Battle to read can be rewarding

Recently the OBSERVER ran a poll question asking if readers had read a book in the last week and it kind of stirred up memories of my own reading history.

Like most people of my age I was introduced to reading in the first grade with the “Dick and Jane” books. I think that I made normal progress because I could comprehend that Spot was running and that Dick was throwing a ball but that Jane dropped it. Of course today Jane would not only catch the ball but throw a fast ball back to Dick that would bruise his hand. Things were simpler in 1951.

In the spring of 1952, my reading progress came to a halt when I came down with a severe case of scarlet fever and missed the last two months of first grade.

When I returned in the fall to second grade I struggled with my reading. My fellow students had pushed on to more advanced material but I was back with Dick, Jane, Spot and Mom and Dad who were like most couples back in the 1950s, still in a first marriage.

Back in those days there were no remedial reading teachers, or whatever they are called now so I was in the hands of my second grade teacher who became very frustrated and annoyed by my lack of progress. I was trying my best and while I can laugh about it 65 years later, at that time I was lost when it came to reading. It wasn’t funny to an 8 year old.

I did make progress with reading in the third grade but by that point reading was a drag and so was the rest of school.

But then something happened early in the fourth grade. One day a friend of mine came to school with a new library card and a book that he had taken out. It was a Landmark young readers’ version of Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis. It was the story of the U.S. Marine landing on the Japanese held Island in 1942 and he let me look through it. It was something else, an exciting story about Americans in combat in World War II. Now that was something worth reading I thought.

I went home that night and told my parents I wanted a library card. I’m not sure what they made of my interest in a library card after my reading struggles but said to go ahead. I went to the library the next day and the librarian, Mrs. Diefendorf gave me an application that I had to have one of my parents sign because I was not yet 12. I remember I ran to my father’s office and got him to sign the application and hurried back and got my card. The first book I took out was the Landmark edition of “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” the story of the Doolittle raid on Japan in April 1942.

I devoured the book in two or three days and went back for more. From the standpoint of reading I never looked back. My reading came up to grade level and beyond. I read through the available Landmark series in about a year while branching out into other books.

When I started reading adult books Mrs. Diefendorf was a little concerned I might be getting in over my head but then saw I was up to them. I do, however think that she was just a little unsure when I took out “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” the autobiography of Marine Corps Pilot, Medal of Honor Winner, POW and alcoholic, Gregory Pappy Boyington.

Since those days in the late 1950s I have always been a reader and because my wife is a reader also our house is filled with books. Being able to read is critical because if you can’t read and comprehend you’ll have trouble with everything else. There is a slogan for a reading program that says “reading is fundamental” and truer words have seldom been written.

I know that there is the stereotypical nonreader who is from the inner city and is just pushed through school but in my life I have been confronted by intelligent middle class people who can’t read, and who when confronted by having to read something say they forgotten their glasses. It can be an embarrassing situation for all involved, and very likely caused by learning disabilities of some sort, but you wonder how it could have happened in this day and age.

My advice to anyone who finds reading difficult, no matter what your age, is to seek help from a literacy program or a relative or friend and then find a book about a subject that interests you. You may struggle and become frustrated but you might become a reader.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to