points. The medals get handed out at assemblies. The whole school claps. The beauty of this is that anyone, regardless of reading level, can amass AR points.

Next, the state of Oregon runs a tournament for reading called Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB). Kids form teams and read books and then answer questions to advance all the way up to state finals. You can read all about it here. Two years ago I was the scorekeeper for the regional high school competition. More boys than girls on the teams, and two of them were great big hulking linemen.

The release of the OBOB book lists usually happens at the beginning of summer, which means kids go to the public library to get the books to read over the summer. They go the first day of summer. I know this because when we got there the second day, they were all checked out and had six people on their waiting lists.

Barnes and Noble carries them too, they just cost money there and our monthly book budget is already a tenuous negotiation.

Now let me tell you what I learned about reading a book with your son. It’s magical. All kinds of conversation starters and access points. That one character who kind of does what he wants because he thinks he’s smarter than anyone else and he gets his sister killed (not really, but he doesn’t know that)? Yeah, that kid was a learning moment for us.

And Rosary Chicken. Gabe’s active imagination extends to his spelling, so when I came out of my room to laugh about Rosary Chicken, he said what I was thinking: That’s totally something I would do. But what he really learned from Rosary Chicken is that just because you can’t spell doesn’t mean you can’t write.

And what 10 year old boy doesn’t need to hear that?


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