Cover Image

I Hate to Read! by R. Marshall

Marshall, Rita, and Etienne Delessert. I Hate to Read! Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 1992. Print.

As you might guess from the title, this book invites reluctant readers to discover the wondrous adventures that can be accessed through turning the pages of a book, as opposed to tuning into TV programs.  The cover features the narrator—third-grader Victor Dickens—on a dragon’s back, with flames licking out of the pages of a stack of books.  Readers are told that Victor is a “really good kid” “most of the time,” and many children will be able to relate to his academic difficulties: “Victor got As in math and Bs in science, but Fs when it came to the ABCs”.  He calls himself a “victim of the hate to read syndrome”.

One night, Victor is visited by a series of storybook creatures, including a crocodile in a white coat, a field mouse carrying gold coins, a pirate parrot, and a white rabbit in black barn boots; all of whom attempt to convince him to read. He repeats his usual mantra, “I hate to read,” until gradually he begins turning pages, and his imagination takes over. Fictional characters morph into people from his real life: Sleeping Beauty turns into Natalie Nickerson, on whom Victor appears to have a bit of a crush. The turning point comes when one of the characters whispers: “It’s fun to read even when you’re not supposed to.” This thought appeals to his sense of juvenile rebellion, and he continues in his literary reverie, even missing his favourite TV program.  He imagines his teacher as a witch, throwing books into a cauldron, and his classmates, led by Natalie, shouting, “We hate to read!” Instead of joining in, however, Victor thinks of how sad he would be to lose all of his new friends, so he looks for them in his book: “And as he read each page, he just hated…to come to the end.”

Writer and designer Rita Marshall and illustrator Etienne Delessert have each been awarded numerous literary prizes for their work. The large-scale drawings of the storybook creatures are whimsical and inviting.  They also contain small details that might not be noticed on the first reading. For example, the toes and talons of the dragon on the cover also form crow-like birds with pointy beaks. In another image, letters of the alphabet are hidden in animal tracks.  On the other hand, the book includes some literary references that would likely be lost on a typical third-grader.  For example, Victor’s parents are said to have bought all 56 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica to help pique his interest in reading. It is unlikely that many families would have this set in their homes, nor would a child normally encounter one in an elementary school library. However, these details will perhaps prompt questions from curious readers.  On the whole, “I hate to read” is highly likely to achieve its principal goal. Much like Victor, most children will probably hate to see it come to an end. Not to fear, they can continue to follow Victor’s adventures in “I Still Hate to Read,” which was published in 2007.

Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Kim Frail

Kim is a Public Services Librarian at the H.T. Coutts Education Library at the University of Alberta. Children’s literature is a big part of her world at work and at home. She also enjoys gardening, renovating and keeping up with her two-year old.