Admirable! Responsible! Political... yes, it’s important to acknowledge that many young people are struggling readers who need help. For me, although the above reasons lie inside my heart, the true answer to why I write for hi-lo readers goes deeper. It is like I am in a writing cave digging my way through to find the hidden treasure of possibilities that lie within every child so they can succeed in life.
I have the privilege of speaking in schools across the country, and without fail some wonderful educators daily laboring to get kids on grade level tell me how they admire that I’ve written books that connect with their bottom readers and how my books so often inspire a love of reading. While those heartfelt words make my journey rewarding, that is not what drives me.
As a mother of three teens, who at one point or another had to work harder academically, I feel obligated to help others. I want to give back the way teachers, paraprofessionals, and volunteers have helped my children break through to a higher level of success. It is difficult as a parent to watch your kid bring home benchmark results that say “DOES NOT MEET!” The young face is dejected and the wounded heart feels like there is no need to keep trying. In that moment, a mother feels powerless and blames herself... believing that somewhere between fixing the meals, doing the hair, and helping with the homework, she forgot to ensure that her child could read, comprehend, and soar. While I do feel responsible to help parents reach this goal of getting their child to read on level, the pressure to help comes from my own experience.
I am proud to be a Georgia peach and while many great things come from Georgia, my sweet state is often at the bottom educationally. As a local PTA advocate, I lobby with school leaders and state legislatures not to cut funds desperately needed to make a difference for our youth. Although I am passionate to be one of the stakeholders that keep our political leaders accountable, the reason I write for this group, so full of potential but failing, is that I have walked in their shoes, longing to open a book and understand, but failing miserably.
When I speak to young people, they are not impressed that I am an author of more than 50 titles. It does not move them that it took me one year to write the first draft of my first title, Staying Pure. They do not empathize when I say it took me seven years to get that first book published. Instead, they come alive and start soaking up my words like a sponge when I tell them that in ninth grade I took remedial English because I failed the reading and writing test in middle school. My friends were not laughing with me anymore as the class clown. They were laughing at me as the class failure. It did not feel good. It made me quickly realize that I needed to stop going backwards with my education because I had a dream. In the seventh grade, I knew I wanted to be a writer, yet my actions were burying me.
A dear special teacher, Ms. Pulley, pushed me along. She actually still teaches to this day. Thanks to her working with me, encouraging me, and putting words in front of me that I could grasp, I found my way. In one year, I went from remedial English to honors class. If I could do it, so can anyone else who dares to dig deep down and find their treasure of academic success.
I’ve been there and I write for hi-lo readers because I know they can do it! I want over a million books sold one of these ole days. But most importantly, I want to see a young person pick up one of my titles and get through a book for the very first time. When that happens, my purpose is fulfilled. What I long for is to help a young life find something precious: the joy of reading.
Stephanie Perry Moore has written more than 50 inspirational novels, including Saddleback Educational Publishing’s new Lockwood Lions flip-book series, which was coauthored with Moore’s husband, former NFL football player Derrick Moore.