My Favorite AccidentToday's Tune:
I've posted about this site before, but it's still awesome, so I thought I'd post about it again since my topic today kind of ties in. If you have a reluctant boy reader -- or really, just a reluctant reader in general -- you should check out Guys Read. It has some wonderful suggestions and a lot of great advice for reluctant readers.
Which brings me to today's topic: what do we do about reluctant readers? Not just boys, but any reluctant readers? As someone who writes for young people, it's kind of a big deal to me that young people are reading. Many are, but there are others out there who WOULD read, they just can't seem to find the books that are right for them.
When I saw Jon Scieszka at the SCBWI summer conference last year, he introduced me to Guys Read, along with a lot of great insight into why some kids are reluctant readers. When we're young and beginning to form our lasting relationships with books and the written word, we sometimes get mixed signals. Those mixed signals often take the form of, "Some books count as reading. Others do not." The books that "count" are often forced on kids (classics, non-fiction, historical novels) while the "others" are discouraged or even taken away (magazines, comic books, certain genre novels).
This forcing of "good" literature and discouragement of "bad" literature can set up a block for some kids. They don't want to read stuff they find boring or painful. They want to read about things they like; things that interest them. I can totally relate to this. I love many of the classics, but I will forever loathe The Scarlet Letter because it was forced on me even though I found it painfully dry. Might I have a different opinion of the work had I picked it up of my own free will as an English major in college? I guess I'll never know.
We place value judgements on where kids get their words. Graphic novels and magazines are considered fluff. Filler. Not real. And that's not fair or right. I mean, I don't recommend letting 8-year old children read Maxim or Cosmopolitan, because there's no way that can end well for anyone. But if a child is genuinely enthralled by a story in a comic book, or an article in a car magazine? How is that a bad thing?
Not every child has the same reading interests or capabilities, and that's okay. Kids with dyslexia or other learning disorders may feel less pressure when faced with a story in a different medium, like a graphic novel. Some kids may be bored to death by The Hobbit and Hamlet, but get totally into the Percy Jackson series. It's not about forcing the literature we think is the highest quality or the most educational. It's about establishing an early and positive relationship with the written word in whatever form it best speaks to each individual child.
Reluctant readers are reluctant because something about literature has turned them off. They've had experiences with it where they found it too boring, too difficult, too forced, too whatever. Time and time again we hear stories of young people who rarely read anything at all until someone convinces them to try this book or that series, and then they're hooked. After that, they'll gobble up anything along those lines because they've finally found the story that speaks to them and they want more. It's a gateway to similar books and, hopefully, a more positive relationship with literature as a whole.
Don't belittle a child's reading choices because they don't align with what you feel is "appropriate" literature (appropriate in the sense of quality, not necessarily of content). If a child is reading at all, explore what it is about their selected reading material that appeals to them. Do they like dragons? Fairies? Cars? Explosions? Superheroes? If they're not reading, ask them about their usual interests and help them find suitable literary alternatives, in whatever form that content may come.
We can help kids find the right stories. It's just a matter of listening to what they want from their literature.