The Great Library Series Turned My Tween Son Into a Reader

by Kim Burns

No parent likes to hear that their child hates to read. That is especially painful when you work in book publishing. When all of my son’s friends were binge-reading Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, he wanted nothing to do with it. I brought home book after book in the hope that something would pique his interest and nothing ever did. I would quiz other parents to see what their kids were reading and order those books. They sat in the living room completely untouched. We spent hours at the local Barnes & Noble looking through shelves in every category of the store and, after finding no book that worked, he would head over to the board game area where he wanted to be in the first place.

By fifth grade, reading for school was torture for him — he truly hated most of the books that the teacher assigned. For a kid who was raised by two science fiction nerds and who loves fantasy card games, all of the books that focused on kids in the “real world” were agony for him. Many a night I sat with him at the kitchen table and reviewed his English assignments to help him. By sheer willpower, he got through the year, mostly because the teacher finally let him do a book report on The Hobbit, which he chose because his father basically told him the plot and he had seen the movie many times.

I was close to giving up hope until one day I came home from work and left my copy of Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine on the kitchen table. The next morning as I left for the train, I noticed it was gone. I just assumed that I had misplaced it. When I got home that evening, I asked my family if they had seen the book and my youngest, who is always quick to confess, said his oldest brother had it. I laughed, thinking he was just trying to get Harry in trouble. I went up to my son’s room to check, just in case.

I found my son in his usual chair playing a video game and asked if he had seen it. “Why do you need it? It’s a teen book,” came his strangely defensive response.

I explained that I just wanted it back so that I could finish it and that “grown-ups” like teen books too sometimes.

“Well, I’m almost done with it, so you can have it back then.”

I was truly shocked. I hate to say that I did not believe him, but, seeing as he is a tween boy, I didn’t. “You read this? Like for fun?”

“Yes.” He saw the hopeful look I had on my face and added, “Don’t make a big deal out of this, Mom. The book just looked cool. It won’t happen again.”

Still not believing him, I asked, “If you read this, then tell me the main character’s name.”

Harry sighed and put down the controller. “His name is Jess and I like him. He is rebelling and fighting for something. He’s way more interesting than Harry Potter. Also, there is lots going on. Are there more of these?”

He went on to read the rest of The Great Library series, diving into a new installment every time I brought one home, and he even asked if he could meet the editor when he came into the office. (If you have ever met a tween boy, you know this is a high honor indeed!) He is just as passionate about these book as some kids are about Harry Potter. He even took great offense when, after he explained that they burned Philadelphia down in one of the books, I teasingly asked if there had been an Eagles game featured in the story. The joke did not land. (There is apparently no joking about The Great Library books!)

Thanks to this series, I am thrilled to report that my teenage son is now a voracious reader and has demonstrated to his youngest brother that reading can be cool. (I’m still fighting the good fight about reading with the middle son, but I am not giving up.)

To any parents out there struggling with this similar issue, keep fighting. There is a book out there for every reluctant reader and, when they find it, they will be hooked!