Letters to the Editor: TikTok star’s literacy saga makes some wonder: How do schools fail struggling readers?

A man holds a book in a car.
Oliver James reads from “The Diary of Anne Frank” live on TikTok in Costa Mesa on Nov. 1.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Reporter Sonja Sharp relates how TikTok star Oliver James eventually learns to read.

In the 1940s, I was in a Los Angeles public elementary school. Because I grew up in a Spanish-speaking barrio, our teachers thought we could not be taught to read, so from kindergarten through second grade, we just sat there day after day doing nothing except getting into trouble.

I was so bored. On one occasion, the teacher sent me out of the classroom to the library because I was being disruptive. The library — how ironic.


Good fortune came when the parish church opened a new elementary school run by the Dominican sisters. All my classmates were put back into the second grade because we could not read. The nuns were absolutely determined that we were going to be readers.

On a field trip, we walked to the local library and got our library cards. After that, I devoured every single fairy-tale book on the library’s shelves.

Dolores Guerrero, Pasadena


To the editor: As I read about James, I shed sad and angry tears for his struggle with reading throughout school and happy tears as he found success in his 30s, because he wants to read with his baby.

Being a special education teacher for many years, I saw schools fail students by putting too many in a classroom or dumping kids with behavior problems in with others, then having disruptions so students who wanted to learn weren’t given the appropriate help.

I hope this inspirational story of James’ reading makes school districts wake up and provide services so all students can learn how to read, which not only helps the individual students, but also their communities.


Mr. James, you are a true inspiration, and I wish you all the best as a new father. You are setting a great example for your child.

Barbara Azrialy, Los Angeles


To the editor: What a pleasure to read about a young man who was able to overcome many obstacles and find himself. I hope that he will be an inspiration to others who have felt the same way as he did.

There is light at the end of the tunnel — reading light.

Susan Greenberg, Los Angeles