Monday, June 13, 2016

Can't Read? Not An Option!



I remember the first time I held a book that was filled with words and no pictures. I must have been four. I threw it down and cried. I was so angry because I wanted the story in that book, but it was hidden from  me.

I’m not sure how my mom handled that moment. Maybe she gave me one of my picture books or sat and read aloud to me. But somehow I must have come up with the idea that I had to learn the code if I wanted to get to the story for myself. If I didn’t, I’d have to wait for someone to unlock the mysteries for me. 

Strange that I remember that one moment, but I can’t remember when I finally learned to read on my own. Maybe that part of my education just came so naturally, so gradually because people in my life read and encourage me to read with them. 

I guess wanting to know has always been a driving force for me, so there was never a question that I wouldn’t be in love with learning, which I always equated with reading. I could never imagine not being able to research a topic or find an answer I needed because I didn’t know what the words meant. And when the subjects became harder and more complicated, I treasured my reading skills even more. They were the key to my education. They gave me the freedom to understand anything, any time. And that’s what education means to me. Freedom.

When I stumbled on an article about illiteracy in the U.S. and discovered that 33% of people in L.A. county are illiterate or low-literate, it made me want to write about illiteracy. That article was the genesis of Double Negative, a story about a boy who can barely read and who manages to earn Ds in school by eavesdropping and memorizing. 

It was a challenge for me to imagine how this boy coped, but I returned to that time when I remembered being so frustrated by that first time when I wasn’t able to decode the story because it didn’t have pictures. I used that frustration to help me create Hutchinson McQueen.


Here’s a prologue that I didn’t use in the final draft of Double Negative, but it does show Hutch’s character and the mess he’s in because he keeps making the wrong choices.

I didn't know Blaze was going to up and quit on me like that. My safe house turned out not so safe either, so there I was . . . no place to hide out from Dee Dee and in the slammer. Talk about a crappy hand. I got it. And with the principal on one side and that priest on the other, a big pit with alligators was starting to look like an easy way out.

That’s when the priest dragged in the loony teacher to trip me up with a bunch of reading garbage, so the principal and the priest didn’t seem so bad anymore. My life was going, going, gone, and I hadn’t been laid yet. I couldn’t die before that happened.






Goodreads Book Giveaway

Sudden Secrets by C. Lee McKenzie

Sudden Secrets

by C. Lee McKenzie

Giveaway ends June 15, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Quote of the Week: If you don't know your options, you don't have any." Diana Korte, women's heath advocate



Have you made a few wrong choices? Do you know what your options are? What would you do if you couldn't read?

I'm taking off for a few days, so I visited blogs on Sunday and will return to visit those who don't post until later in the week when I return. I hope I'll have an adventure that I can write about when I come back. Enjoy your week!





69 comments:

  1. Enjoy your time away.
    I worked with an adult illiteracy program for awhile. Scary to think how many people can't read in this country. Most of those I tutored just wanted to be able to read their Bible.

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    1. How great that you could work with adults to help them read.

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  2. Reading was my life line when I was a kid. It gave me the world, hell, it gave me everything. I can't imagine not being able to read! I find it incomprehensible that in the U S there are people who can't read, but I went through an unbelievable fight with the school system for both of my sons who are dyslexic. Despite my reading to them and all books in our home both boys struggled with reading. Everyone learns differently and schools need to recognize this and teach to it. For us it almost came to a lawsuit before the school recognized my sons true needs. And after a principal told me I wasn't going to win the fight because what it really came down to was money and what the district wanted to spend. He was out of a job and my sons were given what they needed. But not every parent is like me. Willing to fight tooth and nail, mainly because they, the parent, doesn't know their rights, or sometimes even the problem. So many kids are judged as being 'stupid' as my were my high achieving sons because they can't read the words on the page as most of us can.
    Sorry, you hit a sore spot, but it's a great subject and one we need to bring attention too!
    Enjoy your trip!

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    1. That's quite a story, Yolanda. I can tell how passionate you are about what happened to your sons. Good for you for sticking to your guns.

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  3. Reading came so naturally to me, so it was a shock when both of my kids struggled for various reasons and I had to re-evaluate how I helped them. Neither read for pleasure, because it was such hard work in the beginning. I hope they'll come to love books in their own time.

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    1. That is a surprise. Now that I take reading for granted, I have to remind myself that it's not easy for everyone. I'm glad I wrote Double Negative because it really did bring back an awareness that I'd lost.

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  4. Double Negative is a touching story and everyone should read it. It might help people understand the problems some children have with reading. It's not always that they don't want to read, they just can't.
    Have a great break.

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    1. Thanks so much, Beverly. Writing this book was a real learning experience for me.

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  5. I should think one would have to be smart to be functionally illiterate. One has to be very observant, pick up on subtle clues, memorize things. That takes brains. I learned to read over my mother's shoulder as she read to us, every night, religiously. Even though I'm mildly dyslexic, I can't remember a time when I wasn't reading.

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    1. How lucky you were, Bish! I loved being read to when I was a kid. I still like it when I'm lying in bed with my eyes closed. What a great way to fall asleep.

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  6. Wow, that is some high stats. They have to be smart in other areas to get by indeed. Enjoy your time away.

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    1. I think how difficult it would be to manage in this world without reading.

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  7. Yes, it's sad so many people can't read. And just as sad, so many people don't read much even though they can. I went through a really frustrating time after my husband died when it was difficult to concentrate on fiction books. I am thankful I overcame that challenge because I've loved reading since I was a kid.

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    1. Losing your husband has to be such an emotional upheaval, I can certainly understand not being able to concentrate on anything.

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  8. Hi Lee - I'm sure it's the same here and with similar experiences per your readers. I must have learnt young ... but I think I missed out not going to Uni, or having a mentor - because at times I struggle to comprehend what's written - when it's a technical matter. Most of the time it can be forgotten about - but sometimes I'd like to know and struggle to understand ... ie our Parliament and the Referendum and the EU constituent ruling bits ...

    Some people are so determined and so clever - they just need and will learn to read ...

    Enjoy the break and see you anon ...

    We need everyone to be able to read ... cheers Hilary

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    1. When it comes to technical or legal reading, I'm a basket case. I rely heavily on underlining and rewriting to make sense of it. And yes, I would love that everyone reads and enjoys the experience.

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  9. I just cannot imagine NOT reading. When I was young reading was my salvation and my insulation from the world that often did not make sense to me. The first book I remember having a profound impact was JANE EYRE because Jane had such a terrible life and yet she kept her dignity and self-respect. I loved her for that.

    @Kathleen01930 Blog

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    1. We acquire role models like Jane from our early reading, don't we? What a gift writers give us.

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  10. I don't want to imagine not being able to read. How awful. Books are my cure for boredom, depression, whatever. They keep me sane.

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    1. Yes. Without books I'm not sure what I'd do. I'm not a big movie goer, so reading is really my entertainment.

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  11. Reading is like breathing to me. I was reading before I entered Kindergarten and they made relearn how to read using phonics. My mother potty train using books so I was recognizing words forever in my conscious memory. I read my first big book at age 7, Gone With The Wind. In school they would not allow me to read books above my grade level and it was before they started the special programs for advance students, at least they did not have them at my school. I was first allowed to read a novel when I hit 3rd grade and it was Charlotte's Web. I loved it, after that I lived at the public library because my mother would allow me to check out what I wanted to read. Reading has been my friend, my playmate as an only child and my adventure and escape. I've travel the world and gotten into all types of scrapes through the written word I love reading. I do not want to imagine life without reading however if I could not see then I'd do audible books. Great post,

    Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

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    1. I can't believe how frustrating your early school reading experience must have been. Imagine have to re-learn something you already knew how to do! You picked a great first novel.

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  12. I have had some clients who didn't know how to read. I think this would be so scary and they often feel shame so they find ways to hide it. I think I would still learn how to read otherwise I would feel I am missing out on a big part of the world.

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    1. I can only imagine having to fake being able to read. What a chore!

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  13. The illiteracy rates shock me. I was an early reader and so was my son. I can't imagine not being able to read as it's such a large part of my life.

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    1. I'd always thought the highest illiteracy rates were in developing countries. But L.A.? That was a shock.

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  14. I can't imagine not knowing how to read. Books and reading have always been a part of my life. I don't know how people get by in everyday living without being able to read. It's shameful that with all this country has to offer, people still fall through the cracks and don't get what they need.

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    1. This probably happens for many reasons. Sometimes, the non-reader is an immigrant who is illiterate in his own language. Sometimes it's a physical condition that makes reading hard so not enjoyable. We're all so lucky to have this ability.

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  15. I can't believe so many are illiterate, especially nowadays. I remember learning to read my first book when I was a kid. Then later I recall struggling with reader. I wasn't up with everyone else in my class and had to practice more. I hated it. It was hard. But I kept pushing myself. Pretty soon, without me even realizing it, I was reading a lot more and enjoying it.

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    1. When skills are hard we're often discouraged. I still remember struggling with algebra. For some reason I hit a wall in that class. Then came geometry and I was in heaven. Theorems I could understand.

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  16. I always had my head in a book when young, if must be awful not to be able to read.
    Excellent post Lee. Enjoy your time away.
    Yvonne.

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    1. Thanks, Yvonne. I'm looking forward to it. See you next week.

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  17. Enjoy your vacation!

    It's hard to imagine what it's like to not be able to read. It's stunning enough to know some parents, who don't do traditional schooling, don't actively teach their kids to read and expect them to naturally learn when they're ready (which can be as old as 12 years old, sometimes older). How can you not feel frustrated not knowing how to read for so long? It's even sadder to know many adults can't read.

    I had hyperlexia (full-blown, advanced reading) at age three. The first book I read (thought not all the way through at that stage) was the adult, uncensored version of Grimms' Fairytales. I pretended I was only looking at the pictures when my parents walked in, though my secret came out when I was four. My mother had suspected for awhile that I knew how to read, and when I was acting wild in the car one day, commanded me to read some billboard. She says I did, and then grew really quiet, realizing I was busted. When we got home, she tested me with a bunch of books, including books I couldn't have memorized from having read to me, and I read everything successfully, even adult books.

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    1. I've never heard of that before! Very interesting.

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  18. Enjoy your time away adventuring. :-) I will miss you. As an only child with a working mother, books were my gateway to a large world. I worked hard to be able to read their signposts! :-)

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    1. You're so lucky, Roland. Children who use reading as a gateway to other worlds seem to wind up creating stories to lure others to follow them.

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  19. My parents never taught me how to read, so I had to do it myself in the first grade, I remember it was difficult.
    I also remember when during the fall of Yugoslavia hundreds of thousands of refugees came over here, so many kids were brought to our classes and although we were language and literature grammar school some of the teens from Bosnia were basically illiterate, it was quite shocking. But then again, my own parents never read a book in their lives :)

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    1. That's so interesting. You are an avid reader and your parents never read. It must have been quite an experience to be in a class with kids who couldn't read.

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  20. I loved Double Negative, so it's especially cool to hear this story of how it came to be. Reading truly is a key to freedom, and it's sometimes hard to believe that so many people don't have that, can't access that freedom in the world we live in today. Definitely something to think about.

    Enjoy your adventure and thanks for sharing!


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositreviews.com

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    1. Thanks, Alexa. Glad the post shed some more light on Hutch's story.

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  21. More mystifying to me than the people who cannot read are the ones who can but choose not to.

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    1. Oh yes. I agree. What a great loss for them.

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  22. We read books without pictures to our 3 year old and tell him to imagine it all in his head...so far it seems to be working:)

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    1. That's why I love Picture Books! Pictures that let your imagination go wild.

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  23. Enjoy your time away.
    Reading (and the love of reading) was probably the most precious gift my parents gave me.
    And I loved Double Negative and have now read it several times.

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  24. We'll leave the light on for ya.
    This sounds like a very gripping, emotional tale.
    I can't imagine not being able to read. It would be pure hell.

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  25. What a great springboard for a book. Such a sad statistic though.

    I am someone who always wants to know things and I don't like to stop until I have my answers. I am guessing that was a driving force behind me learning to read. I do remember being read to a lot when I was little. I actually love being read to by anyone. :)

    ~Jess

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  26. If I'd never made wrong choices, I wouldn't be where I am today. You can't learn as well without making mistakes along the way, and learning how to fix them. It's great that you didn't just read the statistic and move on, but found a way to put it out there for more people to read in a different way.

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  27. That's a great blurb! life can be SO hard on people who struggle with literacy. It's a huge issue we have to figure out!

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  28. Illiteracy in the U.S. really IS a huge issue. I'm sure it's way more than people realize too. I don't know when i learned to read - I just always remember reading. I don't know what I'd do without it.

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  29. I don't remember learning to read either; but it has been a fascination for me all my life. I love reading. Nope, I could not imagine not being able to read. When I hear others say they do not like to read, it chills me. How does a person learn about the world without it. TV will never be the ultimate answer for me. My imagination would just shrivel.

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  30. I work with plenty that can't read. It's a struggle for them but they're definitely very glad to have us staff in their lives! Thanks for the link!

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  31. What a great subject to write about, especially for children. That book will do a lot of good.

    I can't imagine not being able to read. Books are as essential as air to me. When I don't have one, I'll read anything available, including cereal boxes.

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  32. Enjoy your time off. I can't image not being able to read. It's sad that we as a nation (and a world) don't do more for those who can't read.

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  33. Double Negative is an important book for just that reason! Thanks for sharing your memory.

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  34. That's an interesting memory about reading. My first one is of picking up Black Beauty. The version had words AND pictures and was long, so I was very proud of reading it. I still have it too. My mom saved it.

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  35. This post really struck me. As you already know, I have four kids. One of them had, not just an aversion to reading, but almost a hatred. He found elementary school torturous because of it. No matter what I did to help him - finding interesting topics for him to read about - nothing nudged him over his emotional despise of reading. It wasn't until junior high school, where an amazing teacher somehow inspired him, that he finally learned to read at grade level. Proudest moment of his life, I swear. I'm sure insecurities and embarrassment have kept most adults who can't read from finding help. Glad there are people out there to help them.

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  36. Illiteracy is sad in a world where the printed word is everywhere. The school system with their push-children-through-because-their-fragile-egos-can't-take-ot attitude has brought illiteracy around our ears. If I kid can memorized every word they hear and still pass a test, it isn't their intelligence that is holding them back.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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  37. I was surrounded by books, pushed to have good grades, and I remember diving into reading independently in the first grade. Unfortunately, some children don't have that literacy base, but there is always opportunity to catch up.

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  38. Hey Lee,

    I started reading at a very early age. I was just fine with books that didn't have pictures. I used to enjoy reading books, so much so, that I dabbled in writing stories and plays from the age of nine.

    Illiteracy and poor grammar, seems to be a worldwide epidemic. I wonder what goes on in English classes these days. Yes, even in England.

    Enjoy your well deserved time away. Of course, knowing you, you'll spend that time signing autographs for your adoring fans.

    Yep and always, your starstruckest fan,

    Gary

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  39. Have a great trip? vacation?
    Having worked with kids who can barely read, I have seen how hard it can be. As long as someone wants to learn, it is possible.

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  40. I absolutely cannot imagine being unable to read. It would kill me! That's the first thing my kids learn, but I've written in time periods where only the elite were literate--and not especially so then. I'm so grateful I didn't grow up in one of those eras.

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  41. My mom taught me to read at an early enough age that I can't remember a time when I couldn't. But I do remember devouring books as fast as I could get my hands on them, and being astounded, even as a kid, at people saying they didn't like to read. I've visited worlds through reading that will never exist, and my imagination is that much richer for it. My husband also loves to read, and I'm thankful that all our kids (no longer kids, I guess, at 16, 20 and 22) love to read as well.

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  42. I can not remember not being able to read. I struggle with Spanish sometimes, so I can relate to how you felt. But I'm surprised I can't remember how I felt about seeing English as a secret code. Great post, Lee. Thank you for reminding me how grateful I am that I can read.

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  43. You remember! So cool. I can't really remember when I started reading.

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  44. I think I must have been reading...I don't actually remember when I started...seems forever now!

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  45. If I couldn't read then I couldn't write, therefore my means of learning and expressing myself would be drastically limited. Guess I'd be watching a lot of TV or maybe doing labor type things like making things or fixing things or growing stuff. Might not be all bad--I guess it's what we do with what we've got. But I'd hate not being able to read. So limiting I would think.

    The ability to read is like having legs to get somewhere. More accessibility to reading is like having a car or access to some kind of transport. Reading can take us beyond ourselves and our own little worlds to go to places we might never be able to go otherwise.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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  46. In the movie, A League of Their Own, one of the ball players is standing in front of the posted list of players. She's looking terrified, searching, yet knowing she can't read her own name. Madonna's character comes up to her and says, "Can you read that?" The player shakes her head. Madonna asks her name, looks at the list, shows her that where her name is and says, "You're a Peach just like me." I cry EVERY time I watch that scene, and I'm crying now as I type it. Not being able to read is an enormous barrier. It stops people from learning, growing, and thinking for themselves. It limits them on what they can do to earn money, and it's a put down in society. Withholding education is cruel and abusive. Slaves and women in many cultures have been denied education to keep them in submissive rolls. It would be terrifying to not be able to read.

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  47. Don't know what I'd do if I couldn't read. So many of the things I enjoy depend on that ability. It wouldn't be pretty, that's for sure.

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