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

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Tips for Reluctant Readers

Filtering by Tag: recommended reading

Tip #41: Back to School Success

Kitty Felde

San Gabriel kids at Podcast Movement taping of Book Club for Kids.JPG

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

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

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

Tip #40: Keep It Short

Kitty Felde

Reading power

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #37: Clickbait for Books

Kitty Felde

Writer Dave Barry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #36: Stop the Summer Reading Slump

Kitty Felde

Mother Daughter Book Club at One More Page bookstore Episode 10 A Mango Shaped Space .jpg.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #34: Preview of Coming Attractions

Kitty Felde

Readers+from+Cienega+Elementary+School+in+Los+Angeles+on+Book+Club+for+Kids.jpg

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

The same is true for book trailers.

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

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

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

Tip #33: Be a Thespian

Kitty Felde

Congressman Mark Takano

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

Apparently this is not unusual.

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

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

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

Tip #32: Let Them Vote

Kitty Felde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kitty Felde

reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #30: Give Them Your Job

Kitty Felde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kitty Felde

Gordon Korman

Writer Gordon Korman turned a class assignment into a career.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #28: I Believe in You

Kitty Felde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #27: Walk the Talk

Kitty Felde

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

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

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

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

Tip #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 #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 #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 #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 #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!