The first book I ever read purely for pleasure, not because I had to read 15 minutes and record it in a log, not because my mom made me, not because we had Drop Everything and Read, but because I wanted to, was Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls. I was never the biggest fan of reading, and deplored being forced to read. However, after having Where the Red Fern Grows read to me in the fourth grade, I decided that there was at least one author I could enjoy reading. I found the book on my own, went to Barnes and Noble with my mom, and got it.
In an instance of miraculous coincidence, the story was about a boy who displayed complete independence. He was totally self-reliant. I instantly related to this. I remember being in pre-school and not letting anyone zip my jacket for me, even if I had to struggle for ten minutes to get it done. I always wanted to be independent, and reading about a boy around my age, who went off on his own everyday into the woods to play with a group of monkeys that had escaped a broken down circus train, was incredible.
While this book is not for everyone, and there are some elements that parents or educators might find unsavory, (the boy gets drunk with the monkeys at one point) this story is still one of my all-time favorites. I suppose this post is more about discovering ones own reading identity and less about this particular book. I was proud to find a book on my own volition, and then amazed to discover that the book I chosen, was also easily enjoyable for me. I think it is important for teachers and parents to encourage children to find books on their own. It is very easy to simply suggest books to children, but allowing them to pick a book all on their own, even with the possibility of it not being very good, at least gives the opportunity for a truly independent exploration of literature.