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?