Notes from a Librarian: Reluctant Readers

Helping Reluctant Readers
It is a fact that some kids really don’t like to read. Sometimes it is because they are not good readers and reading is a struggle. Other kids would just rather do something else. Being a good reader takes practice, and if a child doesn’t read well it makes every aspect of school harder. Assignments take longer and it is harder to finish reading based tests. Even after schooling is complete reading opens the door to lifelong learning. If parents can help a child become a reader, it blesses the child for the rest of their life. Here are some suggestions for helping reluctant readers discover the joy of reading.

Let the child read what they want to read.
One day at the library a woman came to the desk and said that her son hated to read (her son was standing next to her). One of the librarians smiled and said, “Let me see if I can find something that will interest him.” She went into the stacks and came back with a nonfiction book about mummies. The boy’s eyes lit up, he snatched the book out of the librarian’s hands and said, “Wow, Cool!” The mother rolled her eyes and said, “I don’t want him to read that kind of garbage,” gave the book back to the librarian and stormed off.

Some kids prefer to read nonfiction.
Some kids, especially boys, cannot be bothered with stories that “are not real.” Reading fiction seems like a waste of time to them. The best book for this kind of child might be a nonfiction book about a topic of particular interest to them. In the last 20 years nonfiction books have become very appealing. They have great color illustrations and interesting interactive formats. Also, they are often shorter than a novel, so they are less intimidating for a slower reader.

The best book might not be a book.
Provo library has an outreach program at the juvenile detention center. Some of the tough kids there wouldn’t be caught dead reading a book, so each time the librarian visits she brings a big stack of magazines. Even the coolest kid is OK about being seen with a Sports Illustrated or Popular Mechanics. The library has a wide range of magazines for kids like American Girl or National Geographic Kids.

Try a recorded book.
A lady came into the library who was concerned about her son’s reading. He was dyslexic and reading for him was slow and difficult. I suggested that she try recorded books, so she chose some books on CD and also checked out the paper version of the same books. As the boy listened to the books he followed the text on the page. It turned out that he really liked listening to the stories, and as he followed along his reading skills improved. After about a year, he began to read paper books independently. This is a good trick, especially when a child is required to read a book for school that may be too difficult for him/her.

Resist the temptation to recommend a book you loved as a child.
There may be books you loved as a child and you feel eager to share them with your own children. That is fine for a child that is a confident reader, but a bad idea for a reluctant reader. The pace of writing in children’s books has really increased since we were children. Books like Anne of Green Gables or Treasure Island will seem painfully slow to a modern child. The best way to find faster paced books for modern kids is to ask a librarian. Another great resource for boys is Jon Sciescka’s web site, www.guysread.com, and for teens, the YALSA website (just google the term, YALSA).

Donna Cardon is a children's librarian at Provo City Library and a well known children's book critic. We'd like to thank her for allowing us to republish her articles for our readers.

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