So Your Kid Doesn’t Like to Read
I fell in love with my imagination the moment I touched a book, and I was fortunate to grow up with loving parents who entertained my ceaseless pleas for “just one more” bedtime story.
But not everybody loves to read as a child. Or teen. Or adult.
Take my dad. As a boy, he hated reading. Sitting. Staring at words. What was the purpose? Why did his teachers bug him about reading when he could play outside, where it was way more fun, and he could throw a baseball, shoot hoops, or hit some hockey pucks? Reading…writing…that stuff took time; it was boring. My dad—the kid—wanted nothing to do with it.
Enter his elementary school teacher. Concerned with my dad’s disinterest, and observant of his love for spots, one teacher wedged an ESPN magazine in his hands. Here was something Dad’s passions and interests could relate to: big time sports players like Ted Williams inducted into the hall of fame, Mickey Mantle hitting his 500thhomerun, Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters and the British Open, and boxing legends like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier ducking it out for the title of heavyweight champion. These stories—sports stories—shared people and events my dad related to; they reported articles that he couldn’t wait to read.
Today, my dad loves to read. Nonfiction and historical mostly, but he’s reached a stage where he actually likes getting books for birthday and holiday gifts (#secrethooray!).
And yet, maybe none of this would have happened if it weren’t for that teacher, years gone passed, who looked at my dad and thought, “how can I get this boy to like reading?”
My dad was lucky to have an unconventional thinker like her, but not all students get the same advantages or privileges that he experienced.
Which leaves me this question: if kids and teens don’t have someone in his/her life to teach/encourage them to read and write—not because it’s a required school assignment but because a child/teen can learn something about his or her desires, beliefs, wants, and passions from reading and writing stories—then how can we except kids to grow up with the courage to speak…to use voices instead of fists?
Can we stop hate by empowering traditionally underserved children and teens to find their voices, tell their stories, and gain communication skills needed to succeed in school and in life?
Lambert Cousins Run for Literacy
If you haven’t heard of 826 National, it’s an amazing nonprofit youth writing and publishing organization that does exactly this: empowers traditionally underserved students 6-18 with free programs that teach creative writing and publishing skills. Structured around the understanding that “great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention” and that “strong writing skills are fundamental to future success,” these small buildings located in eight major cities (including NYC, LA, CHI, DC, and Boston) provide FREE after-school tutoring, help ELL students (English Language Learners), and guide in-depth publishing projects that turn student work into tangible, printed books.
With each FREE program, students learn how to express their individual voices and ideas effectively, creatively, and confidently. Programs like 826 are putting the power of creative education back into the student’s hands and heart.
But while volunteers and employees at 826 National locations strive to provide students these opportunities, they still need funds to make programs and publishing happen.
With a goal of $2,000, we have one month until race time, and while training is challenging, fundraising can sometimes pose a bigger feat.
So if you’ve read this far—and share our joy in the gift of empowering underserved students—join us as we raise money for this selfless, transformative organization.
How You Can Help
We’re running for literacy! If you’d like to give a gift to 826 Boston, awesome! If you don’t, no problem, we’re so happy you read this far and learned a little bit about this cool nonprofit organization. Check out some of the student work, or give a kid or teen a nice hug and encouraging word instead.
For all those who do want to donate, it’s easy! Just head over to Michael and my Lambert Cousins Run for Literacy Page on the 826 Boston site. And thank you, thank you, thank you for your generous gift!
“Every day, my cousin approached the entrance of the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD), but one day, her sandals broke. She looked ahead, to the sides, and behind her to see if anyone was looking, then jumping step by step, she quickly finished going inside. Then she took both of her shoes off and began to walk without making eye contact with anyone. She knew people were looking at her, but she thought, ‘I am not here to pay attention to what other people think about me; I am here to learn and grow more from every lesson.’ She was full of determinación.” — Tirsianiin Like the Sun in Dark Spaces (student from the graduating class of 2018 from the Boston International Newcomers Academy)
“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
– Nelson Mandela
Why We Run?
Hands down, one of the most inspiring days of my life was running
the Boston Marathon. There are many reasons for this but none more than the events that exemplified the power of the human spirit.
Not surprisingly, many of these moments came from waves three and four, the last waves compiled of teammates who fundraised and ran for a cause. My team was Dana Farber, and as a team we raised over $5 million for cancer research—$5 million!
Personally, several people in my life (my grandfather, neighbor Charlotte, student Jake, uncle Paul, and grandmother) inspired my call to run, which made the athletic feat (for me) far more meaningful than a twenty-six mile course—I was running for patients, families, and friends experiencing a painful time that my family/friends understood.
People with stories; people in need of support and compassion.
During my training, I fundraised for DFMC (Dana Farber Marathon Challenge) and raised (with the help of so many generous spirits) just under my individual goal of $10,000. Meanwhile, my tremendous cousin, Michael, raised his individual goal of $5,000.
Amazing! But with such success, Michael and I wondered if we could help another cause we felt needed support…
Well, we found one!
This year, Michael and I are tying up our laces again for a half marathon in Niagara Falls. Although there is no fundraising requirement to enter this run, we agreed that we wanted to find a group to run and fundraise for any way; an organization that shared something we are both passionate about.
What is that cause?
Promoting reading in young readers!
Bound by our collaborated passion for stories—our belief that sharing stories can unite (and sometimes save) people from all races, genders, sexualities, and backstories—Michael and I have decided to run for an organization/company that believes/supports this same cause.
But with so many wonderful organizations out there, we’re reaching out to you to help us make this big decision: What company/organization promoting reading in young readers should we run for?
We Need Your Help!
If you have the time, and if you believe in the importance of encouraging young readers and children to read, please check out the organizations that we are considering below. I’ve provided a brief description of the five organizations, as well as a three-question survey that can enlighten our perspective on the company you would most support.
Give them a read and then take a couple minutes to complete our survey, which you can find in the attached link.
We so appreciate your feedback and your contribution to the powerful change people make when we choose compassion for others first.
Organizations/Companies for Consideration
If you want more information than provided, click the pictures to link to a video campaign for each organization/company.
Concerned with the literary crisis in America, with one in four kids growing up with an inability to read, Sparking Literacy promotes reading for pleasure in young readers. Results have improved literacy rates, prevented dropouts, and changed the future for young people by creating Sparking Literacy book clubs in schools, hosting author events, donating books, and developing audiobooks to help kids with disabilities learn to read.
A spectacular company that works to put more books with diverse characters in the hands of children. Donations help this organization diversify the classroom, support diverse authors, promote diverse programming, and develop educational kits through various programs WNDB internships, scholarship grants, and book giveaways.
3) United Through Reading United Through Reading helps the children of active military personnel bond with their deployed parents through reading. Representatives from the nonprofit visit military bases all over the world film parents reading books to their kids back at home, building the emotional bond between parents and children through literacy.
4) Book Aid International Distributes books to libraries, schools, hospitals, prisons, refugee camps and rural communities in order to encourage literacy and access to reading materials in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. The NGO has sent roughly 30 million books to underserved areas since its founding in 1954.
Project Night Night sends over 25,000 “Night Night Packages” to homeless children each year. These packages contain blankets, stuffed animals, and children’s books that help kids in poor living conditions “feel secure, cozy, ready to learn, and significant.”
Take the Survey!
So there you have it, five stellar nonprofit organizations doing all they can to support reading. Though there are several organizations out there with a similar vision, these five tugged at our heartstrings the most. How about you?
Take our SURVEY to help us decide a) what organization we should fundraise/run for this October and b) why you would donate to this company.
Until next time, thanks for all your help.
And happy reading!
If you’re an aspiring writer and you’ve clicked on this blog, you’re probably debating about getting a MFA. And after the mountain of online articles blurring in your closing eyes, you’ve decided…nothing. “Great balls of fire!” Why can’t anyone give a straight answer!
I’ll tell you why – because they’re vouching for what they think – MFA or no MFA. But unless they’ve agreed to pay your tuition, or hunt you down until you’ve met your weekly word count, their opinions don’t matter. Your’s does, though…so what do you do?
Stop wasting your time reading articles debating about this issue! At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if John Smith believes you’ll never publish without a MFA and Hilary Clankinbeard thinks burning money on a MFA is baloney. Who cares what they think – they’re not you! And only you understand your professional, social, and financial situation. Only you can decide if a MFA’s benefits will outweigh its costs.
Enter, the solution. The MFA Yes and No checklist, a list of four big reasons you should or shouldn’t get a MFA.
Now on to the list!
First and foremost, I want to express that I am NOT going to give you a list of boring reasons as to why I decided not to get a MFA. This article isn’t about me. It’s about YOU – another aspiring writer out there just itching to learn more about writing! And it’s not important that you hear why I or any other writer did or did not get a MFA. It only matters your situation and what you think will make you a stronger writer. The costs and benefits weigh equally for most debaters, but only you know your work and home situation. Only your gut can tip the scale.
TO GET A MFA OR NOT TO GET A MFA? That is the question…
|1.I want to write, but I’m not disciplined. I’m one of those people who uses my job, my family, my friends, or my exhaustion to keep me from gluing my butt in my seat and typing until I finish. Having assignments and deadlines leaves me no option but to research and write – so following a curriculum that forces me to complete assignments by a deadline will teach me good habits and force me to write, despite my excuses.
Note of Caution: School eventually does come to an end, and one day you will have to learn to discipline yourself and write outside the classroom. The real work must and always be done at home – driven by you and you alone. But, if getting a MFA will jump-start good writing habits, go for it!
|1. I can’t afford it. Probably the number one reason writers stray from getting a MFA. After reading about how amazing the program sounds, you land on the admission cost and – with a knife in your heart – realize there’s no way in hell-abaloo you can afford it (now). Most programs range around $35,000-$40,000 – not including room and board or other expenses. Yup, college admission continues to increase for Master’s programs too. And it stinks like a bag of flaming crap on your doorstep, but, “there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it”…or is there! If you need more instruction but can’t afford a MFA – YOU CAN STILL LEARN! Half (or more) of being a writer (that succeeds) is continuing to educate yourself. Ever considered online programs from credible (AND AMAZING!) resources like Writer’s Digest University? If not, start enrolling in writing workshops like these – they’re more affordable than the traditional classroom setting (an online!) – as long as you’re someone who has enough drive to get your work done on your own 🙂|
|2. I don’t know what to research. You’re on Twitter and Facebook and you follow blogs, and you’ve explored the tips and tricks on the web…but something still feels like it’s missing. You’d like hands-on guidance from a mentor who can push you (and know your story personally) in the right direction, pointing you to people and works that might give you answers to flaws in your novel. Heck, your instructors do want you to complete your thesis – which is a bit different from an agency reading 500 manuscripts out a slush pile – weekly!||2. I have a job. So you can’t go to school full-time – or you could, but you might drown in a black hole by the time you’re done. Yes, it’ true that having a MFA does not guarantee you get published. You might learn skills. You might meet agents. But you don’t get an agent, an editor, or a publisher because you have a degree. Representation and publishing are a whole different animal. Even if you have a MFA, it’s up to you to sell your book – with or without an agent. You need to build your author platform. You need to seek representation. You need to publish it. Just don’t throw your debut novel in the corner because you get rejected one, two, or one-thousand times. If you want your novel to have a life, it’s up to you to create and promote it. Writing the book itself is its own precious, time-consuming, heart-throbbing job. Writers write because it is their vocation – they can’t imagine doing anything else. So even if you can’t complete a MFA because you have a full-time job – guess what, you can still get your book published. If you’re willing to put in the work.|
|3. I don’t know any writers and I’d like to meet agents, publishers, and editors. One great advantage of getting a MFA is your opportunity to learn from and work with published authors. And if your instructor isn’t published (which is practically unheard of), it’s more than likely you will attend presentations by guest speakers who…well, they’ve been invited for a reason! If you’re not an outgoing person, a MFA program places you in a more personal, comfortable position to speak to professionals in the industry. It can be scary diving right into the heat of a competitive, fast-paced environment like publishing if you’re farouche – and you’d find comfort writing side by side with supportive yet constructive readers. Maybe the stars will align (thanks to your research!), and you even hit it off with a guest agent or editor. Happily Ever After (and then the real work begins!)
Note: Some programs like Emerson College build a publishing component into the curriculum. If you’re interested in publishing – there are degrees for that, too!
|3. I’d rather spend my time writing (my genre!) than analyzing. Yes, you will write until your fingers bleed before they hand you your MFA, but it requires a lot of structured, literary-focused work. If you’re writing for genre fiction like sci-fi or fantasy (among many others), then the MFA might not be for you. Not that some programs like Spalding University don’t offer all genre fiction choices…but they’re not the norm, and they’re not the main focus even if they’re offered. Focusing on fiction can be tricky in a MFA program – and if courses with a literary core is not what you want, well, I’d encourage you to check out alternative online courses, like Writer’s Digest University (again, they are amazing!!!!). Or, maybe you don’t have the money for a course (or you’re more advanced than what the course offers) but still want to learn from a published author/editor/agent…try purchasing an OnDemand Webinar instead. You might learn exactly what you hope to hear – faster!|
|4. You practice you’re writing…but not consistently. If you’re one of those people that writes – not a writer (because writers, write!), you might benefit from a structured environment – needing someone to tell you to complete “x” number of pages with “x” number of words by Friday. Again, you can’t let poor excuses and distractions – writer’s block, no time, the list goes on and on – get in your way…MFA or no MFA. But, if paying pockets-full-of money for that MFA motivates your fingers on the keyboard or grows your interest to research, do it.||4. I have a family. And I can’t just pick up and move them because I want to attend a program in a different state. Why can’t there be more programs that are online! They’re out there, but they might involve some airfare on occasion. And again, you have to consider if a MFA would work for YOUR family. Each one is different and may or may not need more attention. But a word of caution for those out there who use “busy schedules” as their excuse. I said it earlier and I’ll say it again – writer’s write. When they’re busy. When they’re hungry. And when they’re tired. Learn a routine that works, and stick to it. But you will never get anything published if you can’t discipline yourself to write every.single.day. Besides, you’ll feel empty if you cheat on your books. Don’t deprive your characters from your affection! You wouldn’t deprive your kids!|
Okay. But I still don’t know what to do. What now??
Ask yourself – Do I need a MFA (I almost forgot! If your intent is teaching college, then YES, you probably do need a MFA – universities and colleges tend to hire instructors with a MFA or published experience)? And if I do, is this the right time for me and my family? And, if not, what can I do to make sure I continue to LEARN how to write better, and how to sell my book?
If it’s not good enough to be a “good” writer – and it’s perfectly possible for a tirelessly persistent and resilient writer to succeed – focus your energy on what will make you more persistent and resilient. What will teach you more about writing, and what will boost your desire to learn on your own – MFA or no MFA? Only you can answer that.
Reading Isn’t Enough.
Nothing scares a creative writer (and if you’re reading this, that’s probably you) more than a lesson that looks like this:
I know, shocking. Lectures that drone on and on don’t keep eager learners interested. Yes, I said eager learners – that’s how ineffective rambling is.
In fact, undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail. That’s crazy! So crazy that educators at Harvard University like Eric Mazur believe it’s “almost unethical to be lecturing if you have the data…it’s outmoded, outdated, and inefficient.” Learners who don’t like to read might say the same goes for long-winded books (Twilight anyone?).
Thank the Word Lord us writers are blessed with a love for quiet places and worn bindings!
And yet – in many cases – reading isn’t enough…
Hold up! You’re telling me that if I read a bunch of books, I won’t become a better writer?
Heck no! Literature is the foundation of every great writer!
But that doesn’t mean I’ll get everything I can out of a good book – maybe even a life-changing book – if I don’t discuss what I think makes it so freak-funkifying-fantastic….
The Importance of Reading & Discussion
As a creative writing teacher (and writer in the works myself), I deeply believe in the importance of reading with a purpose.
It’s the same reason I require my creative writing students to dig up one book from four important categories (for writers) each semester.
What are they?
- Competitive Books
- Informative Books
- Contemporary Books
These books, I emphasize, will force writers to think new thoughts, learn new words, and harness the inspiration needed to keep going.
And yet, for us writers, reading isn’t enough. We need to communicate and comprehend what we’re reading.
In a 2013 lecture, bestselling author Neil Gaiman lectured on how our future relies on libraries, reading, and daydreaming. He stressed how people who do not understand each other cannot exchange ideas or communicate. He went on to discuss how in a time where noise continues to build across media, “words are more important than they ever were.”
I’d like to take this one step further.
Yes, reading is crucial to humanity’s wellbeing – a people’s intellectual and commutative survival.
But without discussion of what we read, we cannot communicate or comprehend the words for everything they’re worth.
Our goal as authors is to soil ideas that blossom into full-blown conversations. It’s a giant reason why we love reading so much!
So why don’t writers discuss what we read more?
In fact, why don’t we discuss right now.
Lesson 1: Jurassic Park – How Crichton’s Descriptions Shows v. Tells
Oh boy – you just received that rejection letter from that agency and it’s a big hunking PASS. Maybe it doesn’t quite “resonate with us”. Maybe the agent isn’t “enthusiastic enough about this piece right now”. Bummer rama.
Don’t get down!
There’s a good chance that you have talent but need a little work on your voice and style. Perhaps you have an editor who keeps advising you to show more than tell.
Ah, the famous show don’t tell recommendation.
We’ve all heard it before. Likely, you possess a bookshelf filled with advice on writing skills to avoid just this…
But how many of us identify how bestselling authors show in their writing?
Have no fear! Right not, I’ve designed a quick five-minute (max) lesson to help you analyze how Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) shows in his writing! If you participate, maybe (just maybe) we can create a virtual discussion that will not only strengthen your writing skills, but your ability to read with a purpose!
If not, you still get to read a pretty scary-sick passage about velociraptors. That’s a win in my book! What about you?
Great! Then keep reading…and let’s discuss!
Analyze how Michael Crichton introduces the Velociraptors with description that shows vs. tells. Then, write your own passage that continues to show these dinosaurs in action!
Resources: Excerpt from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (130)
Assignment: Read the selected passage from page 130 in Jurassic Park. Identify one sentence that shows me something about the velociraptor instead of tells about her. Then, identify two words that create texture (or touch) in the description.
Don’t forget to share what you find in the comments section! The more people we can get to chat, the more we can all learn!
Passage (Page 130):
Amid the ferns, Grant saw the head of an animal, it was motionless, partially hidden in the fronds, the two large dark eyes watching coldly.
The head was two feet long. From a pointed snout, a long row of teeth ran back to the hole of the auditory meatus, which served as an ear. The head reminded him of a large lizard, or perhaps a crocodile. They did not blink, and the animal did not move. Its skin was leathery, with a pebbled texture, and basically the same coloration as the infant’s yellow-brown with darker reddish markings, like the stripes of a tiger.
As Grant watched, a single forelimb reached up very slowly to part the ferns beside the animal’s face. The limb, Grant saw, was strongly muscled. The hand had three grasping fingers, each ending in curved claws. The hand, gently, slowly, pushed aside the ferns.
Grant felt a chill and thought, He’s hunting us.
For a mammal like man, there was something indescribably alien about the way reptiles hunted their prey. No wonder men hated reptiles. The stillness, the coldness, the pace was all wrong. To be among alligators or other large reptiles was to be reminded of a different kind of life, a different kind of world, now vanished from the earth. Of course, this animal didn’t realize that he had been spotted, that he –
Discussion (What I Found):
How can I break up description of a character with action to develop a character or advance a plot?
When coaching my creative writing students, several stumble over the same question:
Mrs. Perry, they’ll say, how can I show more about my character without describing their physical aspects?
The truth is, you do need to describe your character’s physical aspects, but physical appearance isn’t the peanut butter and jelly in the PBJ of your description. You need to break it up with action!
Notice Crichton goes into physical appearance of the raptors, how the raptor Grant sees is “two feet long” with a “pointed snout” and “row of teeth.” Great, super intimidating. Scary indeed – or is this scarier because I’ve seen the raptors in action in Spielberg’s masterpiece? (Who wasn’t scared by the raptors?!)
Reading for Thought…
Yes, it’s great to provide an initial description of a character so the reader can dig out the bread for the character’s sandwich, maybe cut off the crust. But that’s not the delicious goo of what they’ll take away from the character when they finish the chapter, which is exactly why we need action in the description.
1.Notice how right before we hear Grant’s internal dialogue “He’s hunting us” we see the raptor’s hand “gently, slowly” push “aside the ferns.” Keeping its giant body in camouflage, while moving with such slow, eerie confidence is a testament to not only this predator’s intimidating intelligence, but Crichton’s brilliant display of showing v. telling in his introduction of antagonist numero uno – the terrifying Velociraptors!
2. In addition, Crichton seasons his physical description (a telling method to describe the raptors) with textures. For instance, words like “Grant felt a chill” add texture to the description that is much more effective than stating his internal dialogue (“He’s hunting us”) alone. It creates an icy realization that effectively shows how Grant feels (and if Grant feels it, you feel it!).
This same method of “showing” (description that uses texture) explains why Crichton describes the raptor’s skin as “pebbled” instead of eliminating the texture of the raptor’s skin completely. The bumpiness of the scales sparks Grant’s comparison of dinosaurs to crocodiles, and how reptiles in particular frighten men with their “stillness, their coldness, their pace” – how it’s “all wrong.” All of this creates tension, builds fright in the reader, for what is about to happen next…
Use sight, smell, sound, taste, and/or touch in your description of a raptor attack that could follow this passage!
Don’t forget to share your paragraph in the comments below, and comment on someone else’s work so we can make this a Discussion!
Did you find different texture diction than I did? How do you think this passage developed the Velociraptors (or Grant) or advanced the plot? Share your answers with the class – I’d love to hear from you! Use the hashtag #LetsDiscuss & #LessonJurassicPark