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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 Creating Lifelong Readers

Filtering by Tag: kidlit

All of Our Reading Tips

Kitty Felde

Everyone asks: how do you get a kid to pick up a book? How do you get them to fall in love with reading? We asked the experts: teachers and librarians to share their best tips with us.
— Kitty Felde

Tip #78: Past Performance IS Indicative of Future Results

Kitty Felde

readers

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.

Tip #77: I Dare You!

Kitty Felde

Esperanza Rising readers

I dare you!

That's a schoolyard taunt that still has the power to provoke action. Can it get a kid to read a book?

Mimi Powell develops the young adult collection at an Orlando library. One of her most loyal patrons checked out stacks and stacks of books every week. His twin brother would also visit the library every week, plopping down at the circulation desk and looking bored. Mimi finally asked him why he never checked anything out. "I don't like to read," he told her.

Mimi asked the age old question, "So what do you like?"

His answer? "Violent video games."

Mimi says he was trying to challenge her, daring her to find a book. Mimi didn't blink an eye. "I found a five part series that was about these kids who got trapped in a video game and they had to fight aliens to make their way out." That particular book is part of a series by Dustin Bradly called "Trapped in a Video Game." 

It was the challenge posed by the non-reading twin that excited Mimi. You can tap into that competitive streak by issuing your own challenge to a less than enthusiastic reader. Here's a terrific list of reading challenges - everything from reading books with titles from A-Z to a Book to Screen challenge (read the book AND watch the movie) to reading only books on a particular topic like wars or animals. Pick a challenge and then challenge your would-be reader to play it with you this summer. You could even offer prizes. (We'll send you bookmarks and stickers. Just email us your address!) Let us know which challenge worked for you.

I double dare you.

Tip #75: Want to Win on Jeopardy?

Kitty Felde

Divergent readers

Want to be a millionaire? The amazing James Holzhauer has racked up more cash more quickly than anybody in the history of the TV show "Jeopardy." His secret: non-fiction kids books.

Holzhauer told "Publishers Weekly" that he'd order stacks of books on all sorts of topics from public libraries in the cities where he lived: Seattle, San Diego, Naperville, Illinois, and Las Vegas. "All had excellent library resources," he said. 

His favorites? Zachary Hamby’s books on mythology, and the Classics Illustrated series of literary adaptations. 

It makes sense: non-fiction for young readers - everything from picture books to biographies to science - are well-written, with lots of infographics and illustrations. Information is often broken down into bite sized morsels. And they're fun to read!

So watch an episode or two of "Jeopardy" with your young reader. They may do better in certain categories than you! (Holzhauer says kids non-fiction didn't help much with popular culture questions.) Take notes of the categories that frustrate them and take them to the library to check out books on those topics. You can even create your own "Jeopardy"-style quiz. Here's afree version online.

The pitch to your reluctant reader: you, too, can be a "Jeopardy" millionaire!

Tip #72: Falling in Love Again: Top 5 Questions to Ask to Get a Kid to Read Another Book

Kitty Felde

Monster readers

Don't you hate those click bait "top 5" lists? When it comes to reading, we couldn't resist. We present our top five questions for young readers who can't find that second book to fall in love with.

Heidi Vonmayrhouser is a children's librarian in Milpitas, California. Her system to keep kids reading is to help them fall in love with new books over and over again.

Heidi is one of those investigative librarians. She likes to "dig into the interests" of her readers by asking lots of questions and then finding the perfect next book that fits the reader's interests and passions.

She shares her top 4 queries. And because this is a Top 5 list, we had to include our favorite question on Book Club for Kids.
 

Top 5 Questions for Readers Looking to Fall in Love with Another Book:

  1. What do you do for fun?

  2. Which books have you read recently?

  3. Is there a book that you couldn't put down?

  4. What book would you read in the summer for fun?

  5. What's your favorite book of all time...and why?

Tip #67: Permission to Stop

Kitty Felde

Girlfriends Book Club Baltimore

When you pick up a book, read a few pages, and just can't get into it, do you feel you're responsible to finish it anyway? Maybe it's twelve years of Catholic school, but I still feel guilty about quitting in the middle of a book.

I'm not the only one. In a 2013 article in The Atlantic about the "quiet shame" of the half-book reader, clinical psychologist Matthew Wilhelm says such guilt is normal. "There is a tendency for us to perceive objects as 'finished' or 'whole' even though they may not be. This motivation is very powerful and helps to explain anxiety around unfinished activities."

Sereena Hamm disagrees. Hamm is the librarian at Washington Latin Public Charter School in Washington, DC. She casts a vote for free choice - particularly for younger readers. "Let them pick up new books and read them and quit," she says. "As many times as it takes for them to find the right one."

Hamm says forcing readers - particularly reluctant readers - into a book they're just "not into" actually makes it worse. The key, she says, is to keep looking for the book that speaks to them, a book they can fall in love with. "I think if you let them know that as long as they keep trying till they find the right thing, you can make a reader."

Tip #66: Boys Will Be Boys

Kitty Felde

A Wrinkle in Time readers

No, this is not about a Supreme Court nominee. It's all about persuading boys to pick up a book.

Perrine Punwani is an 8th grade English teacher at Hardy Middle School in Washington, DC. She doesn't pass judgement on what her students choose to read - as long as they're reading. Lately, she says she's been shopping for books of particular interest to her male students. She picked up some sports titles, but she's also been stacking her shelves with books on war and peace.

"I'm kind of obsessed with war in some ways," she says. Before she was a middle school teacher, Punwani was program director for conflict and environmental change at the International Rescue Committee. "I've always been obsessed with the idea of war and peace and how do we get there?" she says. "Especially in these times."

Punwani's passion has spread to her students - particularly the boys in her class who have fallen in love with historical fiction. She frequently recommends her favorite authors Steve Sheinkin and Nathan Hale. Books about war help students understand "the depths of humanity" and helps them navigate conflicts closer to home. "I think they gravitate to war because they're always kind of at war with what they're doing in school," she says. "You need your armor to survive."

Here on Book Club for Kids, we've tacked several novels with war as a central topic:

Tales From the Odyssey by Mary Pope Osborne (Trojan War)
A Little Wicked by Janet Macreery (17th century Scottish clan wars)
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (U.S. Revolutionary War)
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (World War II)
I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin (the 1970's military coup in Chile)
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Sudanese civil war)
Pax by Sara Pennypacker - (a fictional war)

Need some more ideas? If your readers are interested in the Civil War, here are some suggestions. Here are some titles about World War II appropriate for young readers. There are also a number of books for kids about the Cold War.

Tip #65: Can a Book Get My Kid to Talk to Me?

Kitty Felde

Odyssey readers

We've been asked to share a few Book Club for Kids secrets. Specifically, how do we get kids to open up to us on the podcast about their hopes, dreams, fears, complaints, and anything else on their minds?

Our "secret sauce" for the Book Club for Kids is that we start with the book and wait for the moment when the conversation takes a left turn. And it always does. Then we follow wherever it leads.

Those sideways discussions are always the most enlightening. On one episode, kids in one of the safest suburbs in America confessed their concerns about security. Another day, seventh graders explained that dystopian novels are actually quite hopeful because their protagonists are female and the boys in the book treat them with respect. A pack of fifth grade boys admitted that while they resented and fought regularly with older siblings, they actually missed them when they went away to college. All of these conversations began with the book and took that left turn.

In some ways, it's easier for us to get kids to open up. We're not their parents or teacher or other authority figure. But you can do it, too! You can turn those carpool trips into real conversations.

So here's our top five ways to use a book to get a kid to talk to you. 

  1. Read the book. Borrow it after they go to bed or get your own copy. You can cheat and read the summary online, but it's harder to have a rich conversation when you're working from someone else's notes. Read the book and allow it to resonate with your own life experiences - stories you can share with your child.

  2. Your kid is the expert. Think back to when you were 12 years old. If only an adult would treat you like you had a brain in your head, you'd tell them anything. Your young reader will welcome the opportunity to show you how much she/he knows about the book and the world at large. Start the conversation by asking about something in the book that puzzled you. Are rules of the dystopian world too confusing? Is there a back story for that flying dragon who shows up on page 72? Is there a pop culture reference that makes no sense? This is a good place to begin the conversation with your young reader.

  3. Ask a followup question. You're getting warmed up now. Keep the conversation going.

  4. Listen. Is your reader getting excited about a particular topic? This is your left turn signal. The conversation is about to take off in an unexpected direction. Follow your instincts!

  5. Be willing to share something personal when appropriate. Listening is always better, but a willingness to be vulnerable and open is gold. It's an opportunity to communicate person to person, rather than adult-who-knows-better to child-who-should-listen-to-me.

And if all else fails, listen to Book Club for Kids together. Use the discussion in the episode as a jumping off point for your own discussion. Good luck!

Here are some other suggestions about kicking off book discussions from Book Riot, I Love Libraries, and BookBub.

Tip #55: Bad Kitty!

Kitty Felde

Capitol+Hill+Day+School.jpg

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!

Tip #50: Oh, So You ARE a Reader

Kitty Felde

East City Book Shop

I could make a long list of the things I'm not very good at doing: singing, running, cleaning out cat litter, baking pies, crossword puzzles...

So I don't do them.

I know my limits and my tolerance for public humiliation, so I avoid karaoke. I walk fast. I coax my husband to tackle the cat duties. I bake brownies. I only read the comics, avoiding the puzzle page of the newspaper.

Kids who avoid reading often do it for the same reason: they think they're bad at it and avoid public humiliation by steering clear of books.

Heather Booth is the head of teen services at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library in Western Springs, Illinois. Heather says she coaxes reluctant readers to pick up a book by helping them see how much reading they do already. 

"They're reading tips about their favorite video game and they're reading articles about the TV and movie stars that they like," she says. They're reading instruction manuals and text messages from their friends. "They are readers," says Heather. "It's just that they're reading in formats that aren't found on the shelf."

Heather believes in the power of positive thinking - a concept made popular in the 1950's by Norman Vincent Peale who wrote, "Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy. But with sound self-confidence you can succeed." 

Peale was primarily writing for the business world. But there's a scientific study that suggests having a positive outlook decreases your chances of having a heart attack. Even that young man from Florida who won the Mega Millions lottery credits positive thinking for his success. 

Why not use that power of positive thinking to transform reluctant readers?

Just writing this is giving me enough confidence to sing something from "Hamilton." But only in the shower. Small steps, yes?

Tip #49: A Roundabout Way to Get Them to Read

Kitty Felde

Virginia readers

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...)

Tip #48: Reading Should Not Hurt

Kitty Felde

DC readers.jpg

"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!

Tip #46: Turning Gamers Into Readers

Kitty Felde

Thanksgiving podcasts.png

One of my nephews is attending college on a gaming scholarship. Logan is a darned good "League of Legends" player and was recruited from Southern California to play for Robert Morris University in Chicago. RMU isn't the only college offering cash for gaming skills. My alma mater UC Irvine became the first public university to support eSports.

That news doesn't help parents or teachers who want their kids to be as passionate about books as they are about gaming.

Anna Bolognani, school librarian at Twin Valley Middle High School in Whitingham, Vermont, says she uses that passion to her advantage. Anna says gaming is all about the action and adventure. Her school library is chock full of exciting books that practically jump off the shelves. She just needs to connect gamers to the right book.

She starts by asking students about their favorite game. Minecraft is particularly popular among Vermont kids and there are lots of books devoted to the game.

For other games, Anna says she reaches for books full of "fast-paced action-adventure. And not that many pages." She says many graphic novels often "fit the bill." When a student names a game she's not familiar with, Anna says, "tell me more!" 

And if that fails? Research published in Current Biology shows that playing action video games for just 12 hours "drastically improves" the reading abilities of kids with dyslexia. And there's always hope for that gaming scholarship...

Thanks for the tip, Anna!

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 #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 #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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