Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Landscape, Language, Teaching, Wildness, Beauty, Imagination

Reading—No Single Path (The Power of Story by Joan Wink)



Grammie and Wyatt reading, 1998

Grammie and Wyatt, Christmas 2017

In the last post about The Power of Story by my mom, Joan Wink, I shared that I’d originally intended to try and convey the whole of the book in a single post. What was I thinking?! The more I read, the more ideas about what to write about I scribbled in my journal. One of the stories that leapt out was of Wyatt’s (my son and Mom’s grandson) path to reading.

This journey taught Mom and me that there is no single path to literacy. This has enriched our understandings about literacy, kids, and schooling ever since. 

To provide some context to the story, I read to the kids aloud for hours a day since birth. We read aloud at least 2-3 hours a day reading for years and years. (Sometimes we read more—the kids were quiet, we were cuddled-up sitting down, and I was so tired!) These times are some of my very-favorite life moments. 

Reading together with Luke, Wyatt, and Wynn, 2003

According to literacy research, Wyatt should have started reading spontaneously sometime before Kindergarten. He did  not. Throughout Kindergarten, then First grade, and then into Second, we continued to read aloud, and Wyatt continued to not learn to read. Mom and I spent hours talking about what might be happening. None of this made sense. What I did know, and this was not from any literacy research that I’d read, was that whatever was happening was part of Wyatt’s path. It was sheer mother’s intuition and had nothing to do with being in education. Thankfully, I trusted this, as you will discover.

Mom includes Wyatt and my journey in The Power of Story (Libraries Unlimited, 2018, p. 24-37).

              Wink, J. The Power of Story, p. 34-37


Hell has officially frozen over. This is what I muttered to myself as I stood in line about to purchase my first pack of Pokémon cards for Wyatt. Pokémon intuitively appalls me. Wyatt’s peers have been collecting the cards for years, but I refused to by any for Wyatt.

“Mom, you and all the girls’ moms are the only ones who don’t allow Pokémon,” Wyatt told me earlier one day. I remained unmoved.

“Then one day, one of Wyatt’s friends came over to play. He brought his binder full of Pokémon cards to show Wyatt. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, no. How quickly can I get them away from those cards and onto the trampoline?” Except that Wyatt spent the next two hours reading those cards. He and his friend sat on the living room floor going over every letter and word in detail. As I dried dishes in the next room, I became aware of Wyatt’s efforts to read all of those cards. Wyatt usually shies away from any attempt at individual reading. Now he sat poring over letters and words, trying to make meaning. 

“He’s reading!” I thought to myself. The next day I purchased Pokémon cards.


“I continued to read with Wyatt and his brother and sister. Our stories grew more and more complex, and Wyatt used extremely complex oral language. 

He loved the complex action stories, with hints of the super natural; for example, I have read aloud the J. R. R. Tolkien series and Redwall series, the entire Harry Potter series (four times!), umpteen Norse, Celtic, and Southwestern myths and legends to all three kids, but still Wyatt’s teachers told me they would have to intervene to help him begin to read. I agonized and reflected: Could it be that these stories were too intimidating for Wyatt to try to read by himself? Were the books simply too big, the print too dense, the visual clues too infrequent?”

At this point, Mom suggested that perhaps the Captain Underpants series might be more approachable to him. I was aghast. We read Tolkien, Jacques, and C.S. Lewis. We did not read some weird little dude running around in his tidy whiteys! But, I was desperate and Mom sent Wyatt a box of Captain Underpants books and forbade me from interfering. Wyatt descended gleefully into the graphic novels whose primary focus are the sounds of bodily functions. 

Pie graph (2003) Wyatt made in 2nd grade of the books he’d read


‘Mom, I’m so stupid. I’m just so stupid. I don’t  understand any of this stuff.’ Wyatt threw his head down on his folded arms at the kitchen table and cried. 

‘What are you working on there, Wyatt?’ I asked. I sat down beside him to look at the worksheets of homework spread out i front of him. Black and white dittos filled with line after line of words broken down into incomprehensible parts. Slashes, dots, and hyphens turned words into a trail of shrapnel. “Wyatt, I don’t understand how to do any of this either, honey. Not a thing. You’re NOT stupid. This reading homework is stupid.’ 

The next day I pulled Wyatt out of school to homeschool him for the remainder of the year.”

Wyatt was mid-way through 2nd grade. I had no idea what I was going to do. None. This was not an academic decision, this was a mom’s decision following her intuition. Mostly, I read aloud to him. We certainly did nothing academic. I knew anything even remotely like a reading program would be the kiss of death forever for his love of books and stories. So, whatever Wyatt wanted me to read, I read aloud, us cuddled-up together.

With Luke and Wyatt, March 2018, Tucson, AZ. Luke and I off for a run. Wyatt off to climb a mountain.


Two days ago, I walked through Wyatt’s room and discovered him lying on his bed reading aloud to himself. On my way through, I realized that he was reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I feigned casual nonchalance and kept walking until I was out of his room and on the other side of the door…when I immediately and silently started jumping up and down pumping “Yes! Yes! Yes!” into the air with my fist. Remember, this was the kid who couldn’t read two months ago. 

As I walked up the stairs, different scenes from the past flashed through my mind—of the countless times I’d encouraged Wyatt to read, to be met with stony silent tears; of the previous couple of years of complete and total refusal to try to read; of my awareness during that time that if I asked him to read, the entire mood of our time would change, would go from one of togetherness, happiness, and enthusiasm, to one of sadness; of the inevitable feelings of failure on both of our parts. And tears, always there were agonized tears involved, whenever Wyatt was asked to read. 

Those memories floated back to me again that night when Wyatt and I cuddled in bed together; he was reading aloud to me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. “Oh, don’t worry, Mom, I’ll just read this. You don’t have to read anything tonight. Here we go.” He read to me, page after page, complete with inflection and enthusiasm. He drank in the storyline, adventure, humor, and mystery.

With Wyatt, Christmas 2017. Me just back from a run and him just awake. Same hair.

I discovered that Wyatt is definitely a sight word reader. He is like his mommy, sounding words out, and phonics only serve to confuse us both. Wyatt sees a word the first time, learns it, and from then on knows that word. I’ve learned when he’s reading aloud and stumbles on a word, if I just say it aloud immediately, he’ll look at the word, read it, and move on. the next time we encounter that word, it will flow fluently from his lips. If I encourage him to sound it out, disaster follows; he gets very frustrated; the soft, warm, fun mood of our reading disappears; and he doesn’t commit that word to memory for the next time it’s read.

What do I attribute his newfound literacy to?…Well, obviously, the hours and hours and hours spent reading aloud, everything from children’s books to adult fiction, greatly influences the rapidity with which he now gains reading fluency. Some of this event, I do believe, it also just part of his inherent nature Wyatt never crawled. He sat for nine months, then one day stood up and started running, almost identical to his literacy journey. 

Ultimately, though, it took me being ready to throw my beliefs about what we should be reading out the window, and being open to books that captured Wyatt’s fancy that he would read independently…namely…Tra la la!…that weird little fellow in his BVDs, Captain Underpants. Wyatt was so busy giggling at the delightfully disgusting adventures of these characters, with the words actually readable to him in small sections, that he completely forgot that he couldn’t read—in fact, he hated to read. Instead, he remained captured and engaged, reading about one deliriously appalling thing after another, giggling and exclaiming “Eeeeeeewwwwwww” happily throughout.

Wyatt, ice climbing, 2017

Now, he’s reading about Harry Potter flying about on his broom high above the Quidditch field, in search of the golden snitch. And along with Harry, Wyatt, too has learned to fly.”

Many years have passed since this journey. The power of story lives in Wyatt. He continues to be a voracious reader.  Wyatt is a college student at Adams State University, with a major in Wildlife Biology and minors in Programming and Computer Science and Adventure Leadership. Wyatt loves rock climbing and  just qualified for the National Competition.

Wyatt embodies all of the qualifies of the heroes he loves to read about. Wyatt teaches his grammie and mom, who adore him, a lot about literacy—and life. 

Today is Wyatt’s 22nd birthday.

Wyatt, rock climbing, 2017

Author: Dawn Wink

Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores language, landscape, wildness, beauty, and imagination.

30 thoughts on “Reading—No Single Path (The Power of Story by Joan Wink)

  1. What an absolutely beautiful story Dawn. You’ve brought tears of joy to my eyes. I’ve battled with parents and educators who want the perfect program to “fix” their students. I know it comes from a place of wanting students to read so they can be academically successful but many times when I suggest parents reading with children at home I receive push back – they do read, I’m told, but they want worksheets and a program. Your story is one I am going to share with my staff and parents as a reminder that children need to be interested in what they are reading, reading with children is time well spent for various reasons (bonding, sharing, developing a love for reading, seeing the value in reading, vocabulary development, and so on). Something so simple yet forgotten – the power of story, as you and your mom have shared, just beautiful!

    Thank you!

    Lisa Aguilar Fasel

  2. Such a beautiful story! I could barely finishing reading through the tears in my eyes. Cheers to a mother’s (and grandmother’s) wisdom!

  3. Oh, how I remember this journey…TG for the captain! I remember when Lily was learning to read…it worked fine in Spanish, but when it came to English it came out with a Spanish accent! Literacy is such a magical journey…xoxo

    • Mama Wolfe, TG you were there for the journey… and TG for the captain! And dear Lily reading in English with a Spanish accent – Gorgeous, and Magical! XOXOX

  4. love, Love, LOVE this! So much.

  5. What an inspiring post. Thank you so much to you & Wyatt for sharing this story!!!

    Sent from my iPhone


  6. Hi Dawn, What an amazing retelling of such a personal journey with reading for your son! This reminds me about how different we all are, and especially, in our learning styles. With love, encouragement and patience, we can all get to where we need/want to be on the uneven road to becoming educated.

    Peace to you and your beautiful family,


    • Dear Tara,

      Oh, isn’t it so true about how we each have such unique journeys and how easy it is for those to get lost? When I read this, I feel it’s even more timely now with all that is happening with the homogenization of education. Here’s to our differences, love, encouragement, and embracing of the many paths and unique journeys!

      Hugs to you,

  7. Dear Dawn, How fortunate for Wyatt that he had such an intuitive mother and we know that was passed down from your amazing mother! Happy birthday Wyatt! Big hugs!!!

    • Dear Dan, can you believe this guy now and his story?? Thanks so much for all here! Of all of the things I did wrong, I’m sure, I’m so glad that I listened to myself on this one… Big hugs to you!!

  8. My rock climber boy found his love of reading through audio books-his 1st love was The Trumpet of The Swan, read by E.B. White himself. Then all the Harry Potters, read by Jim Dale. He never looked back!

    • Oh, I love this, Ashley! Your rock climber boy and The Trumpet of the Swan and all of the Harry Potters – Yes, read by Jim Dale!!!! Oh, do I love those! Thank you so much for connecting on this. Miss you! XOXO

  9. A beautiful story of raising a son with love. Thank you for sharing. 💕💕

  10. Love this story about your incredible son and his journey. It reminds me that every child is unique and learns according to his own path. My daughters were as different as could be in their approach to learning. Her struggles with reading helped Kimberly to become a fantastic teacher. She understands.

    • Carol, how beautifully you express how “…every child is unique and learns according to his own path.” Thank you for sharing the story of your daughter’s reading and what a gift this is now for her students with her as a teacher! “She understands.”
      Bravo and bravo,

  11. Such an interesting story. Our second son was slow to pick up reading too. I was worried, and when he was in third grade, visited his teacher, a fine woman who had no children of her own.
    She reassured me. “ Don’t worry. Ben is on his own schedule and he will be just fine.”
    And he was.

    • Judy, what a blessing for both you and Ben that he had such a wise woman for his teacher in third grade. If only there were many, many more like her.
      Thanks so much for sharing this story.

  12. One of the most beautiful stories about learning to read that I’ve ever heard! I can’t even imagine your frustration, but am so proud you followed your mommy intuition and homeschooled him that year! Thomas was the same and yet different in his journey. His childhood looked much like Wyatt’s, spending hours in my lap or snuggled together reading. He went to Kindergarten already knowing how to read. By first grade he was reading at about a 4th grade level, but it was also in first grade when we realized he didn’t know phonics. We were lucky because as it was being taught, he picked it up quickly. I don’t think it ever made a difference in his reading, but it allowed him to succeed in his phonics worksheets! LOL!

    • Kristy, oh, thanks so much for connecting and sharing your own journey with Thomas! So, he went to Kindergarten knowing how to read and picked up phonics through his advanced reading. Thomas got farther than I did with phonics. They confuse me to this day. I would be an absolutely disaster at phonics worksheets!
      I love these unique journeys.
      Much love to you and yours,

  13. interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  14. [image1.png]

    Sent from my little device to yours

  15. Thanks for sharing Dawn! I appreciate the process and realizations you had along the way…

  16. Fascinating account of the many steps needed to inspire, encourage, even propel a growing child into a blossoming reader. I realized years ago that both my daughter and I are “perfectionist” readers – we need to see and mentally say each word before moving on. My husband is a “speed” reader. It’s important to remain true to your personal style and not try to impose your “correct” approach on another person – especially a child.

    • Judith, thanks so much for connecting on all here and for sharing your own experiences as “perfectionist” readers, while your husband is a “speed” reader. Your story is so important, as we all tend to think everyone reads like we do, and this is why it is so very important to “…remain true to your personal style and not try to impose your ‘correct’ approach on another person.” Sheer wisdom.

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