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One Child’s Journey

by Ben Carson

One Child’s Journey

Reading is a funny thing.  It’s enjoyable for kids who pick it up easily, but it can be very frustrating for those kids who don’t.  I was in the second group, in a deep hole unable to find my way out.  My memories of early school years, at least for reading, are based in frustration.  One frustrating experience after another.

In 1st grade it was sitting in my reading group unable to answer simple questions coming from my teacher.  The teacher would ask and I would respond in frustration with “I don’t know.”  I vividly remember taking a clenched fist and banging the side of my head, as if that would shake out some magical information locked away.

In 2nd grade it was pretending to lose my place in circle reading or some other avoidance strategy when my turn came to read out loud in reading group.

In 3rd grade I turned to not giving it my all.  After all, what could go wrong.  If I didn’t try, then at least I wasn’t wrong.  The teacher told my mom I was lazy, but something inside my mom wouldn’t accept it.  Learning disabilities were not well known in the early 1960s, so the teachers couldn’t be faulted for what they didn’t know.

That summer I received some strategic tutoring in a little-known area called Dyslexia.  My mom knew some doctors in her work and I received tutoring through the summer.  Would I have been successful without it?  Maybe.  That’s another story for another day.

At school during those days, kids were separated according to ability.  I was in the slower class.  Not for long though.

In 4th grade everything I did at school seemed to click, except reading.  Something was missing.  And I stumbled across the answer, or at least part of it.  Stage right, my mom “intervened” once again.  Somehow, she knew (or guessed) I needed books to read that interested me.  She subscribed me to a series of mystery novels.  How she knew, I don’t have a clue, but she made the right choice.  Parents are often good at that (you know your child), if they just give it a go.

There was one key element still missing; I wasn’t reading very much.  I certainly was better at it, just not enthusiastic about it.   But the new books changed something in me.  They piqued my interest.  I loved how the kids solved each mystery; I found characters I related to, places I could go (where I had never been), and a desire to find out what was next.

The books came regularly by mail.  I still remember the excitement of getting a new book and opening it up.  I even remember the type of box it came in, how I opened it, and my reaction when I saw the new cover.  I began to look for more time to read at home.

One night I discovered a new world.  I found a flashlight somewhere and figured out that with a little stealth and planning I had “unlimited” reading time. Bedtime was bedtime, so I had  to figure out a few end-runs.  Had to wait for my little brother to fall asleep; he’d tell for sure.  Then there were my parents.  Little did I know that they would never be a problem.  Every night I pulled up the covers, dug out my flashlight, and read and read and read.

I feel certain my mom knew what I was doing; she seemed to always “intervene” from around the corner.  I was reading (I can’t imagine her joy), but more importantly I was practicing reading skills without interruption and finding the love of reading along the way.  I was hooked. “Flashlight Reading” was immensely important in my reading development.

By 5th grade, I was reading books such as Call of The Wild and willing to try to read very difficult books like Moby Dick.  There are more important things in a kid’s life than bedtime, but few things as important as becoming an avid reader.

Never Give Up


Don’t ever give up on your child; no one knows them better than you. Because of my mom’s persistence, I was set up for success.  She provided me with “a key” that opened a whole new world.  She worked at home with me and used the resources available to her.  Was it difficult? Probably more than I realize.  But she never gave up, she knew her child.

Your child is going to become a better reader by reading (and probably some other help along the way).

Finding books that interest a child is critical to motivating them to read.  My “special books” provided valuable “practice reading” time.  The books were of high interest to me, and therefore enjoyable.  The books motivated me to read – a lot!  Don’t give up on finding them, just keep trying.

It is important, when possible, to involve your child in the selection of their books.  Find a reputable children’s bookstore and spend time there.  They are happy to have children just sit around and read.  And visit your local public library.  We are fortunate in America to have access to library resources.  If your child is in the first three years of school, take a look at some of Richard’s Books for Young Learners.  My grandson particularly likes Cats Everywhere.

Ben’s Books Circa 1964

To read more about Flashlight Reading, click link here to Flashlight Reading!

Literacy Library Bulletin Links

Teresa Thayer Snyder – Read, Read, Read–Because Reading Is Fundamental!!

Maryann Whitfield – How Do Children Learn?

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