Reluctant readers are easy to spot. They never voluntarily pick up a book when they could be playing video games, shooting hoops, or text messaging their friends.
What causes some children to love reading while others avoid reading at all costs? Reluctant readers fall into three groups: students with learning difficulties, students who haven't been able to choose their own books and students who don't have adequate access to books.
What can parents do to help their reluctant reader get more enjoyment out of books? Middle school librarians, teachers, and authors chime in with their best advice:
Find Books that Kids Like
Many lifelong habits are formed during the middle school years, including reading habits. If kids are forced to read books for school and never read for pleasure, they will come to think of reading as a chore rather than a pleasant pastime.
That's what happened to Max Elliot Anderson, who grew up hating to read. Later in life, he began writing for other reluctant boy readers. He now writes chapter adventure books for readers ages 8-13 that he would have liked as a child. His books are highly visual, with lots of humor, dialog, and plenty of heart-pounding action. Even though he originally intended his books for middle-aged boys, he's found that girls and adults enjoy his books also.
Understand the Mindset of Your Reluctant Reader
Eric Luper, author of upcoming novel Big Slick, was such a reluctant reader in middle school that he would cling to the same books year after year trying to use them over and over again for book reports and assignments. Luper even went so far as to pick an obscure book the teacher had never read and make up his own plot to avoid reading the book. He suggests, “If a child cleaves to a particular book, I would suggest finding books that are very similar in nature to the one they already like. This pertains not only to subject matter, but to reading level and tone.”
Paperbacks Are Their Favorites
Kathy Cunningham, a middle school librarian, recommends paperback books for middle schoolers. She says, “Paperback fiction is a must for middle school. Being able to slip a book into their zip-up binder is truly a goal for them. I have 12 racks of paperbacks because of this. Middle school kids are so funny. They think somehow the paperback version is shorter than the hardbound. Plus, if they lose the book it's usually only $6.00.”
Choose Books with Reader Appeal
Laura Backes, author of Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read, recommends choosing books with "reader appeal". Writing a great book for this age group is not a mystery, according to Backes. It can be broken down into eight essential characteristics: humor, well-defined characters, fast-paced plot, concise chapters, suitable text, kid relevance, unique presentation, and visual appeal.
Which books pass the picky-reader test? Well, Backes says, Harry Potter is a hit for a reason, and it will be on everyone's mind this summer with the release of the final book. If your kid hasn't tried the Harry Potter series, or the another blockbuster perfect for this age group, the Lemony Snicket series, they should. But here are a few other favorites you may not have put on your kid's reading list, with huge appeal:
- The Dangerous Book for Boys by Hal Iggulden (nonfiction, ages 9 and up)
- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (fiction, ages 8-12)
- The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (fantasy/humorous adventure, ages 10 and up)
- Ricky Rocotta's Mighty Robot series by Dav Pilkey (wacky sci-fi easy reader series, ages 7-9)
- Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (historical fiction, ages 10 and up)