In an earlier column we discussed one of the best ways for young people to expand their horizons and become more sophisticated in the world — and that is by reading. Improved reading skills will also, of course, increase their ability to do well in school, perform well on the SAT, and obtain and hold good jobs in the future. But, unfortunately, there are many young people who have still not learned or even been exposed to the joys and benefits of this wonderful pastime. Recently I spoke to a county librarian about this problem, and she told me that she had prepared a list of books for “resistant readers” with this in mind. I will share it with you so you can assist the resistant readers in your lives.
But first I will give you my own list. It begins with “Fox in Sox” by Dr. Seuss. Picture young children sitting on their parents’ laps and reading together a “story” composed of tongue twisters with crazy characters. This book is fun, challenging, endearing — and silly! When I presided over the Abused and Neglected Children’s calendar in Juvenile Court, I bought numbers of copies of this book and gave them to parents and temporary guardians so that “my” children could enjoy and learn from this reading experience — and bond with the parents and guardians along the way. I strongly recommend that you use this book to do the same!
My other all-time favorite books that will excite and interest children in reading are “White Fang” by Jack London, “Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls, “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, and “The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible: A Free Market Odyssey” by Ken Schoolland.
As you either know or will discover, both “White Fang” and “Where the Red Fern Grows” are stories about the lives of some dogs, and involve real-life problems, relationships with humans and other animals, unfairness, warmth, dedication, emotion and tears that will endure for a long time. “The Giver” and “The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible” involve simplified but not simplistic discussions about principles and choices that will help to confront young (and not-so-young) minds with the real world, and how we all can live our lives more fully and completely.
My librarian friend began her list by recommending that our children read any books by Chris Crutcher, Walter Dean Myers or Gary Paulsen. Then she listed some specific books, which were: “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers, “White Fox Chronicle” by Gary Paulsen, “Touching Spirit Bear” by Ben Mikaelsen, and “Stuck in Neutral” by Terry Trueman.
“Monster” is a story about a 16-year-old boy who is charged criminally with the offense of being a lookout while a murder was taking place. During his trial the boy chronicles the ongoing proceedings in his head in a movie script format, and thereby provides insights into his life before the murder and his feelings about being locked up. Whether he was involved in the murder or was simply in the “wrong place at the wrong time” is constantly on the reader’s mind. “White Fox Chronicle” describes a 14-year-old boy, aka “White Fox,” as he carries out an ingenious escape in the year 2057 from a prison camp run by evil and brutal outsiders who have taken over our country. Then the reader transfers the execution of his plan to liberate the remaining prisoners and punish the evildoers into a formula that gives hope and a chance for all downtrodden Americans to live more successful and productive lives.
“Touching Spirit Bear” tells the story of a teenage bully whose anger resulted in him beating up and severely injuring a ninth-grade classmate. But then a Tlingit Indian parole officer comes into his life and offers an alternative called “Circle Justice,” based upon Native American traditions, in which victim, offender and community all work together to find a healing resolution for what has happened.
With “Stuck in Neutral” we are exposed to a 14-year-old boy who has lost all of his muscle control from cerebral palsy, including the ability to walk, talk or even focus his eyes. Nevertheless, the gentle hugs from his mother, tasting of different foods, and things he thinks about in his head result in an inward happiness. But the boy becomes frantic when he determines that his father, who believes his son’s life is nothing but an endless torment, is thinking of killing him. And the boy has no way of telling his father that he is wrong.
What better way to encourage our young people to turn off the television than learning about the magical world of reading? Of course, many adults could also learn the same lesson. As a personal example, when the Los Angeles Rams moved away from Orange County, I stopped watching or even caring about professional football. The amount of time I saved by not watching these interminable games on television enabled me to write two books and a musical, and to be able to read lots of other books as well. So do the young people in your lives one of the biggest favors you can, and expose them to the wonders and benefits of reading. And I suggest to you that the books listed here are a good place to start.
Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)