Leading Them to Water…

Photo by Kelly Sikkema, unspash.com

I recently gave three books to S., my fourteen-year-old granddaughter. S. has up until now not been a huge fan of reading. She flirted with the Warriors series — I think of those books at least twice a day, which would be every time “my” feral cat shows up the back door, waiting for me to feed him — and manga books,  but the works that have constituted the “required reading” part of her educational curriculum up to the present would, I’m afraid, divert just about any fledgling reader to computer games, YouTube, and King of the Hill reruns. My own experience is that when something that is supposed to be enjoyable becomes a requirement it becomes drudgery. 

Cover Copyright (c) Charles Scribner’s Sons. All rights reserved.

I have gently attempted on a number of occasions to get her interested in reading. No go. I therefore recently decided to get the reading camel’s nose under the tent of her interests and/or needs through non-fiction. “Needs” won. S. indicated to me that she had experienced some difficulty with a couple of school writing projects. I could have blessed her with a couple of instructive boring grandpa lecture but instead gave her On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I picked that one because she had at least heard of King and the book isn’t just about writing. King also goes into his life, his background, what drives him, what derailed him, what got him back on track, and how important other people were and are to the process. With regard to the last, King’s name may be on all of those book spines, but there would not be nearly so many of them if not for Tabitha King, his wife, who worked in bakeries when he was unpublished, scheduled interventions after he was published, and ministered to him during multiple dark days and weeks after his life-threatening injury. I handed On Writing to S. and she smiled with the good grace that a well-mannered child does when given clothes instead of a pony for Christmas. I then said, “The great thing about this book is that when you read it you can hear the author talking to you.” She smiled as if she had received that pony after all. Oh, On Writing does cover the act and art of writing, too. It has helped S. with her problem. Now she enjoys writing and reading. 

Cover Copyright (c) Nicholas Hughes. All rights reserved.

I did not stop there. I chose a second book to give S. because she is with increasing frequency getting out more on her own. Dad and Grandpa, for a number of reasons, won’t always be around to smite the varlets who might otherwise accost her as she innocently goes about her business.  I accordingly placed How to Be Your Own Bodyguard by Nick Hughes into her hands. Nick has handled security for movie sets and rock musician tours (among many other things) and lays his subjects and advice out in a very personable and businesslike manner with plenty of interesting accounts of practical applications of his considerable skillsets. The volume discusses such topics as situational awareness, threat assessment, and, if at all possible, trouble avoidance rather than confrontation when one is exposed to adverse situations.  I gave S. my copy, which includes a personal inscription from the author (full disclosure: Nick and I consulted on presentation issues during the writing of the book but it is all his. I don’t get a penny from the sales nor do I deserve any) and thus increased its worth in her eyes. 

Cover Copyright (c) Hachette Group, Inc.

The previous two books contain advice that S. can use now. The third is one that she can look at now and utilize later. It is Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 535 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown. Imagine your eighteen-year-old self standing at the entrance of a long, dark, and unfamiliar tunnel and having a friend who is several years older than you standing at the other end, advising you of the pitfalls you will encounter as you take your steps into the unknown. That sums up this book. It covers topics such as how to apply for a job, work once you get it, find an apartment, get a pet, deal with friends, and handle money. It is a cheat sheet, if you will, for the pop quiz that is early adult life. I don’t agree with all of the author’s suggestions but she picks all of the right topics, including the ones that young adults don’t think of until they come calling with little or no warning. All of this advice is given in a friendly and appropriately humorous voice. The book won’t solve every problem S. will meet within a couple or five years but it will hopefully give her a leg up on them. As I often tell folks in another context, better to have and not need than need and not have.

S. is now reading and seems to be enjoying the process. She is also hopefully learning some practical things along the way. Mission accomplished. Have you ever given or recommended a self-help book or a novel to someone younger than you? Was it with the hope that they would start reading, or at least start enjoying it? If so, what was the book, and did it work?

Thanks once again for dropping by. It means a lot.



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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

29 thoughts on “Leading Them to Water…

  1. Gram was the one who always gave books to the grandson, from birth on. For his recent 13th birthday and Hanukkah, all he asked for was money because he wants to build his own computer. His forte is math, but I haven’t dug into appropriate books for that subject, as reading isn’t an issue with him. Former favorite books were “Ready Player One” and “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

    • First! Nice work, Gram! I’m told that building a computer is easy, but I am also told that I can mess up a soup sandwich, so I’ll leave that project to the wise.

      I found out, after writing and posting, that S. just read No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. The copy she read was gifted to her father by his father for his birthday. Funny how those things work out.

      Thanks for sharing, Terry!

  2. What a wonderful gift, Joe. And so thoughtful. I haven’t given books to nonreaders yet, but I look forward to the day when I do. My grandchildren came out of the womb loving books, and they’re still quite young (3, 5, & 7). Nonetheless, I’ll tuck your wise advice in the ol’ memory bank for when they reach young adulthood.

    Have an amazing weekend!

    • Thank you, Sue! Keep writing so that those three lucky grandchildren have plenty to read when they come of age. Hope you have a terrific weekend as well.

  3. Great post, Joe. You made me think. I’ve probably failed to provide written guidance to my children, as much as I should have. Early in my young adult and middle years, I was reading medical articles and books on woodworking, neither of which interested my children. When conflict erupted within my siblings’ interactions, I recommended “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to all of them. That was not well received, especially by those who needed the advice. My oldest son and I have traded novels back and forth that we have enjoyed. My second son introduced old dad to the “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” series. And my youngest son has sent me books on national security and cyber security, coming from his work and interest in that area. I did give my daughter “The Sexual Male” to help her understand how boys are different from girls and what young men think about most of their waking hours. I also made her watch Liam Neeson’s movie “Taken.”

    When it comes to grandchildren, I am trying to make up for the sins of my negligent past, setting out on a middle grade fantasy series,
    The Mad River Magic Series, highlighting a special relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. The first three books are published. I’m working on #4. My oldest grandchildren are in the second grade. I hope that by the time they reach middle grades I will have a series for them to read.

    Thanks for the post, Joe. Have a great weekend.

    • Good morning, Steve. Thanks so much. I would beg to differ with you re: what you provided to your children and your daughter in particular. I also made my daughter watch TAKEN.

      What a gift to your grandchildren! I hope that they appreciate you now and later.

      Have a great weekend, Steve. I hope you got the driveway plowed earlier this week.

  4. What a wonderful, thoughtful grandpa you are, Joe!

    I don’t have experience as a grandparent but I can attest to the special, powerful, lasting influence my grandmother had on me as a child. She read Dr. Doolittle and Mary Poppins books to me and helped me learn to read before kindergarten. Her echos are in every story I tell and every book I read.

    Fifty years from now, S will talk to her grandchildren about her grandpa and the lasting lessons he taught her.

    • Thank you so much, Debbie. Your grandmother had a terrific granddaughter as well, obviously, given that you have memorialized her in your work. I hope my granddaughter remembers me for more than getting her a Caniac Combo every other weekend, though that would be more than enough. Thanks again.

  5. Your post stirs several things for me.

    Thanks for mention of “How to be Your Own Bodyguard”. I’ve ordered a copy to check out myself & if I like it I will send a copy to a niece and a nephew who are graduating this year.

    My graduating niece is an avid reader, thankfully. Though of course her choice in reading is quite a bit different from mine. But I’m very happy she loves to read.

    I really love your idea of gifting kids books, regardless of how much they read. I have done it occasionally, but not consistently, and I think I missed out on an opportunity by not doing so. One smart move I did make, and that I recommend, is that when another niece of mine graduated from high school several years ago, I sat down and wrote her out a heart felt letter encouraging her on her life journey and some tips of wisdom I’ve learned over time. I did so with some trepidation but she has told me that she pulls it out to re-read it occasionally and that means a lot to me. So whether it’s children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, I’ve learned we shouldn’t underplay opportunities to communicate with them & encourage them in life’s bumpy journey.

    Finally, even though I’ve been out of school for a L-O-N-G time, I despised the fact that they chose your reading for you (but hey, I don’t hold a grudge. 😎 That’s why I’ve hated the “classics” to this day. If I could have a hand in changing the educational system, I would at the very least give kids the option to pick from several books instead of saying “You’re going to read Flowers for Algernon” or whatever. Give kids a wide variety of choice and engage in discussion on several titles, which not only encourages reading but critical thinking.

    Thanks for another great post, and for the book recommendation!

    • Thank you so much, BK. I think that you will find HOW TO BE YOUR OWN BODYGUARD very much worth your while. I use at least one principle from Nick’s book each day. I also made sure that my daughter read it when she started college. There was a terror attack at her school during her senior year and she knew exactly what to do, thanks to Nick.

      Re: required reading, I WISH they were giving the students classics. It would be an improvement. That said, I take your point. If you want to really make someone hate something just require them to do it under pain of consequence. They’ll find a way out of it. Now…if I could just find someone to MAKE me go to Sonic…

      Thanks again, BK!

  6. Mornin’, Good Grampa Joe. Great piece and great influence(s) S. has. Talk about a timely post for me with “On Writing” leading off. I recently spent time with a newly-retired police detective who is serious about starting a writing career. I didn’t tell her she was probably better off eating her gun, but I did recommend five books to her. The first was “On Writing”.

    Last night, I was wondering how those books would resonate with her, so I slid “On Writing” from my bookshelf and paged through it. Talk about voice. I mean, the man just comes off the page, grabs ya, and says, “Listen here…” It was well past my bedtime when I put it down, and I’m going to pick up where I left off this morning.

    Oh, and for those who were part of the “Don’t Listen to Stephen King” thread that was floating around the net the other day… well, don’t listen to them.

    • Good morning, Garry! Nice to have you here. What you say about King’s voice is spot on. What a storyteller. Even the books of his that I haven’t cared for — and there have been a few — there are always scenes that are so vivid so “right there” that they are unforgettable. Your retired friend is fortunate to have you as a go-to guy, obviously. As for the ones I DO like…I recently completed my annual reading of MISERY and just might give S. a copy of CARRIE to try out.

      Thanks for being here this morning and sharing, Garry!

    • I didn’t see the Stephen King threat, but I would have happily agreed to ignoring most of his advice on craft. As a writing teacher, I consider most of his advice on specific craft issues to be crap. “Do it like I do it, and I do it instinctively” is totally useless. That’s like saying, “Use a map to find where you want to go, but there is no map.”

  7. Great post, Joe!

    I’m blessed to have over 20 grandchildren (how does that possibly happen when I’m still a youngster…?) and most of them have parents who love to read…hence most of the grandchildren are readers. I have given them books over the years, and they have given books to me! Now, that is a great gift. 🙂

    A couple have mentioned they’d like to write, so I try to encourage that also.

    Happy Saturday to all…

    • Thank you, Deb! I was going to say, you’re barely old enough to have children, let alone all of those grandchildren! Good on you, fostering that reading and writing desire. Maybe you will get to see the results of your efforts. 
      Happy weekend to you!

  8. Good morning, Joe! So heart-warming to read about your efforts to connect books with S. You are a wonderful grandpa. You also did a great job of what we in library land call “reader’s advisory,” which is library speak for helping readers find a great read, one that fit their interests.

    One of the greatest things about being a librarian was connecting young people with books. Not just the ones who eagerly wanted a great read, but those who came in, often with a parent in tow, needing a book for a reading assignment. When they could read anything in a category or anything at all, we could really go to town. I’d suggest that if it was a non-fiction book in any topic, what things were they really interested in. The truth is, we’re all interested in something If it were a novel in any genre, what sort of story did they enjoy? Scary? Mysterious? Fantastical? And on.

    Of course, it was also a joy to connect younger reads to so called classic literature, but what I really lived and worked for was to connect them with books that spoke to them, that fit their needs and wants.

    Thanks again for a wonderful post. Have a great Saturday!

    • Good morning, Dale! Thank you so much for your kind compliments. You are easy to please. I’d especially like to thank you for your work as a librarian for hooking readers up with new works of interest and getting that reading thing going and keeping it going. Librarians helped me with that as well over six decades ago. I’m glad that some things don’t change.

      You have a great weekend as well! Thanks again.

  9. The two primary ways to get your child to read are model the behavior yourself by reading and enjoying books and finding that perfect gateway drug book. My mom read fiction all the time. My dad was a magazine and newspaper reader.

    I was read to as a child, but I was never passionate about books until I was stuck inside during the Southern equivalent of a blizzard with a book called THE SECRET HORSE by Marion Holland. I was in third grade, and, according to the parents, my first full sentence was “I want a horse.” That book pushed all my horse girl buttons, and I began to devour horse books which led to dog books to adventure books to any fiction I could lay my hands on including Mark Twain and Shakespeare to degrees in literature and a need to tell stories myself.

    The storytelling was from my dad who modeled by writing a chatty column on the outdoor life and hunting for the local newspaper and by telling original bedtime stories and being an oral storyteller in the Southern tradition. Most big family meals were interesting, to say the least.

    • Marilynn, I don’t think that it is any accident that my favorite authors are for the most part from the South. Writing is telling, and the oral tradition is the bedrock of what we do.

      I love that phrase “gateway drug book.” Thanks for sharing.

  10. Ah, Joe, you bring back the memory of my sainted grandmother reading to me from the set of books called My Book House. Beautifully illustrated, stories of all kinds. I was especially impressed with The Gingerbread Man.

    Cut to: Many years later. I found this set is re-published in quality paperback. I ordered the volume with The Gingerbread Man. And have read it to my grandson. Nice circle, that.

    • Jim, how cool is that? I hope that your grandson enjoyed them as much as you did. The first book read to me by my mother was Rootie Kazootie Detective, not that it influenced me or anything. My grandmother also gave me The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at an early age. My children were not very interested in those books but I still am. Thanks for sharing, Jim.

  11. Joe, you’re an incredible grandfather. There’s nothing more loving than the gift of thoughtful books. She’s going to treasure these forever, I’m sure.

    I’m forever buying my sons and my nieces books that they’re currently too young to read because “one day” they’ll be ready.

    • Thank you so much, Philip. That’s high praise, particularly when it comes from such an outstanding Dad and Uncle.

       Hope that your sons and nieces appreciate you now and going forward. 

      Thanks for coming by.

  12. Our apartment is stuffed with an alarming number of books. They were supposed to be for school, but my kids have inhaled all the ones I was going to read to them. I still grab books and read them aloud for school, particularly this past year, when I had a new baby and that was all I had the energy for. I read to them all the time, and I read them the stories I write, and one of our favorite pastimes is Dungeons and Dragons, which is just collaborative storytelling. We live and breathe stories. I’ve never understood kids who don’t. Don’t they watch TV or play videogames? Those are story-heavy, too.

    • Kessie, that sounds like a great apartment with a terrific mom at the helm. I would call a home with an alarming number of books a home that doesn’t have any. As long as you’re not causing the building to list to one side you’re good! 
      You’re 100% right about video games and television. They have stories too. I suppose that the draw of those, as opposed to books, is the visual stimulation with minimal involvement as opposed to books, which require some processing.
      Keep up the great work and thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment.

  13. A great idea, Joe. My son always loved reading. When I gave him a small allowance, he bought books with it. He loves fantasy, especially The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He preferred reading to watching TV or playing computer games. He encouraged his stepdaughter to read. My daughter didn’t start out to be a reader. I bought her Garfield the Cat cartoon books, then she became part of a reading book club in elementary school. She ended up becoming a reader. She never had the patience to watch TV. The odd thing is she became an actress but prefers the stage to TV. Of course, now she and some female actpr friends have a zoom comedy show once a week on computer called “Girl’s Night In”. They do it once a week. Take care. 🙂 — Suzanne

    • Thank you, Suzanne. Your story about your son buying books with his allowance reminds me of Erasmus, who bought books when he had money and food and clothes with what was left over. Your daughter sounds cool as well. Congratulations! Be well.

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