By Stephanie Patterson
Director, Maryville Public Library
Summer Reading has begun and the library is busier than ever. Kids who love books are streaming in, making beelines to their favorite authors, sometimes dragging an exhausted parent from one shelf to the next. We love to see them in the library. But this column isn’t about them. It’s about the kids who hate books!
Here are four tips to get a nonreader reading:
1. Let them read what they want. That could mean comic book-style books (a.k.a. graphic fiction), books about talentless pop stars, books with humor derived chiefly from bodily functions, and nonfiction books about weapons, video games or weird and gruesome subjects that make you wince. Kids will respond to books that address their own culture, and by second grade their interests are as personal and varied as any adult’s.
Don’t fret too much about them picking books that are “too easy”. Adults enjoy books below their own reading level all of the time!
2. Show them how to browse for books.
The only intervention I recommend is that you show your child how to browse for books by reading the back covers and a couple of pages inside. Inexperienced readers may choose books beyond their own reading level because of the cover art or the fact that they see their better-read peers choosing the same series. Consistent exposure to books beyond their reading level will frustrate them and reinforce their perception of themselves as a nonreader. Kids who don’t like to read will benefit from reading books they can fly through! This builds their confidence and can help them perceive themselves as a reader.
3. Remember that everyone has the right to dislike a book.
For kids who are not avid readers, now’s not the time to push your own childhood favorites on them. Nor is it the time to teach perseverance by forcing them to finish a book that they don’t like. (Save housework and farm chores for that lesson.) Such an approach is the opposite of reading for pleasure and a surefire way to turn them off reading for good. One reader’s favorite book may be another reader’s dud. Life’s too short to read books that don’t keep your attention. Casting off lesser books in the hunt for one that you can’t put down is a huge part of the fun of reading!
4. Let them see you read for your own enjoyment. Why would they perceive reading as worthwhile if they never see you do it? Make family reading time a ritual, discuss books you are reading, and model reading for your kids.
By middle school or earlier, many kids have defined themselves as readers or nonreaders. The freedom to choose, along with access to a wide variety of reading materials and some quiet time are the most important factors in turning a nonreader into a reader.