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.
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.
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.