Tips for Creating Lifelong Readers
Filtering by Tag: reluctant readers
"It's not that kids don't like to read. It's that they don't like feeling like they're forced to read." That's Eric Berman's mantra.
Eric is Teen Services Coordinator for the Alameda County Library in California. He says the key is getting reluctant readers hooked on SOMETHING. Anything works, he says - comic books, graphic novels, even "those dreadful Minecraft books where people are trapped in the Minecraft world."
Don't laugh. The building block adventure game is so popular, more than 50,000 people buy the game EVERY DAY. Eric says kids are "super-passionate about whatever they're into right now. They'll just consume everything." Five year olds will read every dinosaur book in the library. Twelve year olds are into Minecraft.
Eric says there are more than two dozen Minecraft books. Once they read one, he says, "they're going to read all of those." Let them binge, says Eric. It's a book. Rejoice. "Encourage them. Because if they're excited about that, they're going to go on to the next thing."
If teachers want to take it one step further, there are lesson plans using the game of Minecraft for literacy, writing exercises, and problem solving. EvenScientific American weighed in on the value of Minecraft in the classroom.
Let them binge, says Eric. It leaves less time for complaining.
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."
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.
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.
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.
Ask a followup question. You're getting warmed up now. Keep the conversation going.
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!
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.
I'm not a big golf fan - unlike my dad, who spent Fathers Day weekend glued to the TV, watching the U.S. Open. I just don't see the point. (Or maybe it was hitting myself in the head with a 9 iron during my one and only golf lesson...) But I do love baseball.
It's the same with books.
Leslie Smith is the school librarian at Trinity Episcopal Day School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She says when a child tells her they're not interested in books, she asks them to tell her their favorite TV show or movie. "It will give me insight into their personality," she says. "Knowing what they like to watch will tell me what kind of books they like to read."
For my dad, she might hand him the obvious: sports books. But human beings have a lot of passions, so she asks her readers to give her a list of their viewing habits. If they're interested in watching realistic TV programs like National Geographic, she might hand them a few animal books. Mysteries? Easy. If they like to watch silly, goofy shows, they might like really silly, goofy books.
And then? "Once they're hooked," she says, "it's usually easier to get them interested in other things."
Leslie says initially, she tries to pair the child with something that's more popular because it's 'cooler'. "People recognize it," she says, "and they're like, 'Oh, you're reading that? I've read that. It's cool!'" Later, she steers them toward titles that are less popular.
Some books fly under the radar screen. Leave it to the reading experts to find a book that gets even the most reluctant reader to check it out of the school library again and again and again.
The book is "Yummy, the Last Days of a Southside Shorty" by Jean Neri. It's a graphic non-fiction that examines the life of a young man in Chicago who fell into the gang life and committed a murder. The story is told through the eyes of a classmate.
Tasara Redekopp says, "This is a book that can save a life."
Tasara is the librarian at DC's Alice Deal Middle School. She says it's tough subject matter, but kids know that it's real life - and the reality resonates. "They think so much about it," she says. "They think deeply, they reread it, and then they read it again."
She says readers ask the big questions about Yummy. "Was he destined to end up this way? Could something have changed? Was he innately a bad person or was it because of his situation?"
The book includes quotes from a Time magazine article about the case. Tassara says that allows her to talk about creating fiction from fact. "Sometimes we have looked at the original non-fiction journalism and seen how it translates into the book." Then she and her students can explore how the imagination of a writer shapes the text.
Librarian Tassara says it's appropriate for fifth graders.
We all have guilty pleasures. Mine include re-watching the Colin Firth comedy "What A Girl Wants" and eating half a bowl of raw cookie dough.
For readers at Pinchbeck Elementary School in Henrico, Virginia, the guilty pleasure is "Bad Kitty."
Dawn Johns is the 5th grade teacher at Pinchbeck. She's a big fan of letting kids pick their own reading material - without stressing too much about the reading level. Dawn says that includes book choices that may be too difficult or too easy for the reader. "You can't tell a child they're not allowed to read 'Harry Potter,' you have to let them choose and decide for themselves." She says if the student gets a few pages in and doesn't understand what they're reading, they'll move on to something else.
At the other end of the scale, Dawn says she has a lot of readers at all reading levels who love the "Bad Kitty" series by Nick Bruel.
For the uninitiated, "Bad Kitty" is a lot like my cat - cranky, selfish, and completely irresistible. It's a picture book, but Dawn says even the kids who read at grade six levels love this series and want to read it over and over again. "I can't tell them that they can't read something that they enjoy," she says. It's their guilty reading pleasure.
Dawn says kids relate to the character. It make them laugh. She says she keeps introducing them to other books, but doesn't look down her nose at the ones who keep coming back to "Bad Kitty." "They have to read something they enjoy reading," she says.
Do your readers have a guilty pleasure book? Do you? Tweet it to us @bookclubforkids with the #GuiltyReads!
Oh, those non-fiction lovers.
On the Book Club for Kids podcast, we focus on glorious middle grade fiction - fantasy novels, realistic tales of contemporary life, historic dramas, you name it. But there are some readers who just don't connect with stories that aren't "true."
Ra'Neta Oliver is a fifth grade teacher at Excel Academy Public Charter School in Washington, DC. She says for kids who crave facts instead of fiction, she looks for articles that are "culturally appropriate" for her readers, often related to hot topics all over social media and the news. Recent favorites include stories about the #MeToo movement, #BlackLivesMatter, and International Women's Day.
Ra'Neta uses the free content on Read Works (which offers articles from all sorts of sources, including The Wall Street Journal, the American Museum of Natural History, and even the New York City Ballet.) She says the various reading levels make the material accessible to all of her scholars. She also usesAchieve3000, which is not free.
Ra'Neta admits that news articles aren't a miracle cure for all things reading. Even after finding what she thinks is the perfect article for the perfect kid, it doesn't always work. "They still don't like it," she says with a laugh.
What works for you?
Is bribery ever a force for good? It was for Renee Archer.
Renee is a physical therapist in Washington, D.C. We met when I came in for treatment of a rotator cuff injury. (No, I wasn't pitching for the Dodgers.) In between the stretching and strengthening exercises, Renee confessed that she wasn't much of a reader when she was a kid.
That changed when an aunt made Renee an offer she couldn't refuse. The aunt handed Renee a box full of children's books from a second hand store and said: "Read these books and tell me what they're about and I'll give you a dollar for each book."
The first book was "A High Wind in Jamaica" by Richard Hughes, the tale of two kids who survive a hurricane. Renee said, "I was hooked."
Next, she gobbled up Judy Blume's "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret." She took it to school where the novel's frank language about bras and boys made her instantly popular. "I have been reading ever since," she said.
Not all experts agree that simple cash can turn kids into lifelong readers. But if you use financial incentives to inspire a reading habit, you're not alone: asurvey in Britain found that more than half of parents admit that they've used bribes to get their kids to open a book.
Does it work?
I asked Renee how much money she earned as a buck-a-book reader. "After the first book," admitted Renee, "I never even thought about the money."
What do you think? Is bribery the best way to get a kid to pick up a book? Join the conversation of our Facebook Page!
There are physical reasons that make it difficult for some children to read. But that doesn't mean they can't become book lovers.
Tassany Campbell's son was a good reader. Then he was hit by a car.
Tassany's son survived. He's twelve now. But the accident left him with epilepsy and he lost six years of mental capacity. Reading wasn't fun anymore. It became a chore. Tassany says her child thought he was being punished when someone handed him a book because of his struggles with reading.
So Tassany bought her son a tablet and started downloading audio books.
She reads the book ahead of time so that she can give him a pep talk. Tassany says, "I tell him, 'this book is awesome!' and give him highlights and tell him what I liked about it." She says she picks parts of the book that will peak his interest - topics or jokes or plot points that will make him want to talk. Often, they listen together.
Then they work on audio book reports. Instead of writing out an essay, Tassany interviews her son, asking him about his favorite parts and what was confusing. Those questions develop into a conversation.
Tassany says the most important bit is demonstrating to her son that she's interested in the book - and interested in her son's opinions about the book. If mom is engaged, she says, "He thinks it's cool!"
There are a number of places to find free audio books, starting with your local public library.
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?
"Reading should not hurt." That's the mantra of Megan Blue, librarian at Woodcreek High School in Roseville, California. Yet, sometimes it does.
Megan's library patrons are at an age when their English teachers assign a long list of books they "must" read. The books are classics, but all too often, the texts are difficult, old fashioned, with slow plots and hard-to-relate-to characters - in other words, no fun at all.
"But when you're reading for pleasure," says Megan, "that's exactly what it should be: something we enjoy."
Reading for pleasure is important. The U.S. Department of Education found that the more students read for fun on their own time, the higher their reading scores. Yet, 16% of high school seniors say that they "never" or "hardly ever" read for fun anymore.
Megan says she takes the pressure off of kids by encouraging second chances. "If you pick up a book and it's hard to read, even painful," she says, put it down. Megan believes in second chances. "It shouldn't be like pounding your head against the wall. Come get another book. Let's try again."
And no sour faces when you see what books they choose to read. If it's a book about Minecraft or a celebrity biography or a Harlequin romance, it's something to be celebrated. "Nobody is grading you on whether or not you're reading a bodice ripper at the beach," says Megan. "Nobody cares. Read what you enjoy."
Reading with joy is the reason we ask everyone who appears on Book Club for Kids to tell us their favorite book. We've compiled a rather eclectic list (in case you're looking for books as gifts this month...)
Thanks for the tip, Megan!
Ah, the power of choice. For kids, it's not a superpower most get to use very often. Particularly in school where students study exactly what the brainiacs at the top think kids need to study.
What if you could design your own education? Become an autodidact. You can if you're a lucky kid who drops in at the library of Tyler Elementary School on Capitol Hill.
Stephen Reichlen is the school librarian at Tyler Elementary. To persuade a reluctant reader to check out a book, he doesn't ask, "What do you want to read?" Instead, he asks, "What do you want to learn about today?"
Reichlen says he was inspired by California librarian Glen Warren who urges students to study their passions.
He admits that asking "What do you want to learn today?" leads most often to the non-fiction shelves of the library. Reichlen says he has a different technique to help kids pick a new fiction book. Readers gravitate to books they already know, he says. "So you try to gently nudge them in that direction with something that's similar, but maybe a little different."
If a kid likes "Diary of Wimpy Kid," Reichlen will nudge them toward a Louis Sachar novel or a Jerry Spinelli or Andy Griffiths' "The 13-Story Treehouse" - books he describes as similar, but not the same. "It's not a science," he says. "The art is trying to help."
If you're looking for more fiction recommendations, check out our Books We Love page. Kids from around the world have shared their favorite titles with us.
So what do Tyler Elementary students want to learn about? "Dinosaurs," says Reichlen.
Book Club for Kids was invited to speak at the Illinois Library Association convention this month and we had the opportunity to pick the brains of some of the brightest librarians in the country, asking them how to get reluctant readers to pick up a book.
Shaira Rock is the middle school services and technology librarian at the Elmhurst Public Library. Her secret weapon: the graphic novel version of Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson" books. Shaira calls them "a gateway drug to reading."
The books are short, they deliver the whole story, and they provide the visuals when a page full of nothing but words is just too intimidating. Once kids get hooked on the graphic version of the Rick Riordan series, she then moves in with the line: "Did you know Percy Jackson has a fiction book, too?" The answer is usually, "It does? Can I get the next volume?" Once they've inhaled the entire series, Shaira says they ask for other fiction books like Percy Jackson.
Shaira says not to worry that fans of graphic novels will get stuck. She says kids occasionally do go back to graphic novels, but that just means they're touching base with "what they're familiar with and what they love. It's only a matter of time," she says, "before graphic novels is not enough."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.