This is a true story, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, and I’ve taken a little poetic license with the dialogue, but the tale is accurate.
Scene 1 (a sixth grade classroom)
MR. OTTINGER: Chris, why don’t you have a book to read with you? You know today is silent reading day.
CHRIS: I hate reading.
MR. OTTINGER: Really? What kinds of books have you read?
CHRIS: I read Narnia, I read some Avi and Louis Sachar and my mom and dad tried to get me to read Harry Potter but I just didn’t like them.
MR. OTTINGER: Okay. Well, what kinds of stories do you like?
CHRIS: Ones with lots of action but that don’t treat me like I’m stupid. I like fantasy, but not fairies or girly stuff. I read really slow Mr. O, so I have to like a book a lot to read all of it.
MR. OTTINGER: Hmmm. Let me think about it. (Promptly forgets.)
Scene 2 ( a few days later in the school gym at a middle school basketball game)
MR. SMITH: Hey Mr. Ottinger, got a second to talk? I’m concerned about Chris’s reading.
MR. OTTINGER: Sure, we can talk and watch the game.
MR. SMITH: Chris just won’t read, and no matter what books we give him, from popular to obscure, he just won’t read them.
MR. OTTINGER: What books have you given him?
MR. SMITH: We tried books written for sixth graders, we tried books from the recommended children’s book lists, and we even tried Harry Potter though we don’t approve of the content.
Mr. OTTINGER: Hmmm. Ever heard of an author named Brian Jacques?
MR. SMITH: No.
MR. OTTINGER: Let me suggest that you try him out. I have to warn you, the books are massive, and it might seem like Chris won’t read them because they are too big, but my suspicion isn’t that Chris is a poor reader, just a bored one. Let’s give him stories he can invest in that challenge him as well. You won’t object to the content much. There is battle and fighting, but it is fairly toned down, and the story features personified animals as major characters rather than humans. Kids eat that part up.
MR. SMITH: Sounds like Watership Down, which I read as a kid. So, where should I start?
MR. OTTINGER: I’d start with Redwall. There are other books that come before it in the story timeline, but this was the first book Jacques wrote, and I think the best one. It has mystery, action, and a main character not much older than Chris, which kids his age really identify with. It was about at his age that I found these books, and I still love them as an adult. It’s the type of series you grow old with.
MR. SMITH: Great! Thanks for the recommendation. Can I find these in the library?
MR. OTTINGER: Oh yeah, they are really popular. You will have to look in the adult section, though, because for some reason this is where librarians shelve the series.
MR. SMITH: Thanks!
Scene 3 (a few weeks later)
CHRIS: Mr. O, Mr. O!
MR. OTTINGER: Yeah, Chris?
CHRIS: I’ve been reading Redwall. I really like it! Thank you so much for telling my dad about these books. They are great!
MR. OTTINGER: I’m glad you like them, Chris. You know there are a lot more books written, and that he’s still writing them? You have a lot of enjoyable reading hours ahead of you.
Scene 4 (many years later, a chance encounter after a church service)
CHRIS: Mr. O! Mr. O!
MR. OTTINGER: Chris, what a nice surprise to see you here! How are things going with you? You must be applying to college about now.
CHRIS: Sure am, I’ve decided to become and English and history teacher.
MR. OTTINGER: You know that teachers don’t get paid very well, right?
CHRIS: I know, but I just love reading and literature and I want to share that love with other students like myself. You know, those who wouldn’t read. It was your recommendation of Brian Jacques that really got me reading. After I read Redwall, I just couldn’t stop, and moved in to Tolkien, Jordan, and all those other fantasy writers. I still read really slow, but I do love reading!
MR. OTTINGER: You have made me very happy, Chris. I’m proud that I could have an influence on you like that. I wish you the best of luck in becoming a teacher.
Redwall series illustration copyright Christopher Denise
John Ottinger is a middle school educator, writer, and fantasy fanboy. You can find his musings and reviews at Grasping for the Wind.