Making Readers and Keeping Them

When I changed schools in fifth grade, the principal asked my parents what I liked to do. They said, “She reads a lot,” and the principal smiled and said, “I could tell.” I was the kid who checked out an armful of books from the library and had a rotating stack of them on my nightstand. It wasn’t all great literature (a glance at the Friday Fifteen would tell you that), but it meant I wasn’t fearful of reading in any way. As a result, I was always a little surprised to hear from friends who weren’t big readers as kids. And these aren’t just people who had trouble in school when they were young. They were bright and talented kids who didn’t find reading that appealing.

So I was interested in a couple of recent blog posts about fostering a child’s love for reading, even if the child in question doesn’t naturally gravitate towards books. The first is by David B. Crowley, who talks about how to spark a child’s interest in books. He suggests making reading time special (I love the idea of reading together in the morning, not just before bed), going to the library, and letting a child get interested in reading things that aren’t books (like manuals). Lots of David’s tips were things my parents did, which I think helped maintain my love of books. A few tips I’d add:

  • Don’t be judgmental of a child’s reading. Maybe The Baby-Sitters Club or Goosebumps isn’t exactly A Wrinkle in Time, but you don’t need to read all the classics all the time to be a good reader.
  • Encourage books as gifts. I love giving/getting books as presents, and it helps foster the idea that books are special.
  • Don’t pit books against the television. Granted, my home was pretty lax in terms of TV rules, but most of the time I wasn’t just watching TV anyway. I’d put on cartoons and then grab a volume of Childcraft to browse through. Making TV totally off-limits can make it more appealing, and as a result reading can seem like a chore.

But what happens when you want an older child or teen to read more? At Co.Exist, Michael Coren looks at the Uprise Books Project, which endeavors to get banned or challenged books in the hands of low-income students. Obviously there are a lot of excellent books that have been banned or challenged, including those by Judy Blume, Sherman Alexie, Chris Crutcher, Toni Morrison, and John Steinbeck. But usually these books are touted with the suggested that kids should read them because they’re classics–while really, these are gritty, real stories that have major potential to connect with teen readers. Justin Stanley, founder of Uprise, says:

“Pushing banned/challenged books provides those kids with a shield to use against that pressure. Instead of reading a great work of literature, they’re breaking the rules and discovering what they (parents, adults, the establishment, etc.) don’t want them to know.”

I’m very curious to see how the Uprise Books Project does. A lot of times, reading is pushed as something teens should do because it’s enriching and educational–which it is. But saying that doesn’t exactly grab the average teen reader. I suspect a lot more teens would be interested if they knew these books were about tough, relevant issues and were subversive in some way. At the very least, I think it will get reluctant readers to think differently about what books can be.

Were you always a reader? Have you had success with a reluctant reader?

0 thoughts on “Making Readers and Keeping Them

  1. Stephanie says:

    You’re exactly right, and great post. Any reading is welcome. I think we grow up with the idea that if we’re not reading the classics, or we don’t like them, then we should be ashamed and not bother reading at all. Years of experience have shown me how foolish that line of thinking is. ANY reading should be welcome, and often the most avid readers are reading whatever they can get their hands on, anyway—and that’s not always classics. Reading expands your mind no matter what the genre or subject, or what time period it was written in.

    Not so sure a kid would willingly read a manual, though. 😀 haha

    And that’s spot-on about banned books: People don’t want kids to read them because they’ll learn about life. GASP. They’ll learn about it anyway! Better to educate them first then have them learn it the hard and painful way. Not trying to be negative—it’s just that we all have to learn about these hot topics, these ugly aspects of our world, and become wiser for it. We can’t protect kids from this stuff forever, and most of the time kids get “off track,” so to speak, because they have no exposure to the dangers or are rebelling because they were overprotected.

  2. David says:

    Thanks for mentioning my post! I like your additional tips. I probably am a bit too quick to see TV as the culprit. But I can see how some of the things my son likes to watch on TV does also get him interested in reading related books, catalogs etc.

    • anniecardi says:

      I think a lot of it comes down to balance, and knowing your child and how he/she interacts with media. A lot of kids do just get sucked into watching tv–it’s a medium that can really grab your attention (and not in a good way). Thanks so much for commenting!

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