For Leslie Parker Borhaug ’90, mountains have figured prominently in her life. She was born in the mountains of North Carolina but was raised in mountainous Switzerland as a child of missionaries Jonlyn and G. Keith Parker ’58. As was the custom at the time, children of missionaries were expected to attend the local schools, which meant Leslie first learned to read and write in German, although her primary spoken language was English. Despite her struggles with becoming bilingual, she enjoyed school because of the diversity she encountered, learning about various cultures, and the importance of tolerance. After graduating from high school, Leslie returned to the United States to attend Berea College, where she realized she had a passion for teaching.
In 1991, Borhaug and spouse, Tore, moved to the mountains of North Carolina, and Leslie began teaching at a middle school in Brevard. For her work with at-risk children, she was named the county’s Teacher of the Year. Leslie and her students wrote and self-published three books about the county’s history, which won awards from North Carolina’s Society of Historians.
After 16 years of teaching, Leslie chose to stay home with her children, at which time she discovered that her first-grade daughter was not reading at a first-grade level, which concerned the teachers enough to have her evaluated for reading intervention services. Leslie observed that her daughter preferred to look at the pictures on the page and then create her own stories rather than read the “boring” words on the page. As an intervention strategy, Leslie decided to write her own story that her daughter would have to read every day when she came home from school. There were no pictures, and the story was complex, up to a third- or fourth-grade interest level, but the words and structure were written on a first-grade level. After eight weeks, her daughter was tested, and the school was shocked to find she was reading on an advanced first-grade level. She laughed when her daughter reached fourth grade and suddenly qualified for Academically Gifted in Reading, and Leslie’s passion for Hi-Lo books took flight.
She co-wrote the book “Sons of Mercy and Justice: A Transylvania Story” with her father as well as three other books under the pen name L.B. Tillit. In addition to winning awards, L.B. Tillit books have positively impacted struggling readers and English-as-a-second-language learners in classrooms across the United States. Leslie also earned her master’s degree in reading and literacy from Benedictine University. In 2020, she established My Easy Read Books, LLC, to create a platform for the type of books she believes engages readers and builds fluency.
Leslie continues to advocate for struggling readers who need to be reminded that it is never too late. Through school and into the early adult years of her life, Leslie also struggled with reading and spelling. It was at Berea where so many teachers were able to see past her spelling issues and embrace her ideas and passion. She was never disparaged but was given every opportunity to grow and excel in areas that mattered. Her teachers, especially Dr. Kathryn Akural, always saw her heart for teens and mentored her even beyond the four years at Berea. She is forever grateful.