How a Vermont author is reaching reluctant readers

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Have you had trouble getting your young son to sit down and read? It can be a challenge and you're not alone.

On average, girls have outscored boys on reading assessments for decades both here in the U.S. and abroad. The reasons why are not always clear. But parents and teachers can tell you books have to be interesting or their kids won't dive in.

Now, a Vermont author is trying to help and is finding success with these hard-to-reach readers.

"I don't like the Patriots but I hope the Patriots beat the Packers," Gavin Clark said.

Fourth-grader Gavin Clark got to meet his favorite author for the first time and talk sports.

Tod Olson: So just because of Aaron Rodgers you don't like the Packers?
Gavin Clark: No, I don't like anybody.

How Gavin got to be sitting in the East Montpelier Elementary school library with Tod Olson required some work. Gavin is an active kid.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: How would you describe yourself?
Gavin Clark: Athletic.
Kristin Kelly: Yeah?
Gavin Clark: Uh huh.
Kristin Kelly: And you like reading?
Gavin Clark: No!!

Gavin has a mentor who happens to be the former mayor of Montpelier, John Hollar. And he was on a mission.

"One of my goals is to encourage him to read," Hollar said.

Hollar tried reading to him. It didn't work. Harry Potter-- which his own kids loved-- didn't work.

"How am I going to crack this nut?" Hollar wondered.

Then he tried the "Lost" series by his friend, author Tod Olson.

"I thought it was a pretty bad idea to start reading them," Gavin said.

"We sat out with the book and we were there for about 30 seconds before he wanted to go do something active," Hollar said.

Then something happened. The next time the two got together, Gavin had read two books.

"I was really surprised," Hollar said.

"I got into it and liked it," Gavin explained. "They hook you and they keep you hooked through the entire time."

Olson calls his "Lost" books survival stories. They're true tales written like dramas for kids about 10 years old. The first Gavin read was "Lost in the Pacific" about Americans ditching their fighter plane in the ocean during World War II.

"Bartek was still bleeding from his hand. Adamson could barely move in the corner of his raft-- and yet they were alive," Olson read from the book.

Kristin Kelly: There's a lot very dark stuff happening-- and this is for kids.
Tod Olson: Kids know more than we give them credit for knowing. And there are certainly kids out there who have darkness in their own lives... In a certain way, I think it's cathartic for them to read about it and especially to read about it in a context where the darkness is resolved.

Olson does his work in a cabin near his home in the hills outside Montpelier. The former history Ph.D. student draws on his past in children's publishing and magazine writing, trying to recreate a magical experience he had reading a book when he was 11.

"I was just absolutely riveted," Olson said. "You're completely engaged in a book and the rest of the world drops away.

That book was "Alive," about a rugby team that survived a plane crash in the Andes.

"Can you guess what they did for food-- can you guess? There were some people who died in the plane crash," Olson said.
"Ate them!" Gavin replied.
"That's right," Olson said.

His enthusiasm for real adventure is connecting with kids across the country.

"The best emails I get are from kids like Gavin who say things like, 'I don't normally like to read but I loved your books,'" Olson said.

And it's turning Gavin into a fan, ready to read the next one written just down the road.

"In a way, I felt good," Gavin said. "It makes me feel good about myself."

The next "Lost" book is coming out next year about an expedition in the Antarctic that takes a dangerous turn.