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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.

Tips for Reluctant Readers

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."

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.

Tip #24: A Resolution to Read

Kitty Felde

Wouldn't it be nice to simply create everybody else's New Years Resolutions instead of trying to follow your own? Can't I just outsource my desire to lose ten pounds? Why is creating a new habit so darned hard? 

I spotted an interview with National Medal of Science winner and MIT Professor Ann Graybiel that helps explain the science of creating habits - both good and bad. 

Graybiel says we learn new behaviors in a package - a ritual that includes beginning and ending markers. This is basically so that our lazy brains can stop thinking about the details of an action over and over again. (This is why I can't keep that box of Sees candy around: if I see it, my brain automatically tells me to go have three or four pieces...)

But markers can help create good habits as well. Like reading. 

If you want your kids to read more in the new year, create the ritual. That means:

  • Pick a regular time of day when you and your kids will read together*. This can be at breakfast, dinner, before bed, whatever fits into your schedule
  • Set aside a sacred, silent 20 minutes when phones are in another room, the TV is off, all music is put on pause
  • Keep the books or magazines you'll be reading in the same place, ready to pick up where you left off last time
  • Set a timer for 20 minutes
  • GO!
  • When the timer goes off, take one more minute to tell each other ONE thing from your book or magazine - the best line, the funniest joke, the wierdest bit of fact
  • Keep going all month!
  • And by the way, if 20 minutes is way too short for you, take a look at a habit created by a Los Angeles family

*Why read together? That same Forbes article cites no less than Warren Buffett who says it's all about the mentoring: copying the behavior traits of people you admire. If you want them to read, let them see you reading.

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Tip #23: Be THAT Uncle or Aunt

Kitty Felde

Coming from a family of seven kids, you can easily imagine that I have a lot of nieces and nephews. The presents for birthdays from Aunt Kitty and Uncle Tad? Books.

I admit, it didn't make us the most popular uncle and aunt in the family. But years later, I can happily report that all the moaning and groaning actually paid off. One nephew is a crazy-mad reader, consuming as much Isaac Asimov and Robert Graves as he can get his hands on. A niece, now a psych nurse, says she still remembers her favorite, Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree." She said even as a child, she felt "so much emotion reading it!" 

Need a few suggestions about finding a book your young readers will love? We have a long list of favorites from our Book Club for Kids readers. Check them out here.

Tip #21: Write Them a Letter

Kitty Felde

Jefferson 2.jpg

"Dear Theodosia" is a duet that Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton sing to their newborn children, professing their love for these little people and promising to create a better future for them. It's one of my favorite songs from the musical Hamilton.

The power of letters can be harnessed to encourage the love of reading, particularly in those who struggle.

Beth Sanderson is a big believer in the power of letters. Beth teaches English and is the co-instructional lead teacher at Swanson Middle School in Arlington, Virginia. Every school year, she writes a letter to each of her 105 students, telling them about her own reading and writing life. The students then write back to her, using her letter as a template. Beth says the kids often confess the struggles they have, the ups and downs of reading.

"The magic begins," she says, "when I write individual letters back to each student." Beth handwrites each letter, making them personal and specific to each reader. "Some letters focus on interests," she says, "while other letters simply acknowledge how hard it is for that student to find a reading spark."

Every letter ends with book recommendations and the promise of a longer list of titles as soon as she learns "more about the student as a reader." She keeps a digital list of book suggestions for each child.

Tip # 19: Power of Choice

Kitty Felde

Bonus Episode from Chicago and Pasadena 051816.jpg

Today’s tip comes not from a teacher or librarian, but from one of those so-called "reluctant readers." I call him my "sage on a plane."

A young man seated next to me on a flight confessed that he wasn’t much of a reader himself back when he was a kid. He said his mother was frantic, dragging him to various specialists to make sure he didn’t have a learning disability. She couldn't understand why he didn’t share her passion for reading.

Brian was perfectly normal. And he always got fabulous grades in math. The diagnosis: he just wasn’t interested in fiction.

So his mom hatched a plan. She gave him a gift card for a bookstore. Fifty dollars. He was then turned loose in the store, encouraged to spend it on anything – as long as it was a book. He bought a big, fat technical manual. And then he read it cover to cover.

Mom was satisfied – though perhaps disappointed that she’d given birth to a non-fiction aficionado. Today Brian runs a successful audio production business.

So perhaps instead of filling up the Starbucks card for your own reluctant teen, how about a gift card to your local independent bookstore? Invite them to blow it all on the books of their choice.

Tip #18: Writing = Better Readers

Kitty Felde

Readers from Chicago's Carter G. Woodson Charter School

Readers from Chicago's Carter G. Woodson Charter School

We talk a lot about the link between writing and reading. Good readers make better writers. But writing also makes better readers.

The challenge? Writing is hard. And scary.

We have a few suggestions from the professionals about getting started.

  • Try something familiar. Write an "old school" letter. Or send an email.PBSKids has a simple "how to" guide.
  • Remind kids that every writer faces the terror of a blank page. And survives. Writer Sally Kerrigan has a terrific blog post. She says thinking is key.
  • Esther Goldenberg is the author of "Hypatia Academy," the book we're tackling on the newest Book Club for Kids podcast. She says everybody tells you to write "what you know." And we all "know a lot of things." For example, Esther knew how to memorize the digits of pi. So she put it in her book. She says kids know lots of things - things they may not think are at all important, but that would be fascinating to anyone else. "Pick one particular day or one particular incident," she says, "and start from there."

    Got a tip of your own? Email us! More great tips at the website!

Tip #17: All the World's a Stage

Kitty Felde

Readers at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, New Jersey

Readers at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, New Jersey

Flying back to DC yesterday, I sat next to a woman devouring "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child." It's not often you find folks reading plays. It may be the first play script she's ever read. 

As a playwright, I'm very familiar with the format - character name centered, stage directions in italics, lots of empty spaces for actors to write down blocking and acting notes. Those blank spaces reminded me of something Newbery Award winning writer Kwame Alexander told us on "The Crossover" episode of Book Club for Kids.

Kwame remembered one kid who said he really loved the book, written in verse, because it "didn't have a lot of words and it had so much white space!" 

Just like plays! 

But plays are more than just an entry point for reluctant readers. Studies show that:

  • Performing texts in the classroom and the improvement of a variety of verbal skills, including especially significant increases in story recall and understanding of written material.
  • Performance of Shakespeare texts helps to improve students’ understanding of other complex texts including science and math material.
  • Drama can improve reading skills and comprehension better than other activities, including discussion.

And, needless to say, acting out a play is just fun.

Got a tip of your own? Email us! 

Tip #16: Be Prepared

Kitty Felde

The Mother/Daughter Book Club meets at One More Page bookstore in Virginia

The Mother/Daughter Book Club meets at One More Page bookstore in Virginia


Getting ready for back to school isn't just finding bargain notebooks and a flashy new backpack. It's the time to prepare mentally and physically to return to the classroom, prepared for a terrific new year. 

The U.S. Department of Education has a few tips to prepare your kid for the new school year: create or freshen up a study area at home; meet the new teacher yourself; commit to reading with your child 20 minutes every day. 

Here's one more: find a sneaky way to practice writing skills...like a one paragraph review of the Book Club for Kids podcast on iTunes. We read them all and we read them on the air! 


Got a tip of your own? Email us! 

Tip #15: Saving Summer Brains

Kitty Felde

Readers discuss "The Great Wall of Lucy Wu" at Alexandria's Hooray for Books!

Readers discuss "The Great Wall of Lucy Wu" at Alexandria's Hooray for Books!

My brain is fried in summer. I can only imagine what a kids' brain is like after nine months of school. So perhaps the idea of picking up a book of any kind is a bridge too far.

Well, here's some good news: listening can make you learn even better. In an ATLANTIC article, Emma Rodero, a communications professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain says that “listening, unlike looking at a written page, is more active, since the brain has to process the information at the pace it is played.”

Even better news: there is a growing number of new podcasts out there designed specifically for kids - not just about books, but about science and music and all of their interests. Want to know what's out there? Check out the new organization Kids Listen.

So give in to summer brain: grab a cool drink, put on the headphones, and enjoy!


Got a tip of your own? Email us! 

Tip #14: Create a Craving for Story

Kitty Felde

Summer is always a challenge: how do you keep kids' brains engaged? Every local library seems to have a Summer Reading program. Here in Washington DC, the library offers prizes like tickets to the Washington Nationals and coupons for Chipotle to those who complete 8 hours of reading. 

The Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs, Colorado kicked off its summer reading program by inviting kids to record their favorite book recommendations. Those voice memos will show up on a future bonus Book Club podcast. (Your kids can be on the show, too: just email for easy instructions.)

We asked Sarah Kostin, the youth services librarian in Steamboat Springs, for her best tip for engaging reluctant readers. Her answer: get your child to fall in love with "story." Sarah suggests starting by reading aloud or telling the stories that you love to your child. Next, get the kids to tell their own stories, using their own words. Have them describe the things they've seen today or the adventures they've experienced. Sarah says the telling and listening gets kids "to love and engage in story so much that they HAVE to read more books in order to get more story in their life."

Sarah's story mantra reminded me of a blog in Scientific American about the very human need for story. The article says the human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor. We figure out life through the medium of story. So getting your kids hooked on stories not only improves their reading, it helps them figure out life!


Got a tip of your own? Email us!

Tip #13: Reading Tips from Washington - the Secretary of Education

Kitty Felde

U.S. Education Secretary John King

U.S. Education Secretary John King

Our newest celebrity reader is a man who knows something about getting kids to pick up a book. The new Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. has been a history teacher, a school principal, and even served as Commissioner of Education for the state of New York.

We asked him to read from Kristin Levine's "The Lions of Little Rock" for our back to school episode. He says he and his 12 year old daughter read it together, which prompted a discussion of both the historic fight for school desegregation, as well as the issues of diversity and race and class in America today. 


Secretary King's tip for reaching out to reluctant readers: read together. "The key is to find the thing that hooks a kid," he says. "What's the thing they're most interested in?"

He says after picking the book, start reading it together. Then take turns. He says reading together allows a child to spend "a little more time hearing and thinking about the story or the historical period or the idea that the book is about rather than maybe having to work so hard reading it themselves." The shared experience, he says, allows a kid to take ownership of the story.

Got a tip of your own? Email us! More great tips at the website!

Tip #12: Word of Mouth

Kitty Felde

These Thomson Elementary readers loved the Origami Yoda series so much, they formed their own club to write letters to author Tom Angleberger, begging him to write more in the series!

These Thomson Elementary readers loved the Origami Yoda series so much, they formed their own club to write letters to author Tom Angleberger, begging him to write more in the series!

Our tip comes from Jaminnia States, the librarian at Thomson Elementary School in Washington, DC. Jaminnia plans to use the podcast in the library's listening center with her students. "I think it will really help them to hear other students talking about books and how much they love them."

She cites the power of personal recommendation - peer approval. It affects more than just which sneakers are the bomb this year. It also works with books. She says when a friend tells you, "hey, look at page seventeen, let me tell you about this character!" kids respond.

"The kids who don't stop talking about the book," she says, "are the kids who get other kids to read." She says kids trust each other "way, way, way more" than they trust librarians.

Hack this technique to jumpstart your kids' reading! Play a podcast episode on the way to the library and put a copy of the book being discussed in the hands of your child. Use the power of peer approval to get them to open a book.

 

Got a tip of your own? Email us! 

Tip #11: Create a Culture of Reading

Kitty Felde

The readers at Lafayette Elementary School in Washington, DC

The readers at Lafayette Elementary School in Washington, DC

We’re hearing from educators that literature and poetry are getting squeezed out by social studies during reading hours in the classroom these days. So how do you inspire that life-long love of reading for pleasure?

Kathy Echave, a reading specialist at Lafayette Elementary School in Washington, DC describes a carrot and stick approach. “Make reading fun for kids,” she says, by putting “really good books in their hands.” The school publishes a summer reading guide with what Kathy describes as the “best books  – classics that never go out of style as well as things that are brand new." The list is shared with students and parents and is also available in local libraries and bookstores.

Lafayette has created a culture of reading by requiring every student to read for 20 minutes every single night. “If you’re only reading while you’re in school,” says Kathy, “you’re never going to become a lifelong reader or someone who’s really a good reader.”

There are no reading logs to be signed and teachers don’t actively check up on students, but Kathy says the reading homework has become part of the culture of the school. Kids just read.

 

Got a tip of your own? Email us!

Tip #10: Book Club in a Bag

Kitty Felde

Broomfield, Colorado offers a Book Club in a Bag

Broomfield, Colorado offers a Book Club in a Bag

Book Clubs can be powerful motivators to get folks of all ages to read regularly. But how do you start one? How do you get enough books for everyone in the group? How do you kick off the discussion? 

The Mamie Doud Eisenhower Public Library in Broomfield, Colorado has come up with a brilliant idea: they've put together Junior Book Club Kits.

Children's Librarian Susan Person says the library has lots of programming for little kids and teens, but needed to find something just for tweens. Their on-site Junior Book Club for 4th and 5th graders was a hit "almost from the beginning," she says. (And you'll hear those kids on an upcoming podcast discussing Lisa Graff's "Absolutely Almost.)

But what about other kids? And what do you do with 13 copies of one particular middle grade novel?

Person started putting together book club kits - a complete book club in a box - or rather, in a lime green canvas satchel.  Inside, each kit contains a dozen copies of the book for readers, plus one more for the group leader. Families or neighborhood group can use the book club in a box to host their own Junior Book Club. Kits are checked out with a library card, just like a single book or DVD. 

What about your classroom or library? Why not start your own Book Club in a Box?


Got a tip of your own? Email us! More great tips at the website!

Tip #9: Everybody Hates Historical Fiction (except when they don't)

Kitty Felde

Writer Rita Williams Garcia

Writer Rita Williams Garcia

EVERYBODY HATES HISTORICAL FICTION* SO HOW DO I GET KIDS TO READ IT?
(*EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON'T)

I sometimes think kids are born with opinions. By the time they reach middle school, they've developed the verbal skills to tell you exactly why they like something and why they don't. That includes books. More often than not, kids tell me they HATE historical fiction. "Too much like homework," they say. 

Except...

A good story is a good story. Once you're hooked on character and plot, the time period becomes background noise. So how do you get a kid to pick up a historic fiction in the first place?

Crystal Graham is the librarian at Takoma Education Campus in Washington, DC. She says kids at her school "tend to shy away from" historical fiction. She says she's planning to use the Book Club for Kids podcast as a sneaky way to make the genre more intriguing to her students. 

We've done a trio of historic fictions on the show - Laurie Hulse Anderson's tale of slavery during the Revolutionary War CHAINS, Marjorie Agosín's story of life under Pinochet in Chile I LIVED ON BUTTERFLY HILL, and an upcoming episode, Rita Williams-Garcia's ONE CRAZY SUMMER, about a trio of sisters whose mother sends them to Black Panther summer camp.

Librarian Graham says she's planning to have her students listen to these particular episodes, where they can hear other kids get excited about the books, and hear them share the books' relevance in their own lives. The bonus: after Graham's students have inhaled the first book, she says it'll be easier to get them to check out the next one in the series, or a similar book.

Our own experience taping these episodes featuring historical fiction: not every kid hates the genre. Several told us they really liked them because they tell stories they never heard in history class.

Got a tip of your own? Email us! More great tips at the website!

Tip #8: Writing Makes Better Readers

Kitty Felde

Writer Meg Medina with a pair of her readers.

Writer Meg Medina with a pair of her readers.

Our young readers often ask our writers how they can become authors. The answer is always the same: read, read, read.

It works the other way as well. To become a better reader, write, write, write!

Looking for a quick writing assignment for your kids?
 
Have them write us a review on iTunes.

We have a lot of adult reviews - like this one from "botheredandbewildered" who said she appreciates how the show "expertly directs the literary conversation among these young women to probe into how the novel relates to their lives."

But we'd LOVE to get feedback from more kids. Challenge them to tell us how to make a better show! Just go to Book Club for Kids iTunes, click on "review" and have them write a few lines. Oh, and give us some stars!

Tip #7: Wisdom from a Substitute Teacher

Kitty Felde

Students from St. Lucy's Elementary School in Long Beach, California tape an episode with host Kitty Felde.

Students from St. Lucy's Elementary School in Long Beach, California tape an episode with host Kitty Felde.

Wisdom From a Substitute Teacher

They are the bravest people I know: substitute teachers. They're more fearless than Indiana Jones as they march into unknown territory. My mother abandoned the profession, deciding she'd rather care for drug-addicted quadriplegic veterans than face a classroom full of new faces every day.

John Leslie braves classrooms all over the Los Angeles Unified School District. He doesn't wear a fedora or carry a bullwhip. But he does have a secret weapon: a book he turns to whenever chaos threatens to take over. It has never failed.

The book is "The Houdini Box" by Brian Selznick.

Mr. Leslie says one time he walked into a room full of 5th grade boys. "None of them were seated when I came in," he says. He tried to teach the lesson plan, which became "a complete failure." So he reached for his secret weapon and started reading aloud from "The Houdini Box." One by one, every one of those kids sat down. They were still seated when their teacher returned to the classroom. She was astonished.
Mr. Leslie says the kids are fascinated equally by the magic and how Houdini died.

Do you have a "go to" book that mesmerizes your students? 
Got a tip of your own? Email us at bookclubforkidspodcast@gmail.com.