Targeting The Reluctant Reader

Dear Children’s Author,

Please write for the kid who would rather trim her toenails for the third time than open a book.  Please write books that are better than video games and snow days and pizza. Please write books that make you feel as good as when your brother admits that you will always be better than him at video games and snow days and pizza.

reluctant reader

A daunting request, but think about it: if you can hook reluctant readers, you’re pretty much guaranteed that the avid ones will be gaga over them. It’s kind of like broccoli.  Find a recipe to please the most finicky eater, and you’ve found your family’s new go-to dish.

I HATE reading

A reluctant reader is anyone who does not show a natural interest in reading.   This definition is very broad, encompassing children with learning disabilities and visual or psychomotor issues. But even when medical and development issues are absent, a child may still treat reading like a chore, and I would know.  Though we read equal numbers of books together, I have one child who did and one who did not experience an early love of reading. For the latter, just about any other activity brought her more pleasure, including staring at a television screen that I had turned off over an hour previously.

A Picture Leads to a Thousand Words

With my reluctant reader, the key to getting her into reading, the gateway drug, so to speak, of literature, was Graphic Novels.  The books she initially chose were glorified picture books – goofy, simple drawings with fewer than 20 words to a page – and even then I wasn’t entirely sure she was reading any of the words.  I did not care.  She was holding a book in her hands willingly. She was taking them to bed at night and then propping them up against the cereal box in the morning.  She was letting me know when it was time to go back to the library.  She even wanted to read parts to me. And whether or not I found them entertaining, I pretended to be enthralled.

Josie graphic novel faves

Slowly, over several years, she increased both her reading speed and her word to page ratio.  By the time she was paging backwards through manga graphic novels as thick as bricks, she was devouring them the way I polish off a bag of potato chips – I mean carrot sticks.  Today she is starting the third in the Fablehaven series.

After looking into the subject, I suspect the drawings in the graphic novels solved a problem many Reading Specialists identify among reluctant readers: connecting text to meaning.  Simply put, some children experience reading as an exercise in tracking words on a page, aka DRUDGERY. The drawings helped her to make the connection between the words and the story because, while she might get the general gist of the story just by looking at the pictures, bothering to read even a smattering of words made the pictures more alive.  The more she read, the more alive it became. Ta daaa!  Reading!

For many children this process happens during the traditional picture book years, but my child needed an extension.  She needed a way to be “held back” to picture book and early reader level without feeling punished or embarrassed by plots like “the puppy played in the mud and needed a bath.”  And though I’ve never personally been a fan of Graphic Novels, for giving my daughter this second chance, I have undying respect and gratitude toward the genre.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way Home From The Library

But wait, you say: I don’t write Graphic Novels!  That’s okay, because pictures aren’t the only prerequisite to keeping my daughter reading.  As I peruse her library check-out history, there is an obvious second theme: humor.  Without something to tickle her funny bone, it doesn’t matter how thrilling a story is, my daughter will likely find it dull.

So as I write my Kibble Talk series, I work carefully on the humor. I’ll save a discussion of HOW to write funny for my next Emblazoner’s post, but it all pays off when you get reviews and comments like these from teachers and parents:

I think teachers might use this book with reluctant readers.”

And even better:

My daughter has some dyslexia and dislikes reading, but she has read Kibble Talk at least a dozen times.”

And best of all:

I bought this book for my 12 year old granddaughter who hasn’t read a book, other than what she had to at school, since she got her ipad at Christmas. All she ever wants to do is play games. But when she started reading Kibble Talk, she didn’t put it down until she finished it. Please keep writing, Cynthia, our kids need you.”

And THAT is the sort of review that keeps an author sitting at her keyboard even when her toenails could really use a third trimming.

Cynthia Port is the author of the ongoing Kibble Talk series, written for middle graders and the perpetually young at heart.Bio pic white background

KT CS cover 2014DG CS cover 2014 flat RBG

About Cynthia Port

Cynthia lives in the beautiful rolling hills of Southern Indiana with her husband, two daughters, and a head brimming with stories. Her first novel, Kibble Talk, was published toward the end of 2013. Book two in the Kibble Talk series, Dog Gone Dinky, was published in 2014, and Book 3, What Dat? is on its merry way. The Kibble Talk series is all about humor, but just underneath are heartfelt messages about acceptance and not taking the ones closest to us for granted. Young readers are hungry for lessons that will help guide them through the tough choices in their lives. So while my readers may come for the jokes, they stay for the experience of stepping into someone else’s shoes and facing up to a challenge.

36 thoughts on “Targeting The Reluctant Reader

  1. A picture IS worth a 1000 words. That is why I write my nonfiction history series with a touch of humor and minimum of words. Reluctant readers are encouraged to learn a lot with a minimum of effort. Keep up the good work with your series!

    1. Your books are gorgeous, Barbara! What child (and parent) wouldn’t have fun learning about fascinating historical sites through them? Our local library does not carry them, so I just sent in a request. I do have an illustration at the start of each chapter in my fiction books, which the kids certainly enjoy, but mostly I try to hook them with my humor. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  2. Children who love to read are a precious resource that certainly need nurturing! Anything we can do to assist them along that path is terrific. 🙂 Good on you and great post, Cynthia!

  3. High fives for a fab post, Cynthia! My son hated to read – not much of one now, but he always enjoyed stories with humor. Graphic novels are another great choice teachers like to recommend to parents of reluctant readers. Glad to hear your daughter has found her reading outlet. Keep writing, girl!

    1. Sharon, thank you – and thank you for the shares! It’s heartbreaking to see children who dislike reading, because we know what amazing worlds and insights and information they are missing out on. One of the things I admire J.K. Rowling for the most is the sheer number of reluctant readers she turned into readers. My 3 nephews fall into that camp – she single-handedly (or seven-bookedly) showed them how incredible reading can be.

  4. When I first decided to write a book with an 11 year-old male protagonist, I knew it would be an uphill climb. To me, the key was to give the reader something more interesting than some coming of age story. So I set my story around the 1968 disappearance of the nuclear submarine USS Scorpion. I know the image of something with awesome firepower always drew me in as a boy. From that image, my hope is that the reader will be interested in a character very much like himself who suddenly finds himself without a father and a family that needs his help. Time will tell if I’m right.

    1. A mystery and a military submarine? Sounds good to me too, Ron! You’re thinking clearly about your audience before you start, and thinking about what you loved to read as child – great combination for a great book. Good luck and thanks for the read and the comment.

  5. Great post, Cynthia!
    Kids have so many distractions today that even good readers would rather do something else. Trying to grab their attention and get them reading is a real challenge for parents and teachers alike. Cheers to anyone and any method that gets kids into books. The kids themselves have no clue that reading is so important for everything they will do for the rest of their lives. Thanks for reminding us to reach that reluctant reader with humor, pictures and great fun stories!

    1. You’re welcome, K Sant, and you are so right. There are so many distractions to overwhelm the senses and offer immediate gratification, but reading provides benefits that far outlast what they get from video games and sitcoms.

  6. Awesome post, Cynthia. I don’t like to read graphic novels, myself, but you’re exactly right that they are getting kids to find MEANING on the page. They’re a wonderful place for some kids to start. This Kid Erik happens to be a huge graphic fan and did a post praising them, too. You’re both right on. I’m probably old and bias, but I think of graphic novels as baby food. Our job, therefore, would be to provide something with a little more substantial that will tempt a kid to keep eating.

    1. Thank you, Michelle. I’m not naturally a fan either, so I was a little concerned when my daughter gravitated to them so strongly. I thought they were all relatively dark and violent, for starters. I was pleasantly surprised to see how funny many were, with a variety of main characters, and more than one series written with girl readers in mind. At times I’m envious of graphic novel writers, because sometimes the best way to tell a joke is through pictures, and I’m often in awe of the artwork – page after stunning page of it. Still, I’ve never read one. I guess I prefer the pictures in my mind.

  7. What a FABULOUS post!! I’m not a big graphic novel enthusiast either–but they were a gateway to reading for my own reluctant readers. (How do authors even have kids who don’t like to read? 🙂 You would think that being a bookworm would be a dominant gene–but several of my children aren’t readers.)

    Your post is spot on–we have to be more entertaining–or at least more intriguing–than video games and TV shows. It is a very tall order. I’m glad the Emblazoner authors are filling the void. Keep up the good work. 🙂

    1. Monique, thanks for your comment. And yes, I was at a loss too when my daughter shied away from books. What’s not to love? That’s interesting that graphic novels played a similar role for your kids too – I wonder how many graphic novel writers realize that they are helping young readers in this really critical way, and I wonder how many of the avid comic book readers of older generations were also reluctant readers of books?

  8. I tell parents this at the bookstore all the time, “some kids need the illustrations to inform their reading and understanding.” That’s why Wimpy Kid and all subsequent “Diary Fiction,” has actually become a genre. And why graphic novels like “Drama,” “Big Nate,” etc. are so popular. Of course the humor goes a long way too.

    Another interesting thing I’ve found with “reluctant readers,” is that sometimes they will gravitate to Non-Fiction. I’ve helped kids talk their parents into buying “Minecraft Handbooks,” because that’s what the kid is passionate about. That’s what they WANT to read. Six months later they’re back saying, “Miss Melissa, I love reading now. I’m going to get the next Percy Jackson.”

    Of course there are tons of great non-fiction books with tons of great pictures, and lots of reading. And once they get over the stumbling block, the sky is the limit.

    1. Yes! Exactly. I don’t think the Diary books get enough credit for that – they are too easily derided for the humor (though what I’ve seen of the Wimpy Kids books is hilarious). And now I wish I’d mentioned non-fiction in this piece, because you are so right that it can also be another great resource. My reluctant reader has an affinity for joke books and Ripley’s Believe It or Not type stuff, and I know a little boy who will only read books about man-made disasters. He must be fun to live with, eh? LOL Thanks for reading and commenting, Melissa.

  9. Cynthia, may I have your permission to reblog this next month on my Flying Turtle Publishing blog? It would be for my Spotlight series and could include any blurbs, links and graphics you would like. Thanks for considering.

    1. Mari I would be delighted of course. Your blog looks wonderful. You can post as is (I can send you the pics and links), or we can add to it however you like (some background on me, some excerpts from Kibble Talk, etc). You know your readers best, so just let me know. We can even do a giveaway if you like.

  10. An awesome post Cynthia. Not only are graphic novels significant for reluctant readers but so too are the kind of stories you and I write. It was great to read a post from a like minded author writing for reluctant readers providing humour and plenty of illustrations to encourage and help break down the text. There are so many struggling readers out there that need that extra enticement to read beyond the beginning early readers. My sons loved reading Manga, I could not see the value in them either except for the fact that they were reading. 🙂 Good luck with your books, keep on writing and having fun. Cheers Sandra

    1. Thank you, Sandra, for reading and commenting. There does seem to be a gap between early readers and much of the middle grade offerings. There are great books there, but finding ones with enough excitement and humor can be tricky. I like to think of Kibble Talk as early middle grade. Gingerbread Aliens looks great BTW. And you have a series planned?

  11. Awesome post, Cynthia. Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook, recommends letting reluctant readers read whatever interests them, whether it’s the back of a cereal box, comic books, the funnies in the newspaper, anything. The more they read, the more their reading level will progress. I think graphic novels are a great option for reluctant readers, for the reasons you mentioned.

    He also recommends parents read to their children each night, even through high school. No kidding! Most kids are able to listen to books at a higher level than they’re able to read themselves.

    I say yay for whatever works to get a kid interested in reading,

    1. Thank you Lynn for reading and commenting. We fumbled our way through it with our youngest, but have done all those things (whew!) sort of instinctively I guess. As soon as the newspaper comes in the door, my husband pulls out the funnies section and puts it at her spot at the table! I also read to her every night. In the summers when schedules are more relaxed, I read aloud to both my daughters (oldest is in 8th grade now). This past summer they were both old enough for Watership Down, which is my most favorite novel and one that I first had read to me as a child. Sharing a book brings us together and is one of the best parts of my day.

  12. This was interesting…thanks for sharing. I would like to make two comments. First, I like graphic novels and I think anything that can motivate children to read is okay with me. They are not that different from the comic books we read as kids.

    I remember skipping lunch and using my lunch money to buy ARCHIE, RICHIE RICH, and BETTY & VERONICA. Now, I am a voracious reader. With all the distractions in the world, we are just over the moon to see them reading.

    Second, may I reblog this post over at the Groggorg.blogspot.com. It is a group blog of 15 kidlit writers. This is wonderful information. Again, thanks for posting this. It is appreciated.

    1. Thanks Jackie. I think you were not alone in that! I remember all those comics too! Our family loved the Asterisk series, which actually has quite a bit of text as I recall.

      Absolutely you may repost on your blog. I would be honored. It looks great and I just signed up. If you need any additional info from me, just drop me a line. The easiest way is probably via FB at cynthiaportbooks.

  13. Thank you for stating what should have been blindingly obvious to me, but wasn’t. I will take my son to the graphic novel section of the library next time we visit. Thanks for a great post.

    1. You’re most welcome, Jennifer, and it wasn’t obvious to me either. My daughter found them before I did. Other commenters have pointed out that some nonfiction can be great too, which reminded me that my daughter also likes practical joke books, joke books, and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not type stuff. Again these have lots of pictures, and she enjoys the topics. The son of a friend devours nonfiction books about historic disasters! You just never know what might float their boats. Best of luck and happy reading to you and your family.

  14. This is an awesome post! You are so right! For reluctant readers, the first thing I recommend is a comic book (most comic books are around 20 pages, and usually follow one story over several books, so that they still want to read the series). 😀

    1. Hi Erik, and thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’m sure your example, advice and reviews have helped many a young reluctant reader find just the right reading material to help get them started as a happy reader. Do you find humor is also an important component of the first comic books they choose, or not necessarily? And BTW, if you think any of your blog followers might enjoy hearing about Kibble Talk, I’d be happy to send you a digital or print copy.

  15. Great post! I have a reluctant reader and likes the odd comic style read. He is reading El Deafo but not every day it’s still a struggle even though he likes it. He loved Jack Stalwart but he’s read them all now. He actually appreciated my zombie poetry book. It would be neat to get reluctant readers interested in poetry. After all it’s short with pictures.

    1. Well, sure, if it’s zombie poetry! And it’s illustrated too?

      It is a struggle, there is so much competing for kid’s attention that requires virtually no mental work. But it sounds like you are on the right track with him. How old is he?

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