Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Relearning reluctant readers

Einstein quote: the only thing that interferes with my learning is my education

As a librarian, I’ve always tried to champion the reluctant readers. I’ve worked to provide a wide variety of reading material in my collection development ranges – everything from high interest low level books, to compelling nonfiction, to fiction told by and about diverse voices, to comics, image heavy browsing books, and more. When parents would lament about how their teens just don’t read, I’d nod sagely and advise them, as I’d been advised, to give it time and provide ample options for free choice. [Why wouldn’t these parents just chill out and back off?!] I’d assure them that comic books are real books, and that engaging with books on nail art or internet memes is reading, as it’s engagement with the text. All of it, when self-selected, works to create good feelings about books, self confidence, and becomes a scaffold to reading more. I don’t think they believed me a lot of the time.

And then I met a reluctant reader whose resistance to novels just broke my heart: my own kid! Getting to know my daughter as a reluctant reader has completely reoriented me, and yes: it knocked me off my high horse right quick. What I know about her is that she loves stories. She creates them in her mind, in her play, in her notebooks, and on canvas. She listens to them whenever people will read to her, or in audiobook format, she watches them on screens, and she reads them visually in comics. It’s the physical and mental act of reading itself that challenges her and that she dislikes. She is so hungry for stories that her own skill level slows her down so much that it gets in the way of her consumption.

Now. She’s not a teen yet. She’s a developing reader. She needs to learn how to read fluently because it’s a basic life skill, without even addressing the joy of discovery to be found in sinking into your new favorite book. She has to learn it. She has to get better. And I know that in time she will. But it’s hard. It’s hard to know that the path that I know will lead her to happiness is rocky and her feet are bare. It’s hard to hold myself back from taking the book from her and reading for her, letting her get swept away on the magic carpet of words that she so desperately wants to be on.

The fact is though, that she has to read to become a better reader. She needs to do the work that she’s assigned at school, and practice those spelling words, and follow through where her teacher expects it. And though I’ll never stop reading to her and never deny her audiobooks, I may suggest she choose something with a few more words on the page. At least on occasion. Reading is a skill that expands the potential to consume stories, but it isn’t the key to enjoying them. It’s not even necessary for enjoying stories. I live in the intersection of the Venn diagram where a love of stories and a love of reading overlap. She’s not there yet. And that’s ok because she’s in her own circle.

My daughter’s experience doesn’t mean that all of these teens are in the same circle she’s in, but they have a lot going for them. They’re in the circle for “my teacher is encouraging/scary enough that I’m here at the library looking for a book.” They’re in the “my parents really care about me and brought me to the library” circle. They’re in the “I already know what I like, and I already know I don’t like what my [mom/dad/teacher] likes” circle. They’re in the “a librarian in my community cares about what I’m reading and is providing me options” circle.

So back to my interactions with “reluctant reader” teens and their parents. I’ve had a healthy taste of humble pie, and it’s making me more empathetic. These parents – most of them at least – don’t want their kids reading Proust. They just want them reading a full page of text because it’s an important skill to have. We want our kids to succeed, whether they’re actually our kids or not. We all do. And though my lines are still the same: provide options; books are books; all reading is good reading, I say them with a greater understanding of the difficulty of letting the process unfold at its pace, of navigating the wire between “free choice” and “graded assignment” and of the personal stake that these parents feel in both their children’s reading enjoyment, and the academic success that they think it will bring them.

Sunday Reflections: What the ukulele taught me about reluctant readers

As a child, I studied Suzuki method classical piano. I was technically proficient and was able to feel what the seemingly ancient pieces needed, pulling my own emotions out into my fingers and onto the keys. I was pretty good. But I disliked practicing, and once I progressed enough that it stopped being easy, my interest lagged. My fingernails grew long, only for my piano teacher to clip them once a week as I sat next to her on the bench. I’d be overcome as an audience member by the power and beauty of group performances, but I always played alone. I tried auditioning for the jazz band but was completely incapable of improvisation, so rigid was the training and so crippling was my own shyness. I tried buying my own sheet music for my teacher to help me with, but she was unable to connect with Queen or Tori Amos, and without her guidance and encouragement, my enthusiasm lagged. I was a reluctant musician. Eventually, it became clear to both of us that the only time I sat down to play were my weekly lessons. I quit when I was sixteen or seventeen.

Many years later, on a lark, my husband (who plays the trumpet) and I decided to learn this bit from The Jerk. 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqtmXnQZ6Qk]

This meant that one of us would need to learn the ukulele, and that person was me.

We went out that night to buy one. It was inexpensive enough that it didn’t feel like a “real” instrument to me, which allowed me to just have fun. I dug into the song, and quickly learned that it was arranged and performed in the movie by, no surprise, a ukulele jazz master. It might be a novelty song, but learning it would be a far cry from the sweet simplicity of the clip.

From Guitar Instructor
I’d only ever played the piano. I knew what the treble clef was, but the notations above it? No idea. I was starting over completely. But in starting over, I was starting fresh. There was no pressure, no baggage, no disappointment. The ukulele was fun, and I was having fun with music again.  Now, several years later, I’ve found an informal but regular ukulele circle in my town. I play with a dozen or two other uke enthusiasts once a month or so. We strum along and belt out the words to Hawaiian and old novelty tunes, Monkees hits, rock classics, and the occasional TMBG or Dead Milkmen song. I love it and am no longer reluctant in the least. Here I am at a poster session, playing my second ukulele along with my ILEAD team, singing about our project, the Robot Test Kitchen, and having fun
So here’s what this taught me about reluctant readers: they need to be listened to and supported. They might be excellent readers, but for whatever reason, they’ve lost the spark needed to continue doing it; it’s not fun for them. But if the spark is lost, it doesn’t mean it can’t be found or that it’s disappeared. It might take time. It will take patience. It will take a lot of compassion and good listening skills and understanding. I think back to my early piano years and wonder how it might have turned out differently for me if my teacher had really listened to me as I tried to figure out what I wanted to get out of music. I think about the kids who come to us looking for a way to connect with books or the library, even though they “don’t like reading”. What a risk they’re taking! What bravery! Even if they’re only there because the have to find something for school. These are the kids who need us as champions and friends, even more so than the kids who come to us eager for the next new thing and can go on for hours about their favorite books and authors. 
Maybe the word we use is wrong. Maybe reluctant doesn’t describe it at all. Maybe these are lost readers, wandering readers, searching readers, readers on a break, discriminating readers. One thing is sure: they are people who know themselves, know what they don’t like, and would probably know, if offered the right guidance and asked the right questions, which path would lead them back to the material that ignites that spark. Maybe it’s not fiction. Maybe it’s genre fiction. Maybe it’s a magazine dedicated to their hobby. Maybe it’s a ukulele.

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

What if it’s more than just Reluctant Reading? A mom shares about her daughter’s dyslexia

This week we are talking about reluctant readers and today my friend has been kind enough to share her struggles about raising not only a reluctant reader, but a child with dyslexia.

I have a Reluctant Reader to say the least.  I would push it a bit further and admit I have a Kicking and Screaming reluctant dyslexic reader. (Now, say that 5 times in a row)   She’s nine years old and in the third grade but already has the mood swings of a teenager.  Her talents lean toward the social aspects of life.  She’s really a perfectionist, which makes reading more difficult.  She is easily frustrated.   She doesn’t want to try because she’s afraid to fail.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iVcTPRShBA]
Bella Thorne discusses her struggles with dyslexia

When I was growing up, reading was fun!   I would devour a book in a day that would take my friends days or weeks to read.  Reading was my escape.  School was fun and easy.  But this is not about me.  I wish I could say the same is true for my kid, but that’s just not in her personality.

We read four to five times a week.  We have a schedule.  We find interesting subjects to her somewhere on her level.  Gone are the days when I will accept her reading Go Dog Go!  with a straight face.  She memorized that book years ago when I had dreams that she would be reading War and Peace and The United States Tax Code by the fourth grade.  I’ve learned to let those dreams go because she is her own person, not my little mini-me. 
Some days are better than others.  Some days, when the moon and stars line up, I have just a reluctant reader.  She still hopes that I forget that it’s reading time.  But she will attempt to read with a good attitude and usually does fairly well.  I ask her to read to me so that I get to know what’s going on in the book.  I act interested to get her invested in the characters.   I have taken the advice of a trusted friend to ask her to read a page and I will read a page.  Then I read something completely different to her for her listening enjoyment.  We are big fans of Judy Blume’s Fudge series and other books I read as a child.  Rarely, she will read to the dogs.   Their favorite books always have dogs as the protagonist.  Those are our good days… 
Other days, my reader sets her jaw, digs her heals in, and the fun begins.  Our reading time is reduced to sniffs and snuffles between tears.  However, sometimes I just have to laugh at her reasons for not wanting to read.  Some of her top reasons are: I’ll never use this when I grow up, I will just wait for the movie, and reading is stupid!!!  I have to take a step back and let her cool off.  On these days, I pray for the patience to just get through the passage.  We always finish but sometimes leave tear stains on the book.  However, books are pretty tough and dry out nicely. 
I just try to look at the big picture and think about where we started and how far we have come.  We are so blessed that her biggest problem is dyslexia!  This child has been given to us by God and I think at times he somehow has overestimated us.  Although when I prayed for a little girl, the only parameters I gave God was blond headed and blue eyed.  Wow, The Great I Am certainly has a wicked sense of humor!!  

Helping Children with Dyslexia in the Classroom
Kidshealth: Understanding Dyslexia

I finished a book! A guest book review of Dead Run by Sean Rodman (Orca Soundings)

I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t read as much as I should for a teen librarian.  I check out a lot of books that I never end up reading.  I start a lot of books that I never finish.  Far too often my response to “have you read ________?” is no.  Maybe I’m a reluctant reader.  I was certainly reluctant about reading Dead Run by Sean Rodman (Orca Soundings).

If I’m not in the middle of something already, or if I walked off and left my book at home, I’ll often grab something that’s not really my style to read during my lunch break.  I figure this way I’m still broadening my horizons in YA lit without tying myself down to something I’m not sure I really want to read.  Does that sound crazy? 

Anyway, that’s how I ended up with Dead Run.  I’ve been ordering Orca books, especially Orca Soundings, for a few years but had yet to read one.  This one was in our “New YA” display so I picked it up and read the back.  It immediately made me think of a movie that came out a while back, Premium Rush (2012).  I never saw it but I’ve been crushing on Joseph Gordon-Levitt since 10 Things About You (1999), so it was on my radar.  That was good enough to make it lunch time reading, so down to our dungeon of a break room I headed.

By the end of my lunch break I was pleasantly surprised to find myself more than halfway through the book and actually enjoying it!  I felt like I was watching an action movie, something my husband would probably pick.  It wasn’t that I suddenly wanted to be a bicycle racer, or find myself a seedy courier job but I was into the story and I did want to know how things would turn out for Sam. 

I took the book home and finished it later that night.  I had a feeling of accomplishment for having finished a book and I enjoyed it!  No one had to guilt me into reading it.  It didn’t take me a month to finish.  It opened my eyes up to what it might feel like to be a reluctant reader picking up a high-low book.

That’s exactly what I think we’re looking for when we purchase and recommend books for reluctant readers.  We want to give them something they’ll enjoy so they’ll stick with it.  But sometimes books with subjects that interest a reluctant or low level reader aren’t written at a reading level they can really succeed at.  Orca Soundings manages to provide both a fast paced action filled story with high teen appeal at a reading level that many of our struggling readers can fully comprehend. 

I’ll definitely be booktalking Dead Run and adding more Orca Soundings to my “To Read” list.

Cassie Jones is the teen librarian for the Morgan County Public Library in Indiana.  She got her start in libraries during high school while working at one of MCPL’s branches as a page.  She returned to MCPL as a circulation clerk in 2009 and took her role in teen services later that same year.  In May 2012 she finished her Masters in Library Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.  She lives in Monrovia, Indiana with her husband and their bloodhound, Josie.  

Book Review: Agent Angus by K. L. Denman (Orca Currents)

Orca Currents is a line of high interest, lower level reading titles for Middle Grade and Early Teen readers who are reading below grade level.

The lie happened.

Angus has been crushing on Ella Eckles for as long as he can remember; well, at least five months now.  So when he suddenly finds himself in a conversation with her outside the school, which has just been evacuated due to a stink bomb, the lie flows so easily off his lips: “I am a mentalist”.  Now, Ella’s sketchbook has gone missing and she has asked Angus to use his Mentalist skills to help her find it.  That is why Angus has now enlisted his best friend, Shahid, to help him research how to be a Mentalist and become Ella’s hero.

Agent Angus by K. L. Denman is actually a pretty fun read.  Think Psych for middle schoolers.  Angus is a classic geeky character who has a chance at greatness with the girl of his dreams, of course he lies! And that lie brings about a lot of fun moments, including a humorous encounter with a suspect in a dark alley and conversations with a boy known only as “Grunt” in the bathroom stall.

But Angus is not the only one that is lying, and that twist makes for some pretty fun reveals.  Every geek that has ever seriously crushed after a girl with no hope will love this book.  It was fun, entertaining, and had some pretty charming characters.  I read it in a little under an hour.  It clocks in at 121 fun pages. Definitely recommended.  Bonus points because there is a bit of diversity in our cast of characters without it being a big deal.

Agent Angus by K. L. Denman.  Orca Currents.  2013.  ISBN: 978-1-4598-0103-5 

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Writing for Reluctant Readers, a guest post by Alex Van Tol

Writers who are eager to break into publishing – or who are wanting to take a break from their usual genre – will be pleased to know there’s a huge and growing market for books that are accessible to youngsters who struggle with reading. Often referred to as hi-lo books, these are short, action-packed books written in easy-to-grasp language. The margins are a little wider, the font is a wee bit bigger, and the words are a smidgeon shorter. As for the rest? Exactly the same as mainstream fiction.

Reluctant readers are just as socially savvy and emotionally mature as kids who find reading easy. It’s essential not to dumb anything down for these youngsters. They crave stories that speak to the concerns in their own lives, yet which are written at a reading level that they can manage.

Until recently, reluctant and weak readers were given simple stories in simple language. But paging through Stuart Little at age 16 isn’t the way to turn a disenfranchised kid onto the magic and power of reading. Today’s youth want to read about the issues that touch their worlds: peer pressure; participation in sports; the seductions – and dangers – of gangs; terminal illness; coming of age; taking risks; fighting injustice…the list goes on. There’s also room for the odd horror story or good old-fashioned romance.

If you’re thinking of writing for reluctant readers, a few tried and true techniques will help you craft strong stories and believable characters. Read – and write – on.

1.      Cut to the action. Get straight into the problem within the first couple of pages. If you can’t get the story rolling with something that leads to the main issue, then at least drop your main character into a situation where there is conflict – either between her and another character, within her own mind, or between her and the outside world. In hi-lo fiction, conflict is key. It keeps the story moving.

2.     Short and sweet. Keep readability in mind. Books for reluctant readers typically are written to fall within a Grade 2 to Grade 4 reading level. Keep your chapters short and packed with forward momentum (see #4, below). Break compound sentences into simple, single-clause sentences. Don’t be afraid to use sentence fragments. We often speak in fragments; even though they’re not grammatically perfect, they make sense to our brains when we’re reading as well as when we’re speaking. Keep your language simple, and avoid multisyllabic words. Follow Stephen King’s advice for punchy writing: use the first (and often simplest) word that comes to mind to describe something. If Melina wants to run away from an armed thug, so be it. Don’t make her scurry, trot or scamper. Put the thesaurus away and let her run, dammit.

3.     Easy on the characters. Reluctant readers spend much of their energy just making sense of the words on the page. Their working memory is occupied with the task of decoding – so expecting them to remember a variety of characters (plus their backstories and idiosyncrasies) is asking too much. Stick to your main character, an antagonist, and one or maybe two sidekicks. Any characters beyond that should be familiar to young readers (a coach, a parent etc.) and simply sketched.

4.     Raise the stakes. Give your character(s) a problem. How do they react? Then make it worse. How do they react? Then…make it worse (hey, you’re the boss around here!). How do they cope now? Don’t go easy on your people. We want to see them sweat. The best stories are the ones where characters grapple with and eventually overcome challenges – and learn about themselves in the process.

One more thing about plot…don’t feel like just because you’re writing for teens, you need to jam your story full of capital-I Issues. Sure, some of our nation’s children are dealing with ghetto living, teen pregnancy, eating disorders and emotional abuse – but young readers are just as commonly interested in stories that feature day-to-day issues faced by teens in today’s world.

5.     Make your dialogue pop. Your characters should speak on the page like they do in the real world. Not sure how real conversation sounds? Head to your local coffee shop (or play a clip from your favourite movie), turn your back or close your eyes, and listen. We use contractions. We ask questions. We sigh. We interrupt each other. Our intonation changes depending on our level of excitement. Sometimes – you’ll have to open your eyes for this one – we use gestures. All of this should be present in your dialogue, to bring your characters to life. The only things that shouldn’t be there are what we call distractors: the ums, ahs and likes that we tend to pepper our real-world speech with. They’re not noticeable when we’re conversing with our best friend, but if the words keep showing up on the page, they become awkward and – oddly – inauthentic. Study well-written dialogue to see how it’s done.

One last note about dialogue. When it comes to writing for reluctant readers, “said” really isn’t dead. In fact, it’s the best attribution out there because it’s unobtrusive. It functions simply to direct our attention to the character who’s speaking – and it doesn’t take our attention away from what’s actually being said. Newspaper and magazine writers get this. They don’t sprinkle their stories with things like, “I had a great time”, she gushed or “It was a dramatic day in the House of Commons,” he warbled. Stick to said most of the time, and then when you do have occasion to use shouted or yelled or whispered or moaned, it will pack the punch you want it to.

6.     Keep it real. There’s a reason people keep lining up to shell out big bucks for Hollywood movies. We like to watch the story unfold in front of our eyes. Just like listening to authentic conversations helps you to write believable dialogue, you must observe people in the real world to write convincing narrative. When you write a scene, pay attention to what your characters actually look like as they’re talking/walking/arguing/chopping vegetables. Write their words exactly as you would hear real people saying them. Write their movements as though you’re watching them with a camera. (When I edit other authors’ manuscripts, Camera up! is my most commonly used phrase. I use it whenever I come across a scene that needs more depth, emotion or real-life feeling.)

7.     Hang it up. Remember, you’re writing for reluctant readers. Emphasis on the word reluctant. Once that kid puts the book down, you want him to pick it back up, right? (And I say him, because research shows the majority of reluctant readers are males.) To keep those pages turning, try to leave your chapters on a question, a decision point, or even a cliffhanger. Is he going to do it? What will it cost him if he does? Will she make it out alive? This sets up a desire within the reader to know more, and to keep reading to find out what happens.

There you have it. A lucky seven strategies to help you break into the world of hi-lo publishing. Camera up! And, uh, break a leg.

Following is a list of a few examples of good stories for reluctant readers:

Harvey, Sarah N. — Plastic
Langston, Laura – Exit Point
McClintock, Norah — Back
Mac, Carrie — Jacked
Rodman, Sean — Infiltration
Schwartz, Ellen — Cellular
Stevenson, Robin — In the Woods
Tate, Nikki — Fallout
Walters, Eric — Special Edward

Author Bio:

Alex Van Tol grew up reading a wide range of books, from Enid Blyton to Stephen King. She taught middle school for eight years, then made the switch to writing for a living. She has published numerous hi-lo titles with Orca, including books in the Orca Currents, Orca Soundings and Orca Sports series. Alex lives in Victoria, British Columbia, with her family. Visit www.alexvantol.com for more information. 

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10 Tips for Parents (and librarians) Working with Reluctant Readers

Hand out I made for Betty Warmack Branch Library


Read with your child for 20 minutes a day.  Take turns switching who does the reading.  Afterwards, ask them the who, what, when, why and how of the story to make sure they are understanding what is read.  If you have a teen and they are hesitant to be read aloud to, read the same book as them and discuss it daily. 

2. Listen
Have your child listen to audio books and read along in the book.  Research shows that the act of reading while listening can help improve skills and comprehension.  You can listen in the car while on the road or at home.

3. Opportunity
Every moment is a reading moment.  When you are eating a bowl of cereal ask your child to read you what is on the cereal box.  While watching a movie turn on the subtitles or close captioning. Read road signs.  The best way to become a better reader is to read!  Make your home a reading friendly zone!

4. Have Reading Delivered
Consider buying your child a magazine subscription that is age appropriate and in a subject area that interests them.  The act of receiving mail is exciting to kids and they will love to sit down and read it.  All reading is reading practice.

An aside: All reading really is reading practice! Remember that reading online is also reading practice.  So don’t look down on reading online blogs, news, etc.

5. Access
Make sure there are always reading materials in the home, including some that the child or teen owns themselves.  This reinforces the value in reading and in books.  Make visiting the library a part of your regular routine.  Again, you are setting up a reading lifestyle.

Some recommendations for younger reluctant readers
6. Model
Make sure your child sees YOU reading.  Often.

7. Coordinate
Be sure to meet with your child’s teacher to learn what the expectations are, what books they can choose to read,  what reading level they are at and what the goal is.  Ask them about local after school and tutoring programs. 

8. Choice
Give your child the opportunity to choose their own reading material so that they are reading something they like and will enjoy.  Let them know if they don’t like a book they can stop it and begin another one.  Not every book is the right book for that reader and forcing someone to read something they hate can be a huge turn off to the joy of reading.  Don’t walk out of the library with 1 book, walk out with 5 so that they have choices.

9. Writing
Reading is tied in with writing skills.  Buy a 50 cent notebook and have kids and teens journal daily.  They can write short stories, a diary or whatever they want but studies show that as children and teens learn to be better writers they learn to be better readers and vice versa. (For more on Writing and Reading, visit the National Writing Project)

10. Praise
Praise your child (or teen) when you see them reading, especially if it is self initiated.  And be sure you turn off the TV and give them plenty of time to choose to read (limit tv time to certain times during the day so your child has free and open time to choose things like reading, creative activities and physical activities).
The most important thing is that reading should be FUN! Don’t let it become a source of tension and fighting.
What tips have you found work for you? Please share them in the comments and be entered to win our Orca Book giveaway this week.
For more information:

Take 5: Resources for Working with Reluctant Readers

Who are reluctant readers?  
Reluctant readers are people who. . .

Can Read, But Don’t (Aliteracy)
A reluctant reader may have good reading skills, but chooses not to read.  They will often say that they just don’t like to read.  This is also called aliteracy; being able to read but uninterested in doing so.  When we talk about Reluctant Readers, these are primarily the types of readers we are talking about.  As Mark Twain once said, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man that can not read.” 

The Pew Report on Young American Reading Habits tells us that at least 83% of young people in America read at least one book in the past year.  This tells us that 17% didn’t.  And one book in a year, that’s not exactly our goal.

Wants to Read but Hides It
There are also some tweens and teen who actually do like to read, but because of the perceived coolness factor of it, they choose to hide it.  They are closeted readers if you will.

It’s a common adage that boys don’t like to read.  Truthfully, I know plenty of boys who like to read, and the things they like to read often surprise me.  But here is a really good look at boys and reading, some statistics to be concerned about (test scored have been falling for 30 years), and a different look at the question.  The truth is, there IS a gender gap in reading.  Test scores show that boys are less proficient at reading than girls and this gap has been widening for the past 30 years.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLHzIxXXHp0]

Can’t Read (Illiteracy)
Illiteracy is not necessarily the same as reluctant reading, because many people who struggle with the inability to read would like very much to be able to read.  It is amazing to me how many people are able to effectively hide the fact that they can’t read.  Others do so less effectively, of course.  Here is a look at the World’s Illteracy rate as compiled by Info Please:

The United Nations, which defines illiteracy as the inability to read and write a simple message in any language, has conducted a number of surveys on world illiteracy. In the first survey (1950, pub. 1957) at least 44% of the world’s population were found to be illiterate. A 1978 study showed the rate to have dropped to 32.5%, by 1990 illiteracy worldwide had dropped to about 27%, and by 1998 to 16%. However, a study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published in 1998 predicted that the world illiteracy rate would increase in the 21st cent. because only a quarter of the world’s children were in school by the end of the 20th cent. The highest illiteracy rates were found in the less developed nations of Africa, Asia, and South America; the lowest in Australia, Japan, North Korea, and the more technologically advanced nations of Europe and North America. Using the UN definition of illiteracy, the United States and Canada have an overall illiteracy rate of about 1%. In certain disadvantaged areas, however, such as the rural South in the United States, the illiteracy rate is much higher.

Here are 5 Spectacular Resources to Help Connect Readers with Books
People will read, when they find something they connect with. Our job as librarians (and teachers and parents) is to help them make those connections.  Here are some resources that can help you do that.

1) YALSA Quick Picks List
The YALSA Quick Pics list is a list of books specifically chosen for their appeal to reluctant readers.  These are short, quick reads that are engaging, thoughtful, and bound to turn reluctant readers into raving readers.

2) Graphic Novels
Many libraries now have Graphic Novel (GN) and Manga collections, because they are hugely popular.  But they are also a good draw for reluctant readers.  One of my favorite resources is the No Flying, No Tights website for reviews and core collection lists.

Research: Teenage Reluctant Readers and Graphic Novels

3) Audio Books
For many, audio books can help you engage in the story more readily than a book.  When reading a book, you can be overwhelmed if you are a struggling reader or easily distracted.  Research shows that listening to audio books can help engage readers and improve skills.

Research: Young Adult Audio Books, the audio answer for reluctant readers

4) Guys Read.com

Are Guys Reluctant Readers? That question is debatable; the truth is some guys are and some guys aren’t, just as some girls are and some girls aren’t.  But, Guys Read is a great resource for those looking to connect guys with books.

5) Orca Books 

Orca Books has set out with the singular purpose of producing hi interest/low level titles for struggling and reluctant readers.  They’ve done their research, established some great product lines, and produce a variety of titles.

What are some of the ways you help connect your reluctant readers with books?

Tell us in the comments.

Here are some additional research and information on Reluctant Readers:

Book Review: Deadly by Sarah N. Harvey (Orca Soundings)

Orca Soundings are high interest titles for teens reading at or below their reading level.  Deadly by Sarah N. Harvey is a 2013 title from the Orca Soundings line.

Synopsis: Amy and Eric are the perfect couple – popular, good looking, happy.  But after they are seen arguing at a party, Amy disappears and Eric is the number on suspect.  Amy wakes up in an all white, windowless room with one simple instruction: every day for 7 days she must write an essay about one of the seven deadly sins, and then whoever is holding her will let her go.  As Eric tries to figure out where Amy is, he learns that the past has a way of coming back and biting you in the butt.

Deadly grips you from the very first page, when Amy wakes up in a strange room and realizes that someone is holding her hostage.  Deadly alternates between Amy and Eric’s point of view as we see what is happening with Amy and how Eric sets out to find her.

Because Deadly is part of the Orca Book line, it is short, captivating and to the point.  The sentences are short, and don’t have a lot of extra descriptors to keep reluctant readers invested in the story.  The tension in the story is high and compelling.  I read it in a little under an hour and was definitely interested in the story and the characters. 
The only issue I had was in Eric’s story.  Eric is brought in for questioning by the police and his mother hires a lawyer.  Eric asks them, the adults, to give him 24 hours to find Amy and they both agree.  I thought this part was really implausible given the legal trouble he seemed to be in and the fact that a young girl was missing.  It would have been more believable had the adults said no and Eric just continued to look for Amy on his own anyway.  There is also a scene where Eric confronts an ex-girlfriend and we have all watched enough Law & Order and Criminal Minds to know that it could end very badly for him, there was so much tension in this scene.  

For those of us that have seen Seven, you will see traces as Amy is forced by her captor to write essays on the 7 deadly sins.  It is through these essays, and Amy’s attempts to rescue herself, that we learn more about Amy and see how the pieces of her past brought her to this point.  I appreciated that Amy was shown to be strong and resourceful.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this line – this is the Orca Book I have read – and I think they successfully accomplish their goals.  Deadly is a compelling read and I can see teens looking for a short, quick read reaching for this title and being satisfied.  Highly recommended for those looking for realistic fiction, mysteries and thrillers.

Deadly by Sarah N. Harvey.  Orca Soundings. 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4598-0364-0