What made you a reader? (I'll go first)


By Louise Baigelman, August 12, 2021


For most of us, the role of relevance in reading is so intuitive that we must unwind a bit to grasp it. 

We read things we find interesting. Compelling. Relatable. Personally intriguing in some way. This applies across the board, from novels to blog posts to recipes. We choose to read something if we connect to the content. If we want to hear what it has to say. 

As fluent readers, we also know how reading engagement feels. Like that novel that is just so engrossing that it’s louder than your husband asking what’s for dinner or your kids screaming as they jump off the couch together. For me, the best novels are SO LOUD that I drive my family crazy when I’m reading them: because I use every tiny moment, those slightest pauses in life-living, to squeeze in one more chapter or page (or paragraph!) 

Why? Because I love it! I am captivated. It is speaking to me, I am living it. That story is more important (in that moment) than our dinnertime decisions, because these characters (MY FRIENDS) are making MAJOR LIFE decisions.

And the role of relevance adds a fascinating layer here. Because my husband? My son? If they read those same words, written by that same author, in that same amazingly-amazing book that just took over three days of my life? They might not be interested at all. They might not even engage enough to wonder why? or how could he? or what will she say? My son (who is 4-years-old), because he cannot read proficiently enough to understand what’s going on. Those random symbols strung together on a page do not have the power to draw him in, void of meaning as they are. My husband (who is a strong reader), because that content doesn’t capture his attention. Those characters – that type of drama – they’re just not compelling enough to lure him in and keep him.

And meanwhile, me? I know what that feels like too. That-opposite-reading-feeling, where I’m moving through the string of words but I’m not attending to any of them… let alone the way they fit together to make meaning. For me, it’s likely to happen when I’m reading a math textbook, or a wordy description in a novel that has yet to win me over. These are the times when I make myself re-read that last section—often more than once—to see if I can engage with it enough to understand and ‘keep’ it, as I progress through the subsequent pages and build upon it.

And I even know that other feeling, that lost-and-confused-reading-feeling, when I’ve turned the page a few times, but I haven’t grasped much at all. And suddenly there’s this new thing showing up on the page as though I should know what to do with it—should have the background knowledge to comprehend it—but I don’t. 

In those times, I can choose to recommit, to re-read that content, to try again to glean its meaning… or, I can ditch it and watch a murder mystery instead. This choice also depends on its relevance to me at that time: the interaction of my ultimate objective, my motivation for reaching it, my sense of whether it’s achievable, and just how uninteresting I find that content. In those times, I catch a glimpse of how our readers feel when it comes to text. They feel discouraged. Bored. Confused. Over it. Likely to opt for that murder mystery. Wouldn’t you?

It is the complete opposite of that lost-in-a-book-no-sense-of-time-passing-or-rain-falling feeling that I get when I’m reading a story I love. That joy part.


I know what made me a reader. And what keeps me one. 

Stories. Books. Authors whose voices I love. Beautiful phrases, carefully crafted. Settings that remind me of my childhood, or that inspire dreams of faraway places. Characters who make me feel seen, who become my companions, who share glimpses from their own lenses. Characters—who are made so real with only words—who remind me that we are all connected. And also: self-driven information gathering. Deep dives into intriguing ideas, quick searches into current events. New research findings, old letters. 

It’s content. Relevant content. 




Did you know that 773 million teens & adults around the world are still learning to read? They need literacy skills to succeed in school, to continue learning, and to thrive in society. 

But there is no way to become a proficient reader—to strengthen comprehension and fluency skills —without reading. Engaged reading. (The more of it, the better).

Research confirms that we engage in reading with content that a) we can make meaning of and b) that interests us (1). So for those millions working to improve their literacy skills after elementary school, the current global library falls short. Because it was created to engage children as they learn to read. Not teens and adults. A 15-year-old learning to ride a bike would not practice with a toddler’s tricycle, and a 15-year-old learning to read should not have to practice with Spot the Dog. Learning to read is not one-size-fits-all.

What if you are not a fluent reader by the time you graduate 4th grade? How do you then become one?

Only 15% of African-American & Hispanic 4th graders score ‘proficient’ in reading (2). And 2/3 of the students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade end up in prison or on welfare (3). To turn this vicious cycle into a virtuous one, Storyshares is developing a new shelf in the library: filled with book choices that are culturally relevant, age-aligned, and accessible for the millions of teens and adults working to improve their reading skills. 






*Author’s note: The Science of Reading

Our literacy studio is one piece of the complex reading development puzzle. We focus on supporting students at the stage where they have mastered phonemic awareness and decoding, and are subsequently building the vocabulary and background knowledge to fluently comprehend and make meaning of new text.

Learn more: The Science of Reading

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(1) Whitaker on Reading Engagement; (2) National Center for Education Statistics, US Department of Education:; The Department of Justice: