Ryan and reading haven’t always been the best match. He struggled to learn to read and struggled even more with reading comprehension. It wasn’t until we figured out that for him, recognizing the words on the page and understanding what they meant were two entirely separate processes, that we began to get him the appropriate extra help.
With an amazing language arts resource teacher who doubled as his tutor over the last few summers, slowly but surely Ryan began to make real progress. There were some “a-ha” moments. During our summer beach vacation, he voluntarily read more than the prescribed 20 minutes one day because he genuinely liked the book. That was the first time either Veronica or I could recall that happening. Later that week, he was working on a comprehension assignment for his tutor, and his ability to explain the story to me was so far beyond anything I’d seen before that I was truly amazed.
If he’s not quite yet a book lover, Ryan is still miles from where he was a few years ago. There are some books he actually does love. We had great success with Dan Gutman‘s My Weird School series and his book Million Dollar Goal, with hockey-playing siblings and a cursing, farting grandmother, was an enormous hit.
Lately, Ryan has taken a real liking to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. We have read all of the titles several times, and he even requested to see the most recent film from the series, another first.
Just as his enjoyment of reading has been slow to develop, so too has his desire to write. We tried to encourage writing by any means. Occasionally we talked him into writing recaps of his made-up hockey games. He sometimes agreed, but more often preferred to type standings, which always led to issues, and was the primary reason Ryan’s computer spent the last several weeks on our dresser.
We were prepared to put the computer back in his room, but we were waiting for him to ask. He finally did this past weekend. We talked about the behaviors — repetitive, obsessive typing of NHL standings — the were unhealthy and led to anger and outbursts. He agreed that he shouldn’t type standings, and he insisted that he wanted the computer back for a different reason. I had my doubts, as we’ve had his exchange many times before, but agreed to give it a try mostly because I was intrigued about his reason for wanting the computer. Ryan stated that he intended to write a book called Diary of a Cool Kid.
My son? A book? This I had to see.
Ryan spent much of Saturday in his room, typing away furiously. I coaxed him out for breaks, knowing that extended periods alone in his room on the computer often don’t end well. He insisted that nothing he was doing was making him angry. He kept me updated on the number of chapters and pages he had completed. When the page count reached the thirties, I began to get really intrigued. I made sure Ryan really was enjoying himself, even if he wouldn’t allow me to see his work.
Finally, after one last break late in the afternoon, he returned to his room and shortly thereafter announced he was done. Before I could ask how many pages, he already sent it to the family printer in the basement. I raced downstairs to watch the first of 43!!!! pages emerge.
Ryan came racing behind. He did not want me reading his work. He said we would save it for bedtime reading that night. The little that I saw was impressive. Different fonts, interesting layouts, a title page. He had done all the formatting himself. I promised not to read as I put the whole thing into a binder.
Bedtime came and we gathered to read the story. I read it aloud to Ryan and Veronica. I was amazed. Ryan was, of course, the “cool kid” in the story. It was funny and irreverent. It was well written. There were very few typos or other misspellings. It mixed the basic format of a Wimpy Kid book with events from Ryan’s own life: hockey, school, the bus. It showed imagination. It had characters based on kids from school. It made sense!
I would love to post the whole thing here, but Ryan did not want anyone outside our family to read it. He was worried about inappropriate language for his use of “suck” throughout. I will honor that promise. But we also told him we were going to let his language arts teacher/tutor know what he had done, which Veronica did via email.
We read the book again the next night, this time with Riley, who was also a character in the story. Even though she came in for some abuse in the text, she loved it and was genuinely proud of her brother.
I snuck on to Ryan’s computer and emailed myself a copy of the document. I wanted to make sure it was preserved in case he ever had a change of heart and deleted it. I also wanted to check the word count, which topped out at over 4,000.
Had my son really just done this? Had he sat, in one day, and voluntarily written a 4,000-word story that was funny and appropriate and GOOD? We were both in awe.
Ryan has begun work on a sequel. Whether he ever completes it, I don’t know. I don’t know if this is the start of something big or just one of those lightning-in-a-bottle moments.
And you know what else? I really don’t care. For one day at least, Ryan proved that he can be a self-motivated creative writer. And I couldn’t be prouder.
- The Diary of a Wimpy Kid Makes Its Transition From Page, to Film, To E-Reader. (contactmusic.com)
- At the Intersection of Hockey and Politics (pucksandpuzzlepieces.com)
- It’s the Logistics (pucksandpuzzlepieces.com)
- Best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series Coming to Kindle (dailyfinance.com)