I was a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to reading. It was not until third grade that I really became an avid reader. Growing up in rural Alaska limited my access to books, as did my dyslexia.
I do not want to disparage my upbringing or my school. My experiences in life have been unique and amazing. Our small school of 10-30 students (all grades) had a decent sized library, most of which was donated.
I will never forget “learning” to read. I recall letters and sound and basic phonics coming fairly easy, but I struggled to read. I remember one day my teacher/principal getting frustrated that I was having difficulties selecting and reading a book. I did well in my schoolwork and he assumed I was being difficult. That was understandable since I was a nine year old boy.
I went to the shelf and selected a Clifford the Big Red Dog book because I had it read to me so many times I had it memorized. I felt confident in it and it made me feel good.
You can imagine my frustration when my teacher came over and took the book from me and told me I had to select a chapter book. I went to the shelf where only the spines stuck out and realized I couldn’t read half of the words on them.
I finally selected a book based on the following words that I could read: Lion, Witch and War. How wrong could you go with a story with those three words?
I sat down on a beanbag and opened the book and thumbed through to find the pictures. Spoiler alert, the version I had only had three pictures, and they were in black and white. So I did what any wise third grader does, I started on chapter one and waited for the bell to ring.
Growing up in rural Alaska, my bus ride home was 45 minutes long, most of which I sat alone. I wanted to read, so I decided that the bus ride would be a perfect time. After we dropped off most of the kids, I pulled the book out of my backpack, it was called The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (I had an older girl read the title to me and still did not know what a wardrobe was) and read it for the last 20 minutes of the bus ride.
I did not even finish the first chapter. And it was short. And I was frustrated.
I shoved it back into my pack and got off of the bus and vowed that I would finish the book.
So the next day, on the bus ride, I pulled out my book again and spent 5 minutes trying to find my spot. I finally gave up and decided to start over, and as the bus pulled up to my house, I finally reached the spot from the day before.
I had the entire weekend to forget what I had read, so on Monday, I started at the beginning again and read nearly to the end of the chapter. So close in fact, that after my chores, I sat down and finished it.
The next day I was determined to read the next chapter and read only three pages. I wanted to throw that evil book into the fire.
So the next day, I realized my problem wasn’t the reading, the problem was that I did not understand. I concocted a ridiculous idea that I would reread the first chapter since I had already completed it and that if I read that enough, I might understand the story better and that would mean I would do better in chapter 2.
And it worked! Not for the reasons I thought, but that day, I reread chapter 1 and made into chapter 2. I was so excited.
And that is how it went day after day. I would start with chapter 1 and then jump to wherever I was at (I made a bookmark). By the time I was in the middle of the book, I could read chapter 1 and usually all of whatever chapter I jumped to in my 20 minutes.
My excitement for reading and knowledge became insatiable. I read everything. It got to the point my mother had to take books away from me until I did my chores and whatever else was expected of me.
As a teacher, I look back on that process and realize that what I had really done was built my confidence and expanded my visual vocabulary. Reading had not become easier, but I had learned that I could do it and the common mistakes that I made.
It wouldn’t be until later in life that I found out the problems I was having was because of dyslexia. I am thankful for that because it never gave me a crutch; a label. I learned to persevere and overcome. I have the power to do that.
I would never have become a writer if I had never learned to read. I am forever thankful to Mr. Rusyniak for pushing me to read and taking a stand.
While I have always told stories, my story as an author began with truly learning to read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
PS- I was disappointed to find out that a wardrobe had nothing to do with a war.