You’ve heard it all before:
- I just don’t like reading
- I get bored and can’t finish a book
- I’ve got too much reading for school now
- If the book doesn’t grab me in the first couple of pages, I’m over it
- I’ve got soccer practice, and piano lessons, and chores to do. Who’s got time to read a book?
- Can’t I just watch the movie?
But I’ve got proof that there are kids who love to read, and kids who just haven’t found the right book. This school year, my fourth in middle school, has turned into a powerhouse year for author visits, reading, and talking about books. What started out with a highly anticipated (involving months of preparation) visit by reading and writing rock star, Jason Reynolds, morphed into a year of eight other authors coming to my school. I can tell you in another post how to make something similar happen, but for now, let me tell you how it engaged reluctant readers in ways I’ve never seen happen before, and how you can tap into the same kind of energy right now.
First, let me tell you about two eighth grade students: Jeshua and Meredith. The first, an African American boy, who’s never still, is big into sports, and struggles with reading. The second, a European American girl, who’s artistic and academically motivated, but never found the passion in reading. After I introduced Jason’s books, Jeshua’s interest was piqued because of his connection with the Track series. When I showed a video clip of Jason to his class, he had an instant connection with someone who looked and sounded like himself. Jeshua starting pouring through Jason’s books, took extra time and work to research and write an introduction for Jason at his visit, and is very upset if he isn’t the first one to get a copy of Jason’s newest book. He now asks me what to read next, recommends books to friends, and says his mother can’t quite believe that he spends free time reading books.
Meredith, rarely a reader in the middle between two passionate readers in her family, became intrigued by Jason’s characters, word choice, and ability to spin a story. Her mother emailed me on Christmas day with a photo of Meredith by the Christmas tree hugging a gift she had just opened: a copy of Jason’s Long Way Down. Never in a million years had her mother thought Meredith would become a passionate reader. Now Meredith, with other friends, has formed her own book club at school, is a ready participant when an author comes to visit, and speaks freely about what she’s reading.
What is the right book? It depends on the reader, of course, but for most reluctant readers, here are a few guidelines:
- Topic they are interested in, no matter what it is
- Writing style that grabs attention
- Layout, line breaks, and plenty of white space
- Action that moves the story along
- Plenty of dialogue that rings true
In short, a story they can sink their teeth into, a setting they can picture, characters who they can identify with (or feel empathy for), a layout that makes the pace of reading faster . . . in short they are hooked, and easily progress through the book. Oftentimes reluctant readers are also struggling readers, and need to feel success when reading their books.
What can you do to motivate your reluctant readers and increase their appetite for reading? Download this infographic: 9 Tips for Increasing Reader Appetites .
I’d like to conclude with a quote from award-winning author Jason Reynold’s website:
"Here’s what I know: I know there are a lot—A LOT—of young people who hate reading. I know that many of these book haters are boys. I know that many of these book-hating boys, don’t actually hate books, they hate boredom. If you are reading this, and you happen to be one of these boys, first of all, you’re reading this so my master plan is already working (muahahahahahaha) and second of all, know that I feel you. I REALLY do. Because even though I’m a writer, I hate reading boring books too.
Here’s what I plan to do: NOT WRITE BORING BOOKS.
That’s it, and that’s all."