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Challenge Accepted! A school librarian talks about Reluctant Readers

We’re wrapping up this week’s focus on Reluctant Readers with confessions from another librarian raising a Reluctant Reader and her insights. 

Confession. I am a librarian and the mother of a reluctant reader. I know! The shame! The horror! But, hold on, the story is just getting started. 

From the moment the strip turned pink I started buying books for my child. I’d wander through the shelves imagining her sitting in my lap, all snuggled up, enjoying the same stories that I loved as a child. Of course she’d go ga-ga for Dr. Seuss! Of course she’d read and love Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and Walk Two Moons. How could she not?

When she was in the third grade I gave my daughter Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a children’s dictionary, a composition notebook, highlighters and pens. Enjoy! I told her, when you finish reading, we’ll watch the movie together.

Imagine my surprise when, at month’s end, she handed me the book and announced that she didn’t like it and she doesn’t want to finish it. Now imagine my surprise when, over the next two years, she refused to pick up a book.

Every birthday, every Christmas, I continued to buy her books only to find them, months later in the donation pile in the garage. Where had I gone wrong? And how could I fix it? I’m a librarian, for crying out loud! Shouldn’t the love of books pass genetically to my daughter? How would I face my colleagues or show my face on campus? Me! The school librarian with the daughter who doesn’t like to read!

Then a funny thing happened. My daughter bought herself a book from the Scholastic Book Fair. Allegra Biscotti. It’s about a young girl who designs clothes and assumes the identity of a fake fashion designer, Allegra Biscotti. It made sense to me why she picked it, at the time Project Runway was her favorite show. She read a few pages and then a few pages more and before I knew it, she wouldn’t put it down. We spent an entire day at the San Francisco Zoo and at every opportunity she’d sit down somewhere and read a page or two. What luck that I had a camera with me.

Overjoyed that my child found a love of reading, I, once again, plied her books and, once again, those books collected dust. What the heck? Why wouldn’t she read what I gave her? They’re good, I’d tell her, really good, and yet, nothing, nada, zip.

It was after this experience that I learned a little something about reluctant readers. They’re picky, like a kid who won’t eat their vegetables. And, even if, occasionally, they’ll scarf down some broccoli covered in melted cheese, that doesn’t mean they all of a sudden like vegetables. But maybe they do like broccoli covered in melted cheese.

Maybe my daughter wasn’t ever going to love the books I loved. Maybe she wouldn’t read Little Women and bond with Jo, but maybe she’d bond with characters she found on her own. And maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t about getting her to change, maybe I had to change.

I adopted a new philosophy. It doesn’t matter what they read so long as they read something. And by something, I mean anything, which means it doesn’t even have to be a novel or tell a story. It just has to be words on a page. I started stocking the library with all sorts of material and watched as the books flew off the shelves to even the most reluctant readers. I may not consider Calvin and Hobbes literary genius, but it’s nearly impossible to pry it from the hands of some of my students. There’s subtleties and nuance to reading comics. The brain has to be processing and comprehending to be in on the joke.

For the kids who love video games I purchased, and continue each year to purchase, the latest Guinness Book of World Records: Gamer’s Addition. The waiting list for those books is huge. Stars Wars character encyclopedias, visual dictionaries and cross sections are never on the shelves. They are always checked out.

Cookbooks, survival guides, graphic novels, comic books, user guides, movie companion books, I stock them all. There’s a book for what you’re interested in, I tell my students, and then I tell them the story of a girl who loved Project Runway and how that led her to one of her favorite books of all time, Allegra Biscotti.

It is my hope that by introducing kids to books that aren’t novels, they’ll get over their hesitation to approach books. I like to think of it as giving them a gateway to the written word.

It may take some time and it certainly takes some extra effort, but I enjoy the challenge of getting to know my students and finding them a book they’ll like. When we find something they like, they look forward to coming to the library and that is a huge step in converting the reluctant reader into a reader.

More on Reluctant Readers
My Confessions
What is a Reluctant Reader
Take 5: Resources for Working with Reluctant Readers
Top 10 Tips for Parents (and teachers and librarians) for Helping Your Reluctant Reader
What if We Read More?
What if it’s more than Reluctant Reading? A tween’s struggle with dyslexia


  1. Great post!

    I have a daughter who is a reluctant reader, and I'm an author (which is a similar boat–our house is all about books). Graphic novels got her back into loving reading. You're so right: it's all about letting her choose.

  2. I have many titles in my class library, but I have not yet hooked many of the reluctant readers. I need to expand these types of offerings and refine what I do next year.

  3. Thanks for the giveaway. I'd write more but writing on my phone is a bit painful 😛

  4. thanks for the valuable posts in this series! I shared with our parents and blogged about it here: http://lswetnam.blogspot.com/2013/04/building-reading-culture.html

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