Hamburgers and Helpful Disclosures | The Secret of the Resistant Readers Part 4

by Melissa on March 22, 2010

This is Part 4 in Melissa’s case The Secret of the Resistant Readers.

When we left off last time, I told you I was channeling my inner Nancy Drew. What I didn’t tell you was that I was also channeling Nina, my amazing master teacher.

I remembered some advice she gave me when I was working in her classroom: sometimes the most important time to keep your mouth shut is when you have big feelings about something that’s happening with your kids. Her advice was to take some time, sleep on it, and try to figure out what to do the next morning, when the day’s fresh.

I did, and the next morning I decided to get curious.

A Canary Sings and the Culprit is Unmasked

My students love to help in the classroom at lunch time, and that day I picked Mr. Tyler as my helper because I had something up my sleeve.

While we were cutting things out, we made a bit of small talk. Then, I decided that it was time for the interrogation to begin. I nonchalantly filled Mr. Tyler on the clues I had picked up during the last couple of times we’d done Drop Everything And Read.

And then I asked him the hard question, “Why haven’t the kids been reading during DEAR?” I held my breath, waiting for him to reveal the secret.

He stopped his cutting and looked up at me, a little skeptically, trying to gauge if he could be honest. When he finally answered, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, Miss. I know that you went through a lot of trouble to get us all those books. But most of them aren’t very good.”

Aha! “Those books aren’t very good.”

His words echoed in my head for the rest of the day.

A Forgotten Secret

As I contemplated the words of my student over a plate of my mom’s lasagna that night, I couldn’t help thinking about how this situation tied in to food. You’re probably wondering why, but just hear me out.

Now, I love to eat more than most people I know, I come from a family of eaters. When we go on vacation, or when my family comes to visit, our time usually consists of restaurant hopping to the most delicious eateries in town.

Not only that, but when we’re chomping on brunch at Cafe Latte in LA, you can probably bet we’ll be talking about which sandwich we’re going to be ordering for lunch at Bay City’s Deli in Santa Monica. As I munch on my caprese sandwich, you can bet I’ll be debating with my Uncle over which dish is the best at Zumaya, which we’ll be heading to for dinner directly after we finish up at the deli, because it’s in Hollywood, and you know how our freeways are in this city.

But I don’t care if it’s the last thing in the room, if you leave me in a room with one of my dad’s beloved Tommy Burgers, you would not have to worry for one single minute that it will be gone when you return.

I had essentially filled my bookshelves with Tommy Burgers.

With a little help from my student, I felt like I was well on my way to cracking the case.

I was going to have to find my kids some tasty books.

But, I couldn’t help wondering: Was I still in over my head? And: How could I figure out which books would really grab them?

*Takeaway Tip: *If you’re kid’s not reading, a friendly interrogation might be helpful. I was lucky enough to have 20 kids, so I could pick a kid who would spill it after being asked one question.

Now, all kids aren’t like that, so if yours is one that’s likely to clam up under direct questioning you’ll have to channel your inner Nancy Drew. Listen to them when they talk about reading. Pay attention to their body language when books come up. It just might be a sure-fire way to avoid wasting time following a false lead.

And P.S. If some teacher’s telling you your kid’s not reading because they’re lazy, you might want to try transferring your sweet pea into another class. There’s *always* a reason, and where here to help you get to the bottom of your mystery, as well!

*Invitation: *Would *love * to hear about some of the walls that you’ve found that stood between your kids and loving reading. And how you worked through them, or if you’re still needing some help.

Melissa is the founder of Tandem Teaching and teaches in the inner-city. She blogs weekly about tips parents can implement to enhance their connection with their children and ways to bring out their children’s inherent gifts. Contact her for a private consulting session.


Megan March 22, 2010 at 11:21 am

Ugh Tommy Burgers. Dad used to pick up a dozen chili burgers and every time I would give it a shot and eat one and every time I would be left with heartburn and regret.

Jim March 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Do you remember which types of books in particular the boy was asking for? Who decides which books go into school libraries?

Darlene March 23, 2010 at 6:35 pm

I say let them read anything that’s appropriate. I’ve encouraged kids magazines to parents who are struggling getting their kids excited about reading. Yes, there are a lot of pictures, but at least they are excited about reading (even if it’s around all the pics). If they begin to love to read topics that they know they’re interested, then maybe once they are comfortable, they’ll explore other topics. They’ll learn to love those topics (the caprese sandwich) or, they’ll veer away from others that give them heartburn (Tommy’s).

Mark March 23, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Aside from the unnecessary slam on Tommy Burgers, I found this to be an outstanding article. As a child who was accused of being “lazy” when it came to my reading habits, I can completely empathize with the young reader who was less than enthusiastic with the content he was being presented. Thank goodness there are teachers, such as yourself Melissa, who take the time to get to the bottom (a la Nancy Drew) of these issues. Thanks to my wonderful 1st grade teacher, Ms. Maday, it was discovered that I was not a poor reader…rather, I was merely underwhelmed with the material I was being given. Kudos to you and the TandemTeaching team- KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!

Katie March 25, 2010 at 4:53 pm

I’m embarassed to admit it, but “The Babysitter’s Club” was my brie and baguette in a world that had been previously filled with rice cakes. In other words, I had always had a mediocre interest in reading, but became fully obsessed with the Babysitter’s Club series…. so I have Kristy, Dawn, Maryanne, Mallory, and Stacy (the “hip” one from NYC- my personal fave) to thank for teaching me that I could love reading. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to hook them with Chee-tos to eventually get ’em to eat brussel sprouts… am I taking this food analogy too far?

Megan March 25, 2010 at 5:03 pm

@Katie – I was jealous of both Stacy’s perm and her diabetes. I was a weird eight-year-old.

Melissa March 27, 2010 at 3:45 pm

At least you weren’t longing after Claudia Kishi’s “artistic” outfits. Wild Bird, and everyone else, are well aware how those bad fashion choices shaped me then, and how I still struggle to overcome them!

Melissa March 27, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Thanks Mark! I’m so grateful that there are so many teachers out there like Ms. Maday who look at the clues to help open the door for their students. Imagine, if you would have had someone else a little less observant, you might’ve been forced into a scripted remedial reading program (which are often full of boring books. Which might’ve temporarily, or permanently, locked you out of the Secret Reading Society!

Melissa March 27, 2010 at 5:11 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more, Darlene. It sounds like you’re doing exactly the right thing!

Another great trick is giving comic books to reluctant readers. Stephen Krashen and a whole other slew of smarties have been doing research on it, and it’s really exciting. In “Hamlet Too Hard? Try a Comic Book,” Teresa Mendez wrote, “For the reluctant reader, they are absorbing. For the struggling reader or the reader still learning English, they offer accessibility: pictures for context, and possibly an alternate path into classroom discussions of higher-level texts. They expand vocabulary, and introduce the ideas of plot, pacing, and sequence.”

You can read more about it at

Keep up the good work, friend!

Senora/Madame R March 28, 2010 at 4:58 pm

You might think that it is funny that I can relate to this as a High School teacher, but because I teach foreign language my students have very low reading abilities so I have a hard time to get them engaged in reading. I also find it difficult to find books that would be interesting to a high schooler. I hear all the time “this book is lame.” My best option is to give them options…I tell them we must read and we have two options: read the boring reading from our textbook or we can read the readers that are more entertaining (although not much). They always choose the readers. At least you know that you have more options. BTW, I can picture you interrogating little kids. I have been interrogated by you and you are the best at breaking the case.

Melissa March 28, 2010 at 6:12 pm

You are going to love tomorrow’s post. I think it might help. Thanks for commenting Madame R!

Katie March 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Megan, I’m dying over the diabetes comment, because I too was twisted enough to envy it! Did you ever see The Babysitter’s Club home videos? Not nearly as good as the books… and Stacy’s perm was not exactly what I had dreamed of, not to mention the disappointment that was Stoneybrook- just goes to show that books are the best medium out there, nothing beats what we create in our own little minds!

Melis- how could I forget to list Claudia? The shame! Not to mention Jessie the ballerina! Apologies all around.