Reading and Writing as Punishment

Reading and writing as punishment? There is something inherently wrong with seeing the word punishment in the same sentence as reading and writing. Outside of academia, or reading to self-learn something, most of us look at reading as something relaxing, an escapism, something to get lost in or something that takes us to a place or time that becomes somewhat real.  Again, outside of writing for scholastic purposes or work, writing is a form of expression, something pleasurable, something creative.  So where does punishment fit in and where am I going with this?

I read often as a child. We had an extensive selection of books at both my house and at my grandmother’s daycare center where I spent a lot of my time.  We read, my mother would read to us, and we played with writing.  My mother was big on that which could be expected since she was a writer.  Besides the usual assortment of children’s books, we had classics, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and stacks of National Geographic Magazine. We read them all. One summer when I was around 12 or 13, I got in trouble for something and subsequently became grounded for a month.  My punishment: reading and writing.

I grew up in a small mining town on the Mexican border that has long since reinvented itself as a tourist attraction with quite the artistic community. Since I sill regularly stay in contact with many of my childhood friends, I see pictures they post of my childhood home.  One picture in particular immediately made me smile and took me back to that summer and my month long punishment.  It was a picture of the library that I was sentenced to for a month: The Copper Queen Library, Arizona’s oldest library.

For one month, I was required to check out a book each week, read it, write a complete book report on it, and if that wasn’t bad enough, I had to write down twenty vocabulary words from the book along with their meaning.  Four weeks, four books, four book reports and eighty words.  Summer vacation had started off with a bang. Oh, one other stipulation to my punishment: the books had to be non-fiction. OK, it wasn’t like I couldn’t go out and play with my friends that first week, miss my baseball games, or do other things kids want to do in summer, I just had to show my mother the progress I was making on reading, my list of vocabulary words, and notes I was making for my book report.  Playing privileges for each following week were dependent upon successful completion of the prior week.

Since we were in the southwest, and I recently had a relative of Cochise come and speak at my school, I browsed the library and chose a book about the Apache leader Cochise.  My second and third books were about the Apache leader Geronimo. My last book was Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  I did as my mother asked, was able to play each day, and didn’t miss any baseball games. Four weeks, four trips to the library, four books , four book reports, and eighty words later, I had completed my punishment and was not grounded any more.  Freedom…

Week five. I asked my mom to punish me some more and we all headed off to the library. I checked out The Outsiders and read it over a few days.  That summer we went to the library once a week, and each time, I got a new book. My little brother even got in on the punishment and got a book each week. I even continued writing book reports and keeping a notebook with vocabulary words.  For free.

Best punishment I ever had in my life?  Reading and writing.




  1. E.L. WICKER

    Lol, this did make me laugh. I can think of nothing better than being sentenced to a library. I loved your choice of non-fiction reads. It’s great that your little brother got in on it too.

    • W.C. Cunningham

      Thanks for reading Emma and glad you saw the humor of it all. It was a fun summer and I’ve always felt it had an impact me. I would love to go see that library now. As a child it seemed so large but I would imagine it will be much smaller as an adult.

  2. Steve Vernon

    I – freaking – LOVE this story.


    Great entry, Bill.

  3. PaigeRandall

    Wonderful post Bill! Your mother’s brilliance shines through. Reading The Outsiders and every subsequent S.E. Hinton creation were some of the best moments of my childhood.

    • W.C. Cunningham

      I was very shocked to find out S.E. Hinton’s age when she wrote her first book. I never knew that as a kid. Thanks Paige!

  4. LillianC

    Your mother sounds like an admirable lady. Thank you for visiting my blog!

    • W.C. Cunningham

      My mother is a character to say the least. Thank you too Lillian.

  5. Vashti Quiroz-Vega

    Ha, ha! Your mom was great! I wish I got punished like that. 😉

  6. Shawna Ayoub Ainslie

    This makes me smile. My mom punished me by taking books away for minutes at a time. It made me want to read even more!

    • W.C. Cunningham

      It’s a great memory for me. Thankfully my mom never took my books away.

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