Thursday, September 13, 2007

Reluctant Readers

A comment I received on yesterday's post got me to thinking again about what makes reluctant readers — and what it takes to transform them into avid readers. I believe Max Elliot Anderson has the right idea. I, too, was a reluctant reader by the time I was in elementary school. I especially remember 5th grade. I question why, for in my preschool days, I was introduced to books by an older sister and a mother who read to me. I loved it then. By the time I was in 4th grade, the assignment to turn in 5 book reports a year was more than I wanted to do. (Like Mr. Anderson says on his website, reading didn't get quite the emphasis then as it does now.) I failed to get the last one done and went to the end of the school year party in fear and trembling, sure that at any moment the teacher was going to single me out for punishment, telling me I could not progress to grade five until I completed the book report. She didn't, and I got by with reading and reporting on just four books that year, for in our limited eight-grade, one-room school library, I couldn't find a single book that interested me.

The inability to find books that were not boring was one factor. Another, I believe, was that I was a "tomboy" who would much rather be playing outdoors, riding horses — and one time a bull (a badly sprained arm ended that aspiration). At that time in my life, I wished I'd been born a boy, and my perception then was that boys didn't read books, they wrangled horses, herded cows, worked on cars, drove tractors, climbed trees and mountains, and performed daring feats like bull riding, jumping off of cliffs or buildings into snow drifts—all things I tried to do as well as or better than my older brother. So socialization, I believe, plays a big part in creating reluctant readers. This was brought home to me a couple of years ago when I showcasing books from my publishing company at a winter fair with a western theme. I engaged a young boy, probably 10 or 11 years old, as he eyed my books with interest as he walked by. I pushed forward one that was written especially with this age boy in mind—a humorous adventure, "Fergus, the Soccer-Playing Colt" by Dan Peterson. Before the boy could look at it or comment, his father came up behind him and said scornfully, as if I'd lost my mind, missing the obvious, "He doesn't read books; he's a boy!"

So getting kids to read for the sheer joy of reading is a huge challenge that may include educating parents of the importance and legitmacy of fostering reading at home. I think schools are doing a better job than they used to, at least from what I've seen, but the busier parents get, and they seem busier than ever in this fast paced 21st century, the easier it is to stick a child in front of a TV set or video game, as they meet demands on their own time. I was grew up before TV came into our house. Indoor entertainment on long winter nights included storytelling and reading books. How nice it would be to see this practice return.

Any suggestions, children's authors?


max said...

Hello again, Janet.

I'll be speaking to 40 - 50 students tomorrow, and again to about 30 on Monday. I do occasionally encounter reluctant girl readers, but the predominance is boys.

I think my books work for boys and girls who don't like to read, because I hated it so much as a child. So I set out to write the kinds of books I WOULD have liked as a child.

Readers find lots of dialog, humor, short sentences, and a lot of white space on the page. You won't find large blocks of small type on any pages of my books.

But the most gratifying comment I get is when kids tell me that reading one of my action-adventures or mysteries is like being in an exciting or scary movie. Not watching one, but actually being in it.

This element comes from my visual background, and a lifetime of professional production of films, videos, television programs, and commercials.

Max Elliot Anderson

Now, from an author who hated to read...comes books kids hate to put down.

Janet Muirhead Hill said...

Hi Max,
Thanks for your comments. I'm happy to hear your formula; besides developing a subject of interest, your use of dialog, humor, short sentences, and a lot of white space on a page work together to turn a reading assignment into reading pleasure. As I publish more books, I will be do my best to ensure that all of those elements are incorporated. My books have lots of dialog, but Instead of a lot of white space, though there is some, I have many illustrations. Like Alice, I remember that being important to me as a child. I believe every book for kids these days, no matter how educational or inspiring, must be easy and fun to read, if we are to reach the reluctant readers, both boys and girls.

I wish I could sit in on your presentation to students. Would you be willing to share a bit of what you say to them and tell us, on my blog, how you conduct a school visit?


Janet Grace Riehl said...

It's hard for me to relate to reluctant readers because as a country child books were my main friends. I was just on the cusp of television, but our time with the box was strictly limited.

My great nieces who live next to my 91-year-old father watch little TV and read, read, read...winning most of the library reading prizes over the summer.

To me it's about a culture of reading in the home, in the school, in the society. We've lost it for the most part for school age children.

I saw that during the five years I substituted. I recall vividly when I asked children how much TV they watched and the number of hours per night exceeded the number of hours I was allowed to watch in a week.

Clair said...

I would say that if people want kids to read, they need to read to them. I am a teacher and when I read to my students most of the time they are glad for it. And if a parent keeps reading the kids even when they can read for themselves, it will continue. My friend read to her kids every night til they were teenagers. Of course she was reading chapter books at that point.

Janet Muirhead Hill said...

Hi Clair, Thanks for your comment. I couldn't agree more. Parents, teachers, grandparents, even older siblings should read to the children in their lives as much as possible. I have a grandniece who has been reading to her unborn child for sometime now. I feel confident that the reading will continue after he or she is born next month. But I'm afraid this young mother is an exception these days.