Tips for Creating Lifelong Readers
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We'll be focusing on Summer Reading over the next few weeks, providing lists of themed book selections, highlights of library programs, and road trip worthy reading activities. But first, let's start with a trip to the library or bookstore with your young reader.
As you stand there pointing to the stacks and your reader's eyes are distracted by library computers or all the toys and games surrounding the bookstore cash register, how do you get her to leave the building with a book in her hands?
Anne Blanchard is head librarian at St. Aloysius Catholic School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Anne is a great believer in using past preference to predict future interest. She starts by asking, "What was the last book that you read that you liked so much that you wouldn't mind reading it again?" She then finds that particular book on the shelf (or sends the young reader to find it herself) and begins her detective work.
Anne looks for clues. "Is it a sports book? A graphic novel? Is it one that has a lot of white space in it?" She then finds similar books.
If you don't want to play matchmaker yourself, many libraries use NoveList, a database that is rather like Match.com for book lovers.
And don't forget the staff at your local library or favorite independent bookstore. These book lovers positively light up whenever you ask for book suggestions. Their enthusiasm is contagious as they dash over to the shelf to find your reader's next favorite book.
Remember when moms complained about the amount of TV their kids watched? Now, it's YouTube.
It's a complaint I hear from parents over and over again: their kids aren't reading, but it's not because they're distracted by video games or binge-watching Netflix series. Their eyeballs are glued to YouTube videos.
Not that there's anything wrong with it. I've learned how to edit photos, sew welt pockets, and hook up my Roku by watching YouTube videos. Candace Williams says YouTube can also be a tool to get reluctant readers to pick up a book.
Candace is Teen Services Library Assistant in Tracy Public Library in California. Candace says plenty of YouTube stars have written books - "about their life, about their show, about their beauty tips." Whatever the topic, she pulls their book off the shelf and watches her patrons' eyes light up. "Oh, I know that person!" they tell her. And then they go home with the book.
Here's a few titles that might tempt your YouTube fan:
"This Book is Not On Fire" is by a couple of awkward Brits named Dan Howell and Phil Lester, aka 'danisonfire' and 'AmazingPhil.' Never heard of them? Their quirky videos are followed by more than 8 million subscribers.
Robby Novak - otherwise known as Kid President - has a book "Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome."
Lilly Singh, aka YouTuber 'superwoman' wrote a series of motivational essays in "How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life."
Common Sense Media put together its ownbooklist by YouTube stars.
Of course, YouTube is also a place where you can watchauthor interviews, book trailers, and even book reviews.
Oh, and by the way, Book Club for Kids has its ownYouTube channel, too.
My mother always told a story about tete-a-tete, which as a young woman she pronounced "teety teety." These were the days before YouTube. Today you can type in an unfamiliar word and hear pronunciations. Mom was still embarassed half a century later.
Embarassment over vocabulary can stop a reader cold.
Freda Carraway teaches 9th graders with reading deficiencies at A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, Texas. Some read at a 7th grade level. Some read at 1st grade level. Her strategy: start with vocabulary.
In elementary school, kids are taught to "use their context clues" when they encounter a new word. But Freda says that often translates into: "I don't know a word, I skip it." Freda says when a student gets to the bottom of a page and they've skipped five words, that means there's five sentences on that page that they didn't understand. "So I retrain them to notice what they don't know." In other words, using metacognition to give kids a strategy to succeed.
When students encounter a word they don't understand, Freda has them stop, take out their vocabulary log, and write it down. Then, she has them immediately find the definition - ask a friend, Google it, ask a teacher, or even use the dictionary. "Whatever you have to do to understand that sentence right now," she says. "Not later."
Reinforcement is key. The reader may understand the word in the context of the book ("Yay! That's a win," she says), but may not remember the word forever. So Freda helps the student find a personal connection with the unfamiliar word - link it to a familiar word, draw a picture of it, or just talk to her about it. "You're going to have some sort of hook to hang that on in your brain," she says.
That expanded vocabulary gives a reader confidence, she says.
There are a number of studies that look at the relationship between reading and vocabulary. And Reading Rockets has a number of articles and videos about teaching vocabulary.
It's that time of year when you can't escape Christmas carols. I'm not quite there yet, so instead of "let it snow" I'm singing "let them read, let them read, let them read."
Janise Buck from the Sacramento Public Library has a similar mantra: "all reading is good reading." Librarians have the motto emblazoned on their tee shirts. "There's something that interests everybody," says Janise.
But it may not be what you have in mind.
Don't sigh when they bring home a graphic novel. Janise says if your kid wants to read graphic novels, find them more. These days, there are more choices: historical, informational, even literature. "I recently read a Sherlock Holmes and a Jane Austen in graphic novel form," she says. It's a format that's interesting to them. It's all "real reading" The finger quotes are hers.
"Check out what other media they're consuming," she says. If it's the Jason Bourne films or "Mission Impossible," steer them toward James Patterson. "
"Don't try to pull them away from things that they're enjoying to give them things that you think are important. Instead, meet them where they're at and turn them on to things that are in their genre and in their interest."
I hate it when the book on my "want to read" list is checked out. Hate it. And I'm not the only one. When a desired book is missing from the library shelf, some kids would rather just go home.
While numerous studies have shown the importance of reading to reduce summer reading setback, Gina Bingham says the popularity of a library's summer reading program can actually turn off some readers. Gina is the assistant branch administrator at the Montclair Community Library in Dumfries, Virginia. She says the library's summer reading program can wipe out vast sections of the library. "A lot of our popular titles such as 'Big Nate' or 'Dog Man' - they're out!" Other times, she says, there are holds on those titles so it could be the end of summer before she can get these books into the hands of the kids who want them.
Gina says she tries to keep similar books on hand so the young reader can take home something to read. "And then the next thing you know, those kids come in and they're hooked on a new topic and it really does expand their reading list. They learn more."
She admits that it actually challenges the librarians. "You gotta be ready," she says, "especially when summer reading books are out."
One tool she relies on is Novelist - a data base available at most libraries. "You can type in the last book you read or the last book you loved and it will create a list," she says. Goodreads also has a book matchmaker. So does the Contra Costa Library.
Lucky me, I didn't have to look for a read-alike: a copy of Jesmyn Ward's "Salvage the Bones" just showed up from the library on my Kindle.
Kids growing up in Southern California shared one secret dream: to spend the night on Disneyland's Tom Sawyer Island. We plotted ways to be "accidentally" left behind as the last raft left for the mainland so that we could live the life of a pirate among the sycamores and secret caves. The island was large enough to almost get lost, but just a short swim to civilization. It's the only attraction designed by Walt Disney himself. And we loved it.
That siren call of adventure can also lure reluctant readers to pick up a book.
Kathleen Guinnane is the librarian at Lakewood Elementary School in Luling, Louisiana. She says when students have no interest in reading, she steers them towards titles like "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen or "My Side of the Mountain" by Jean Craighead George or - as she puts it - "anything wilderness/nature/hunting related." Once they've read those, she says, "then they want the next one and the next one and then they branch onto other things."
I never did manage to spend the night on Tom Sawyer Island. But at least I can curl up with Mark Twain's classic tale ... and dream.
If you're looking for more adventure titles, here's some from Common Sense Media and Outdoor Life magazine.
Nearly 100,000 kids are signed up for Portland's summer reading program at the Multnomah County Public Library. Young readers who participate can earn tee shirts, theatre tickets, and other prizes. Libraries across the country have similar programs. But what about us grownups?
Fear not, there's a growing number of adult summer reading programs with some pretty creative prizes. Over in Washington County, Oregon, grown up readers can win a Kindle. At the Bozeman, Montana library, adults readers can earn cooverdue fine forgiveness coupons. At the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the grand prize is a free night at a nice hotel.
But there's a grander prize: when you read in front of your kids, you help turn them into readers.
Carrie Carlson is the media specialist at Oakwood Elementary School in Minneapolis. She says summer reading is the perfect time to model reading for your kids, showing how much you love books. "I think it's important for kids to see adults reading and liking reading," she says.
Carrie says it doesn't really matter what you're reading - sports pages, beachy novels, self-help books. Or you can read along with your kid, taking turns reading what they've chosen to read. "Because I'm a children's librarian," Carrie says, "I actually read the same books they do so then I can really get excited and talk about the books."
She adds a caveat: "I have to be careful not to talk too much about the books I didn't like because that might be the book they love!" Instead, she says she just shuts her mouth and lets the kids tell her what they think.
What are you reading? Do you have a summer reading list you're willing to share? Tweet it to us @bookclubforkids with the #BCKSummerReads.
I'm not a big golf fan - unlike my dad, who spent Fathers Day weekend glued to the TV, watching the U.S. Open. I just don't see the point. (Or maybe it was hitting myself in the head with a 9 iron during my one and only golf lesson...) But I do love baseball.
It's the same with books.
Leslie Smith is the school librarian at Trinity Episcopal Day School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She says when a child tells her they're not interested in books, she asks them to tell her their favorite TV show or movie. "It will give me insight into their personality," she says. "Knowing what they like to watch will tell me what kind of books they like to read."
For my dad, she might hand him the obvious: sports books. But human beings have a lot of passions, so she asks her readers to give her a list of their viewing habits. If they're interested in watching realistic TV programs like National Geographic, she might hand them a few animal books. Mysteries? Easy. If they like to watch silly, goofy shows, they might like really silly, goofy books.
And then? "Once they're hooked," she says, "it's usually easier to get them interested in other things."
Leslie says initially, she tries to pair the child with something that's more popular because it's 'cooler'. "People recognize it," she says, "and they're like, 'Oh, you're reading that? I've read that. It's cool!'" Later, she steers them toward titles that are less popular.
On a recent Bonus Episode, we asked kids from Virginia to tell us their favorite book. Their answers broke down into two categories: books with characters they could relate to and books full of adventure.
Patrick Eibel says those two qualities are especially important when looking for books for reluctant readers. Patrick is the library and media specialist at Kramer Middle School in Washington, D.C. He says the perfect book is one that is "interesting, not intimidating, and has action."
Not intimidating means graphic novels, but Patrick says "you don't want to get just any old graphic novel, you have to find things that are interesting."
For fans of "The Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series, Patrick recommends something similar, but very different: "The Last Kids on Earth." He describes the series by Max Brallier as "a post-apocalyptic story, with lots of picture support, and an easy read. So it's exciting."
Another of Patrick's "go to" books appeals to readers who want both a character they can relate to AND adventure. The book is "Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur" by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder. The main character is a 12-year-old African-American girl who is "super smart" and bonds with a time traveling giant red dinosaur. "How's that not going to be cool?"
If you're looking for the perfect book that will inspire a lifetime love of reading, don't forget our Books We Love section on the website. We ask everyone on the show - kids, writers, celebrity readers - to tell us their favorite book. The list is most eclectic. Check it out!
Some books fly under the radar screen. Leave it to the reading experts to find a book that gets even the most reluctant reader to check it out of the school library again and again and again.
The book is "Yummy, the Last Days of a Southside Shorty" by Jean Neri. It's a graphic non-fiction that examines the life of a young man in Chicago who fell into the gang life and committed a murder. The story is told through the eyes of a classmate.
Tasara Redekopp says, "This is a book that can save a life."
Tasara is the librarian at DC's Alice Deal Middle School. She says it's tough subject matter, but kids know that it's real life - and the reality resonates. "They think so much about it," she says. "They think deeply, they reread it, and then they read it again."
She says readers ask the big questions about Yummy. "Was he destined to end up this way? Could something have changed? Was he innately a bad person or was it because of his situation?"
The book includes quotes from a Time magazine article about the case. Tassara says that allows her to talk about creating fiction from fact. "Sometimes we have looked at the original non-fiction journalism and seen how it translates into the book." Then she and her students can explore how the imagination of a writer shapes the text.
Librarian Tassara says it's appropriate for fifth graders.
We always ask students who appear on the Book Club for Kids podcast to fill out a "customer satisfaction" survey. It's our way to get real feedback from real kids about how we can improve the show. Of course, we're not the only ones who use surveys to get customer comments. I dare you to order anything online these days without getting the followup email requesting your input.
But surveys can be a terrific tool for teachers, parents, and librarians trying to find the right book for the right kid.
Vernastene Black is an ELA teacher at Stuart Hobson Middle School in Washington, D.C. She says it takes "a lot of poking and prodding" to get some kids to pick up a book. To help cut to the chase, she gives them a survey.
Vernastene is a big fan of Donalyn Miller, author of "The Book Whisperer," and her free quiz The Reading Interest-A-Lyzer. This two-page survey asks kids about their reading habits - do they read for pleasure? Which three books would they take on a month-long trip? Do they like to read more than one book at a time? Vernastene posts the Interest-A-Lyzer in a Google Doc and kids fill it out online.
The survey covers more than just reading-related activities. "You find out what they like to do in their spare time." Then, it's up to Vernastene to put in "the elbow grease to find the book that fits the bill." She continues the feedback loop, asking students to write her a letter about what they have read. "It's going to take a while," she warns. "But once you have their trust, and they know you're not making them do some kind of reading for a test, they'll be more willing to open up."
The biggest threat, she says, is killing the love for reading - when kids think the only reason to pick up a book is to prepare for a test. The key is getting them to think of reading as something enjoyable "that can take you to a new world."
We all have guilty pleasures. Mine include re-watching the Colin Firth comedy "What A Girl Wants" and eating half a bowl of raw cookie dough.
For readers at Pinchbeck Elementary School in Henrico, Virginia, the guilty pleasure is "Bad Kitty."
Dawn Johns is the 5th grade teacher at Pinchbeck. She's a big fan of letting kids pick their own reading material - without stressing too much about the reading level. Dawn says that includes book choices that may be too difficult or too easy for the reader. "You can't tell a child they're not allowed to read 'Harry Potter,' you have to let them choose and decide for themselves." She says if the student gets a few pages in and doesn't understand what they're reading, they'll move on to something else.
At the other end of the scale, Dawn says she has a lot of readers at all reading levels who love the "Bad Kitty" series by Nick Bruel.
For the uninitiated, "Bad Kitty" is a lot like my cat - cranky, selfish, and completely irresistible. It's a picture book, but Dawn says even the kids who read at grade six levels love this series and want to read it over and over again. "I can't tell them that they can't read something that they enjoy," she says. It's their guilty reading pleasure.
Dawn says kids relate to the character. It make them laugh. She says she keeps introducing them to other books, but doesn't look down her nose at the ones who keep coming back to "Bad Kitty." "They have to read something they enjoy reading," she says.
Do your readers have a guilty pleasure book? Do you? Tweet it to us @bookclubforkids with the #GuiltyReads!
Oh, those non-fiction lovers.
On the Book Club for Kids podcast, we focus on glorious middle grade fiction - fantasy novels, realistic tales of contemporary life, historic dramas, you name it. But there are some readers who just don't connect with stories that aren't "true."
Ra'Neta Oliver is a fifth grade teacher at Excel Academy Public Charter School in Washington, DC. She says for kids who crave facts instead of fiction, she looks for articles that are "culturally appropriate" for her readers, often related to hot topics all over social media and the news. Recent favorites include stories about the #MeToo movement, #BlackLivesMatter, and International Women's Day.
Ra'Neta uses the free content on Read Works (which offers articles from all sorts of sources, including The Wall Street Journal, the American Museum of Natural History, and even the New York City Ballet.) She says the various reading levels make the material accessible to all of her scholars. She also usesAchieve3000, which is not free.
Ra'Neta admits that news articles aren't a miracle cure for all things reading. Even after finding what she thinks is the perfect article for the perfect kid, it doesn't always work. "They still don't like it," she says with a laugh.
What works for you?
We often bring you reading tips for older readers. But what about the newbies - kids picking books for the first time? It can be a heartbreaking discovery that learning to read doesn't mean that you immediately possess the vocabulary and skills to read everything. At least not yet.
Jill Schechter is the librarian at School Within A School, a public school on Capitol Hill. Jill says she has students who "look at the bright, shiny sparkly cover and go and pick up a book that is much too hard for them."
Jill says she uses the "5 Finger Rule." She opens the book and asks the student to read a page to her. "See how many words on the page you don't know," she tells them. "And if you don't know more than five words, that's not a good book for you."
Here's a Wisconsin teacher's cheat sheet on the "5 Finger Rule."
Some argue that reading is a process of making sense out of the whole paragraph. In a Scholastic article, Dr. Louise Bridges says, "In the grand scheme of a whole text, each individual word that makes up the text is relatively unimportant." But for a brand new reader, a paragraph of unfamiliar words can stomp on that new-found enthusiasm for reading.
Jill says when faced with the challenge of a page full of new words, students usually decide to try a different book. If they are unwilling to part with the volume, Jill appeals to their sense of fairness. She reminds them that they attend a school with students from grades Pre-K to 5th and says, "If I checked out all the big books to the little kids, the big kids wouldn't have any books to check out."
Is bribery ever a force for good? It was for Renee Archer.
Renee is a physical therapist in Washington, D.C. We met when I came in for treatment of a rotator cuff injury. (No, I wasn't pitching for the Dodgers.) In between the stretching and strengthening exercises, Renee confessed that she wasn't much of a reader when she was a kid.
That changed when an aunt made Renee an offer she couldn't refuse. The aunt handed Renee a box full of children's books from a second hand store and said: "Read these books and tell me what they're about and I'll give you a dollar for each book."
The first book was "A High Wind in Jamaica" by Richard Hughes, the tale of two kids who survive a hurricane. Renee said, "I was hooked."
Next, she gobbled up Judy Blume's "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret." She took it to school where the novel's frank language about bras and boys made her instantly popular. "I have been reading ever since," she said.
Not all experts agree that simple cash can turn kids into lifelong readers. But if you use financial incentives to inspire a reading habit, you're not alone: asurvey in Britain found that more than half of parents admit that they've used bribes to get their kids to open a book.
Does it work?
I asked Renee how much money she earned as a buck-a-book reader. "After the first book," admitted Renee, "I never even thought about the money."
What do you think? Is bribery the best way to get a kid to pick up a book? Join the conversation of our Facebook Page!
There are physical reasons that make it difficult for some children to read. But that doesn't mean they can't become book lovers.
Tassany Campbell's son was a good reader. Then he was hit by a car.
Tassany's son survived. He's twelve now. But the accident left him with epilepsy and he lost six years of mental capacity. Reading wasn't fun anymore. It became a chore. Tassany says her child thought he was being punished when someone handed him a book because of his struggles with reading.
So Tassany bought her son a tablet and started downloading audio books.
She reads the book ahead of time so that she can give him a pep talk. Tassany says, "I tell him, 'this book is awesome!' and give him highlights and tell him what I liked about it." She says she picks parts of the book that will peak his interest - topics or jokes or plot points that will make him want to talk. Often, they listen together.
Then they work on audio book reports. Instead of writing out an essay, Tassany interviews her son, asking him about his favorite parts and what was confusing. Those questions develop into a conversation.
Tassany says the most important bit is demonstrating to her son that she's interested in the book - and interested in her son's opinions about the book. If mom is engaged, she says, "He thinks it's cool!"
There are a number of places to find free audio books, starting with your local public library.
Kathleen Roberts loves to talk to her students at Rivers Edge Elementary in Glen Allen, Virginia about books. She wants to get the perfect read into the hands of the perfect kid, asking "Real or made up?" If it's non-fiction, she leads them to those shelves. Fiction is a bit trickier. So she asks, "Do you like fantasy? Do you like realistic fiction? Do you like historical?" If they say, "I don't know," she asks: "Do you like animal or people stories?" She keeps up the questions to get kids to be more specific - not stressing them out, not making them nervous, just asking to let them know that she's interested.
But the life of a school librarian is filled with chaos. Kathleen doesn't always have time to interview kids about what kind of book they might want to read. She was tired of 4th and 5th graders "doing laps in the library and leaving with nothing."
So Kathleen found a secret weapon: the roundabout. "The roundabout is a great tool," she says, "because it's different."
It looks like a lazy susan for books - a few shelves that can spin round and round. Kathleen picked it up second-hand from her local public library. It's devoted to her most picky clients: those window shopping 4th and 5th graders.
It sits on the check-out counter, stocked with Kathleen's most tempting books, ready to go out the door, like all that candy at the grocery store check out line. Kathleen says the 4th and 5th graders love it because they know it's just for them.
If your local library isn't having a tag sale, you can hunt around for one online. Most of the "lazy susan bookshelves" are in the UK. However, I found a birch plywood model. And a few clear plastic versions. If you're handy (and I'm not) you can build one yourself.
(FYI, Book Club for Kids isn't getting any money for referrals. But the husband may just get one as a belated Christmas present...)
"Reading should not hurt." That's the mantra of Megan Blue, librarian at Woodcreek High School in Roseville, California. Yet, sometimes it does.
Megan's library patrons are at an age when their English teachers assign a long list of books they "must" read. The books are classics, but all too often, the texts are difficult, old fashioned, with slow plots and hard-to-relate-to characters - in other words, no fun at all.
"But when you're reading for pleasure," says Megan, "that's exactly what it should be: something we enjoy."
Reading for pleasure is important. The U.S. Department of Education found that the more students read for fun on their own time, the higher their reading scores. Yet, 16% of high school seniors say that they "never" or "hardly ever" read for fun anymore.
Megan says she takes the pressure off of kids by encouraging second chances. "If you pick up a book and it's hard to read, even painful," she says, put it down. Megan believes in second chances. "It shouldn't be like pounding your head against the wall. Come get another book. Let's try again."
And no sour faces when you see what books they choose to read. If it's a book about Minecraft or a celebrity biography or a Harlequin romance, it's something to be celebrated. "Nobody is grading you on whether or not you're reading a bodice ripper at the beach," says Megan. "Nobody cares. Read what you enjoy."
Reading with joy is the reason we ask everyone who appears on Book Club for Kids to tell us their favorite book. We've compiled a rather eclectic list (in case you're looking for books as gifts this month...)
Thanks for the tip, Megan!
Ah, the power of choice. For kids, it's not a superpower most get to use very often. Particularly in school where students study exactly what the brainiacs at the top think kids need to study.
What if you could design your own education? Become an autodidact. You can if you're a lucky kid who drops in at the library of Tyler Elementary School on Capitol Hill.
Stephen Reichlen is the school librarian at Tyler Elementary. To persuade a reluctant reader to check out a book, he doesn't ask, "What do you want to read?" Instead, he asks, "What do you want to learn about today?"
Reichlen says he was inspired by California librarian Glen Warren who urges students to study their passions.
He admits that asking "What do you want to learn today?" leads most often to the non-fiction shelves of the library. Reichlen says he has a different technique to help kids pick a new fiction book. Readers gravitate to books they already know, he says. "So you try to gently nudge them in that direction with something that's similar, but maybe a little different."
If a kid likes "Diary of Wimpy Kid," Reichlen will nudge them toward a Louis Sachar novel or a Jerry Spinelli or Andy Griffiths' "The 13-Story Treehouse" - books he describes as similar, but not the same. "It's not a science," he says. "The art is trying to help."
If you're looking for more fiction recommendations, check out our Books We Love page. Kids from around the world have shared their favorite titles with us.
So what do Tyler Elementary students want to learn about? "Dinosaurs," says Reichlen.