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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: recommended reading

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 #69: All Reading is Good Reading

Kitty Felde

LA Public Library Maker Faire

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."

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 #63: Pink Fish or Aussie Detectives?

Kitty Felde

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Most of the teachers I know are heading back to the classroom this week – if not to meet their new students, then to sit for hours and hours of meetings and training and organizing. A few of us lucky sorts get to still savor the corn on the cob and afternoons at the beach and the end of guilt-free summer reading.

I’ve given up on reading anything serious this summer. Instead, I’m indulging myself by reading the entire catalogue of Kerry Greenwood. In addition to her wonderful Phryne Fisher mysteries, she’s created another heroine: the zaftig Melbourne baker and reluctant invesigator Corinna Chapman.

Monica approves.

Monica is a youth librarian from Michigan. We met at the American Library Convention in New Orleans this summer. Monica says you’ve got to let kids – and grownups - read what they want to read. “If you try to tell them what they should be reading, you’re not going to create a lifelong reader.”

I asked her to tell me the weirdest book a kid has ever requested. That book is “Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals” by Jess Keating. Monica’s reaction to the request? “This exists?” Turns out, it’s a 2016 non-fiction book about pink animals. Monica calls it “awesome.” There’s even a trailer for the book, complete with a blockbuster motion picture soundtrack.

Need a few suggestions to fill out your summer reading list? Elle magazine has a few ideas. So does The Daily Beast. Got a summer read to suggest? Tweet it and include the hashtag #BCKsummerreads.

Tip #59: What Are You Watching?

Kitty Felde

Milo readers

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 booksMysteries? 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.

Like golf?

Tip #59: Adventure Ahead: Or, You're Never Too Old for Dinosaurs

Kitty Felde

Kitty takes show prep seriously

Kitty takes show prep seriously

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!

Tip #56: Survey Says

Kitty Felde

Changing Hands Bookstore Readers

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." 

Tip #41: Back to School Success

Kitty Felde

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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

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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


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


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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