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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: reading

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 #43: Draw Them In

Kitty Felde

East City.jpg

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

Kitty Felde

Writer Rita Williams Garcia

Writer Rita Williams Garcia


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. 


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 #3: Know Your Audience

Kitty Felde

Readers from Sequoyah School join host Kitty Felde in Pasadena, California

Readers from Sequoyah School join host Kitty Felde in Pasadena, California

This tip comes from Dornel Cerro, head librarian at Sequoyah School in Pasadena, California.

Dornel says her biggest success in encouraging young readers has come from getting to know her students as much as possible. She says talking to kids in small groups, or one-on-one, helps her discover a student's interests and reading level. She also uses reading surveys - either because a particular teacher wants something on paper, or because a particular student feels more comfortable communicating in writing.
Dornel says it's "lots of hard work to keep tabs on kids," and admits she has an advantage at Sequoyah where there are only 300 students. She says she mostly keeps track of her students' reading information in her head, but sometimes tells them, “just remind me, I’m getting old.” 

Please do email us YOUR tip for turning reluctant readers into lifelong book lovers: