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Book Club for Kids is a podcast where middle school readers discuss the books they love with host Kitty Felde. The author answers questions. A celebrity reads from the book.

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Tips for Reluctant Readers

Tip #44: Percy Jackson, Gateway Drug

Kitty Felde

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Book Club for Kids was invited to speak at the Illinois Library Association convention this month and we had the opportunity to pick the brains of some of the brightest librarians in the country, asking them how to get reluctant readers to pick up a book.

Shaira Rock is the middle school services and technology librarian at the Elmhurst Public Library. Her secret weapon: the graphic novel version of Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson" series. Shaira calls them "a gateway drug to reading."

The books are short, they deliver the whole story, and they provide the visuals when a page full of nothing but words is just too intimidating. Once kids get hooked on the graphic version of the Rick Riordan series, she then moves in with the line: "Did you know Percy Jackson has a fiction book, too?" The answer is usually, "It does? Can I get the next volume?" Once they've inhaled the entire series, Shaira says they ask for other fiction books like Percy Jackson.

Shaira says not to worry that fans of graphic novels will get stuck. She says kids occasionally do go back to graphic novels, but that just means they're touching base with "what they're familiar with and what they love. It's only a matter of time," she says, "before graphic novels is not enough."

Tip #43: Draw Them In

Kitty Felde

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I keep meeting parents who share their own passion for literature with their kids - by creating their own book club for kids. Nikki Wood is one of those moms, starting the World of Girls Book Club in Washington, DC. "Locally rooted, globally reached" is the way she describes the group. 

Readers in the World of Girls Book Club have graduated from picture books, but Nikki says pictures are an essential part of the club. "During each book club meeting," she says, "we engage our girls in art-intergrated activities directly related to the book."

Art and reading do go together. A University of Chicago education article explains that art in itself is a form of communication. Readers with disabilities may have "a difficult time expressing themselves in words or speech but can excel in different art forms that require movement, spatial understanding and negotiating the world through textures." 

There are even entire lesson plans for teachers, outlining ways art can be used to increase reading comprehension.
 
So art can make the reading easier, but Nikki Wood says it works the other way around, too. "Reading makes the activities much more meaningful."

Tip #42: Starve Them

Kitty Felde

Italian Book Club for Kids fan

There is something about being surrounded by a foreign language that makes you crave something in English. Anything will do - a newspaper, a Facebook post, a menu - but most especially, a book.

I was fortunate to tag along with my husband on a nearly three week long trip to Italy this month. He had speeches on the European Union to deliver. I had a Kindle full of novels and a stack of magazines I’ve been meaning to get to for months.

In less than a week, I ran out of things to read.

My Italian is limited to greeting strangers and ordering wine. I was drawn to the news stands – all in Italian. I watched the cooking shows – all in Italian. After about a week, I was hungry for English language anything. I was starved for English - perhaps because it was so scarce. According to the Harvard Business Review, success belongs to those who create something scarce. I got to thinking: will this sense of scarcity work on kids?

Overseas travel is one of the more expensive reading tips, but if you have such an adventure planned with your kids, use it to your advantage. Tablets are cheap and the public library has a vast selection of e-books available for download for free.

Before you leave town, load up the tablet with a variety of books:

  • fiction and non-fiction set in the country you will be visiting
  • a foreign language phrase book designed for kids
  • books you’d like your kid to read
  • fun books – the kid version of a beach read 
  • include at least one all-time favorite – a book your kid has read a hundred times or more. There is something comforting about having something familiar and predictable to turn to when moving around in a place that is both unfamiliar and unpredictable.

Need some suggestions? The New York Public Library has a terrific list of book suggestions for overseas travel. 

One more tip: pack a few paperback books as well. There’s likely to be a family fight to use the adaptor to recharge everybody’s electronics, so there will be times when that tablet runs out of power.
 

Tip #41: Back to School Success

Kitty Felde

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It's not just back-to-school TV ads that strike fear into the hearts of kids. For some, it's the prospect of another year of reading. For book lovers, it's hard to imagine someone who views books as a torture device. But for the kids we call "reluctant readers," reading is hard.

Gayle Wagner is the children's librarian at the Watha T. Daniel Neighborhood Library in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Gayle is a big fan of Hi-Lo Reading Books. These are the so-called "high-interest, low readability" books - complex themes for more mature readers written at lower reading levels. The selection is vast -Saddleback Publishing alone offers everything from non-fiction on 3-D printing and drones to novels about video gaming and transplants. 

Montgomery County Schools have a terrific list of Hi-Lo books broken down by grade. The American Library Association has its own recommended reading list for upper elementary grades.
 

Tip #40: Keep It Short

Kitty Felde

Reading power

Maybe it's the dog days of August. Or the poison ivy rash that won't leave me alone. Perhaps you, too, are finding it tough to focus on long news articles and fat literary novels. It's time to go short.

That's the reading tip this week from Joanne Lécuyer, author and owner of Topsy Books in Gatineau, Québec, Canada. 
 
Joanne says many parents tell her that long books are daunting for their kids. "They feel that they may not understand the story, that it will take too much time to read the book or that they can't concentrate long enough to get through it."

Joanne's tip for getting distracted readers to enjoy reading? Pick shorter books, possibly with short chapters. "It's also good when there are pictures or illustrations in the book. It's often easier to understand something visually." 

Start small, she says. Set a goal to read one chapter - or even just one page - every day. Those small bites add up. 

And after all, autumn is just weeks away. Time enough to get into shape to tackle the longer, tougher reads ahead.

Tip #39: The Art of the Interview

Kitty Felde

Loving kids

There was one real gift I brought to journalism: people would tell me things. Politicians, actors, firefighters, even minor league baseball pitchers: they all had some special story about themselves that they wanted to share.

Nearly all of us are hungry to share something of ourselves with others. All it takes to get someone to open up is a non-threatening line of questioning and the willingness to listen.

So why not tap into that hunger to share to get a kid to pick up a book?

Cathy Puett Miller is known as the "Literacy Ambassador." In anessay in Education World, she says asking questions of young readers helps those who struggle with reading to find a "worthwhile purpose" for the endeavor.

Ask them why they are reading a particular book or magazine or graphic novel. Nudge them toward articulating how the material connects to their own lives. If they're shy in a one-on-one discussion, initiate a small group discussion, again leading the conversation to find out how the book relates to each reader personally. 

After all, that "worthwhile purpose" is the secret reason most of us read: to find out something that will help us in our own lives or help us to better understand ourselves.

Got a tip of your own to get reluctant readers to pick up a book? Send us an email!

Tip #38: The Magic of Kwame

Kitty Felde

Newbery Award-winning writer Kwame Alexander

Newbery Award-winning writer Kwame Alexander

The very first author we interviewed on the Book Club for Kids podcast was Kwame Alexander. We booked him for the show before he won the Newbery Award and talked to him just hours after he got the news. He was still walking on Cloud Nine.

Kwame told us that he wrote "The Crossover" for a very particular audience: reluctant readers.

Steve Reichlen, library media specialist at Tyler Elementary School in Washington, DC, says Kwame hit it out of the park. Steve says  "The Crossover" is his go-to choice when he's trying to get a reluctant reader to pick up a book. The story of brothers and basketball is "a nice blend of free verse poetry in novel form with hip-hop sensibility." He says kids perk up when he shows how the verse can be put to a beat. "It's almost an instant sale."

Steve says the book has another built-in enticement for reluctant readers: lots of white space. He says space on the page makes the book less intimidating for young boys who don't like to read.

Haven't read "The Crossover" yet? Listen to kids from Watkins Elementary sing its praises - literally! They loved the book so much, they wrote a song about it and sing it for us on this episode.

Want a copy of "The Crossover" for yourself? Order one here from our friends at Hooray for Books! and they'll send one out ASAP. 

Tip #37: Clickbait for Books

Kitty Felde

Writer Dave Barry

Online, we call them "clickbait." In old time radio dramas, they were "cliffhangers." It's that compelling pitch that makes you want to know more.

Delia Ullberg is the Youth Services Manager at the Richard Byrd Library in Springfield, Virginia. Delia says when she's trying to get a young patron interested in a book, she comes up with "a hook" - something that piques the kid’s interest.

For Jennifer Holm's "Full of Beans," she holds up the novel and says, “grownups lie.”  For Dave Barry’s  "TheWorst Class Trip Ever," her hook is simply, “someone falls on the president”.*  

Give it a try. Just think of yourself as the Don Draper of kidlit.

Got a great hook for a book?
Share it on Twitter with #bookclubforkids

* The prequel to Jennifer Holm's book is featured on this episode. 

Got a reading tip you're willing to share? Send us an email.

Tip #36: Stop the Summer Reading Slump

Kitty Felde

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About the time I learned how to write my name (a requirement in those days to get a library card) my folks moved to a new house. It was down the street from the local public library. I spent most of my summers plopped down in front of the fiction section, working my way through the stacks. 

I'm still a big fan of public libraries...particularly their summer reading programs. Nearly every library has one: kids are challenged to read a certain number of hours. Those who do are rewarded with prizes.

In DC, if you read at least 8 hours, you get a burrito and free tickets to a Washington Nationals baseball game. Read 28 hours and you could win lunch with a famous author. In Chicago, the mayor put his brand on the challenge: "Rahm's Readers" are required to read AND visit a museum AND create art or a story. Prizes include a free book and a chance at a backpack of books and STEM activities. InSan Diego, if you read at least ten hours, you can earn free passes to the zoo, free pizza or burgers.

Kids may sign up for the bribes, but who cares? Studies show that students who participate in public library summer reading programs score higher on achievement tests when they return to the classroom. 

So take your readers to the library and sign them up!

PS: many libraries have summer reading programs for parents, too!
 

Does your local library have fun rewards for their summer reading program? Let us know! Send us an email.

Tip #35: Lights, Camera, Action!

Kitty Felde

Actress Jo Mei

Actress Jo Mei

It happens so often: when we ask kids their favorite books, they name the ones that have been made into movies. And then they happily debate which version is better.

YouTube is as much a part of their culture as the library. So why not use the power of film to glamorize reading and books?

Tracy King, who teaches 4th grade at Cienega Elementary School in Los Angeles, suggests adding a bit of Hollywood to the traditional book report. Tracy's idea: promise your young readers that once they've finished the book, you'll help them film a "book commercial" to send to family and friends. We'll even post them on our Book Club for Kids website!

With a smartphone and free video editing software, it's really not that difficult to turn your kitchen table into a film studio. In fact, Edutopia (funded by a fellow who knows something about film: George Lucas) has an entire page of resources to help you and your budding star get started.

If you do film a book review, please share it with us at Book Club for Kids! We'll be delighted to include it on our website, particularly if your reader tackles one of the books on our Books We Love page.

Got a reading tip you're willing to share? Send us an email.

Tip #34: Preview of Coming Attractions

Kitty Felde

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My favorite part of going to the movies is the previews. I hate the commercials, but love the continuous string of movie trailers. Sometimes, I wonder what the heck it is about the movie I'm seeing today that makes them think I'd everwant to go see the movie in the trailer. But trailers do allow me to get a taste of a film I might want to spend my time watching - or warn me away from wasting my money.

The same is true for book trailers.

Marcie Atkins, the library specialist at Belvedere Elementary School in northern Virginia says book trailers "really get the kids pumped about books." Marcie says she uses them to introduce her Virginia Readers Choice books and the Mock Newbery books every year.

Here's the book trailer for one of our favorite books on Book Club for Kids: Tracey Baptiste's "The Jumbies".

And here's our discussion of the book THE JUMBIES.

Tip #33: Be a Thespian

Kitty Felde

Congressman Mark Takano

A fellow podcaster brought his 3 year old over to our place last weekend to see the Cherry Blossom Festival fireworks. He confessed that his young son Vinny loves to have books read to him "in character." Not the characters in the book. Vinny wants dad to read the book using the voice of one of his stuffed animals.

Apparently this is not unusual.

Librarian Camille Ray at the East Rancho Dominguez branch of the LA County Library says using odd and unusual voices is always a crowd pleaser - and the perfect way to make reading fun. For younger patrons who show no interest in books, she says she'll "read a recipe out like like an opera singer or the TV guide listings like a parrot." She says letting kids know that everyday print can be fun leads them back to the stacks where they'll discover "how engaging a book can be!"

Reading aloud isn't just for pint-sized readers. One of Book Club for Kids' celebrity readers, former teacher and current Congressman Mark Takano from California, says it worked particularly well with his high school English students. 

You can hear more from Rep. Takano on the episode FLYING THE DRAGON.

Tip #32: Let Them Vote

Kitty Felde

Rep. Jeff Denham is celebrity reader on our episode THE WORST CLASS TRIP EVER.

Rep. Jeff Denham is celebrity reader on our episode THE WORST CLASS TRIP EVER.

I was shocked to hear that voter turnout in last month's LA mayoral election was an embarrassing 11.45%. Just one in ten registered voters turned up at the polls! Compare that to 1969 when 76% of registered voters cast a ballot. 

Yikes! Yet, a Stanford University study shows that civic engagement has a long lasting impact on voter turnout at least 15 years following graduation from high school. 

Can voting in middle school create the same habit? Why not let them vote on what they want to read?

Margaret Kinsbury suggests in an article in Bookriot that voting on individual books or themes gives reluctant readers the power to make decisions about their reading lists. She suggests themes like "The World in Ruins, Kissing and Making Up, Sticking Swords into so-called Monsters." She says students could vote on classics and contemporaries to read for each theme.

And maybe, just maybe, voting early (and often!) can lead to a habit that will last a lifetime.
 

Tip #31: Would You Read Them With a Fox? Would You Read Them in a Box?

Kitty Felde

reading

Why do I still have "Green Eggs and Ham" stuck in my brain? I haven't read it in years. But it's there. Forever. I do not like green eggs and ham." I do not like them, Sam I am.

But the power of poetry can be used for good as well. Children's librarian Pam Rogers is host and producer of the Buttons & Figs podcast, which uses great works of nonsense to inspire kids to create nonsense of their own.

To inspire kids to love reading prose, Pam suggests: try poetry. "Our language is like music," she says, "full of rhythm and sound." Which means read a poem out loud. "Don't hesitate to select a passage with difficult vocabulary," she says, "just be sure it includes language that soars: musical to the ear and challenging to the mind."    

A new study published in Frontiers in Psychology concludes that our brains are hard wired to appreciate the rhythms and patterns of poetry. But does this translate to the brains of young readers? Pam Rogers says when she hears kids repeating passages from a shared poem, hears them playing with the sounds of our language, hears them asking a librarian where to find similar stories, "I know, at a minimum, I have expanded their orbit."

So I guess I'll have Dr. Seuss with me for a while.

PS: Of course, it's not just poems that get stuck in our heads. If you've ever wondered why songs get stuck in our ears, here's a fun NPR story. The explanation: an earworm is our brain singing.

Tip #30: Give Them Your Job

Kitty Felde

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Writer Lynda Mullaly Hunt was a reluctant reader until a wonderful teacher helped her fall in love with books. Her passion for literature led her to her first career as a teacher. 

Lynda says she discovered a trick for turning her students into careful readers: let them be the teacher.

She handed out some of her own stories to her students - stories with lots and lots of mistakes. "They were terrible," she says. "Off topic, deadly boring." Lynda would go out of her way to make them awful.

Then she handed each of her students a red pen and invited them to mark up her work. "You be the teacher," she told them. "Fail me if you like, but you'd better explain why."

She says her students gave her "a lot of F minuses." They had a great time circling various problematic sections. They'd write, "why don't you try this?" and "could you think about this?" up and down the page.

Lynda encouraged them to be honest. And they were. Brutally honest. Playing teacher to a page of poor writing made them more conscientious about their own work - and more appreciative of reading material that followed the rules. It became more pleasurable to pick up a book when you didn't have to fight your way through bad grammar and purple prose.

You can hear more from Lynda Mullaly Hunt on the episode of her book FISH IN A TREE.

Tip #29: If It's Good Enough for Warren Buffet

Kitty Felde

Gordon Korman

Writer Gordon Korman turned a class assignment into a career.

Gordon says his middle school ran out of English teachers. So they sent in the track and field coach. The coach knew all about calf cramps, but had no clue about teaching reading and writing and literature.

Perhaps in desperation, Coach turned to the class and said, "Okay. Work on whatever you want for the rest of the year."

This was in February. That meant Gordon and his classmates had five months of unstructured time. And it was there, in that middle school classroom, that Gordon Korman wrote his first book, "This Can't Be Happening in Macdonald Hall."

Not every middle schooler will go on to have a 40 year career as a New York Times best-selling author. But as noted in Psychology Today, some of the most successful folks in business have found writing to be an important part of their success:

  • Warren Buffet says writing helps him refine his thoughts 
  • Richard Branson says his most essential possession is a standard-sized school notebook which he uses for regular writing
  • Bill Gates says writing lets him sit down and re-evaluate his thoughts during the day

Writing has a much more direct effect on reading. An article in K12 Reader notes that writing helps a student "analyze the pieces that they read." Writing helps a student "language, text structure or content to better understand a professional author’s construction of his or her texts." In other words, the action of putting sentences together on the page helps a young reader understand the rules of written communication.

So maybe hand that reluctant reader a blank book next time and ask them to tell YOU a story.

You can hear more from Gordon Korman on this episode of his book UNGIFTED.

Tip #28: I Believe in You

Kitty Felde

You'd never imagine that writer Lynda Mullaly Hunt was one of "those" kids. Hunt is the author of the kid-favorite middle grade novel "Fish in a Tree," among others. But when she was in grammar school, reading was impossible. Teachers gave up asking her to turn in assignments. Hunt says she knew that meant that they'd written her off as a failure. 

And then she met her 6th grade teacher, Constantine Christy. "That guy saved me," she says. "Saved me."

Mr. Christy made eye contact with Hunt, took the time to have a conversation with her and learn who she was beyond a name. As a result, Hunt says, "I fell over myself, trying to please him."

Then Mr. Christy handed her a book. It was Judy Blume's "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing." He told her he wanted her to go home and read it. "Why should I?" she asked. He leaned forward and said, "Because I think you can. And I want you to try." 

Hunt says Mr. Christy's confidence in her gave her the courage to take up the challenge. She read the book. And learned that she could read a lot better than anybody thought she could. She then picked up another Judy Blume. And another. And keep on reading. She says she learned that she loved fiction, the books that let you "see movies in your head." Mr. Christy's vote of confidence made her stand three inches taller. She jumped from the lowest reading group to the highest. She left sixth grade with a "laser focus" on becoming a teacher herself. Which she did. And went on to become a writer of the kinds of books she loved to read.

Hunt says she became a reader, "not because I'd seen the light and fallen in love with books. It was because I'd fallen in love with the connection of being able to share that love with somebody else."

You can hear more from Lynda Mullaly Hunt on this episode of her book FISH IN A TREE.

Tip #27: Walk the Talk

Kitty Felde

We turn again to fifth grade teacher Jose Rodriguez for another reading tip. Jose teaches fifth grade at the Ambassador School of Global Education in Los Angeles.

For more reluctant readers, Jose says he has a "quick chat" with his students about what they are reading.

Jose also carves out time inside the classroom for students - and Jose himself - to pick up a book. "It's very important to walk the talk." he says.

Jose constantly refers to the books he is reading...and provides visual evidence that he actually  has his nose in a book. His tip: let the kids see you reading.
 

Tip #26: Stop the Worksheet Madness

Kitty Felde

Jose Rodriguez just says "no" to homework worksheets.

Jose teaches fifth grade at the Ambassador School of Global Education in Los Angeles. Instead of stuffing backpacks with endless pieces of paper, basically spot reviews of topics covered in the classroom, Jose asks his students to keep a reading log. Once a week, students write a journal entry that includes a summary of what they've been reading.

It's the journey, not the finish line that matters to Jose. "I don't make a big deal about having to finish every book," he says. For more reluctant readers, Jose tries to "have a quick chat" about what they are reading.

Jose carves out time inside the classroom for students - and Jose himself - to pick up a book. "It's very important to walk the talk." he says. Jose constantly refers to the books he is reading...and provides evidence that he's actually doing it. In other words, let the kids see you reading.
 

Tip #25: Make 'Em Laugh

Kitty Felde

Never underestimate the power of funny.

How do you make a hot dog stand? Take away its chair.*

Silly, I know. But back when I was shelving books at our local branch of the LA County Library, riddle collections were the most beat-up books in the building. Kids loved them. They still do.

Humor is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal when it comes to enticing reluctant readers to pick up a book. And not just joke books.

Jess Stork at the Georgetown branch of the DC Public Library calls humor "a great gateway into reading" - particularly for reluctant readers. She says it works because humor is a "universal experience." Jess says she particularly likes humor books that center on one character. "It makes it a lot easier for the reader to form an emotional attachment with the character."

Her go-to books? The ORIGAMI YODA series by Tom Angleberger. (Which are a favorite of the kids at Thomson Elementary in Washington DC. You can listen to the episode here.) 

Need more suggestions? How about these:

*Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids - Rob Elliott
Milo Speck, Accidental Agent - Linda Urban
The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death - Daniel Pinkwater


Humor also aids in reading comprehension. A trio of researchers in Iran looked at how well students learning a second language remembered what they read. They found that humor was "intrinsically motivating" and helped to "maintain interest during the lesson." But it also helped with memory. Why? Their conclusion: jokes arouse emotion and emotion "leads to better remembering." Read more here.

Got a favorite funny book? Or a suggestion of your own to tempt reluctant readers? Email us! We'll feature your tip in an upcoming newsletter and include it on our website.