Archived Story

Students win the hard battle against books

Published 12:02am Friday, May 24, 2013

In the fifth grade, books are like spinach. Books might not look leafy and green, but they get the same look children make at the dinner table when staring down a plate of spinach.

Half the battle to getting children to read is getting them to just try it. Like spinach, once they try it and like it, they are hooked forever.

McLaurin fifth grade teacher Shelia Sewell has seen it happen many times in her class. If she can get a student to just try reading — to explore the new worlds that books can open and the imagination that books can spark — she knows the student will become a lover of books and a life-long learner.

A year ago, Quadrick Bradford and Zuri Brown more than likely winced when it came to reading. They didn’t hate it, but they didn’t love it either.

At the time, The Natchez Democrat partnered with McLaurin School to help motivate students like Quadrick and Zuri to read. The newspaper sponsored a kickoff celebration, visited the school numerous times to read to students and gave an iPad to the top reader of the year.

Zuri did not win the iPad last year. She wasn’t even close.

But when she saw Kaylee Floyd walk across the gym floor last year — she made a promise to herself.

“I said, ‘Next year I am going to work for the highest points and win a prize,’” Zuri said.

The motivation must have worked.

Zuri ended this year as one of McLaurin’s top two readers.

For her efforts Zuri received a trophy with her named engraved on it.

So did Quadrick, who also ended the year as one of the school’s top readers.

In all Zuri and Quadrick read more than 9 million words, according to the Accelerated Reader program.

How many books is that?

“I can’t remember how many I have read this year,” Quadrick said Wednesday afternoon. “I know it is at least 100.”

Trophies and recognition may have motivated Zuri and Quadrick to reach their goals, but it was Sewell, their teacher, who turned their efforts into a love of reading.

Using a combination of incentives, including bags of chips, certificates and monetary awards, Sewell kept her class reading until they were hooked.

“The more I pumped it up, the more I bought it into it, the more they bought into it,” Sewell said.

“Once you get them started it takes a life of its own,” Sewell said. “My goal is to create lifelong lovers of reading.”

If Zuri and Quadrick are any indication, Sewell has reached her goal.

When the two students talk about reading they don’t talk about getting the prizes, they talk about getting to the next book. They talk about sitting down and entering a world of mythological dragons, werewolves and vampires. They recount minute details of each character’s move as if they witnessed them in person.

“At first it was about the prizes,” Zuri said. “It’s not about that any more. I just like reading.”

“I can’t wait to read the next Alex Rider series,” Quadrick said.

Sounds like they’re hooked to me.


Ben Hillyer is design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or