Motivating reluctant readers

Tiger Terror by JE FisonHas there ever been a better time to be a young book lover?

The diversity and volume of children’s books is staggering. There is something in print for every reading level and every possible interest, cleverly illustrated and packaged  inside an inviting cover. Yet, a lot of children approach reading with the same enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist.

We all know how important it is for our children to read, but fostering a love of books can be a constant struggle.

My older son was a reluctant reader – unwilling to move on from the Captain Underpants series. I’m all for any book that gets a book-shy boy to read, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of toilet humour. But I was keen for my son to broaden his literary horizons, so I wrote a story for him – about a gang of friends and their holiday adventures. The story ended up being a whole series, called Hazard River, which was published by Ford Street Publishing. In the Hazard River series – the kids come up against smugglers, dodgy developers and rogue fishermen while on summer holidays. It’s an adventure series with an environmental twist.

Thankfully both of my sons enjoyedReading at Uluru the stories I wrote. And it probably sounds like a labour-intensive method of achieving my goals, but it worked. I managed to get them both reading and enjoying it. (As an added bonus, I discovered I loved writing fiction.)

I’m not suggesting that the only way to get kids to read is to write a book for them, but I have noticed that just like every other aspect of parenting – the more I put in, the more everyone gets out.

Here are some ideas that might be worth considering if you’ve got a reluctant reader in the family.

  • Turn off the background noise – Most children prefer to watch TV or use an electronic device than read, but if reading is the only option for staying up for an extra half an hour, it looks a whole lot more appealing.
  • Start good habits – Make reading part of the everyday routine and a visit to the school or local library part of every week.
  • Read together – Even kids well past the official reading to age enjoy sharing a story. I took a 36-hour train journey  recently with my eleven-year-old son. We spent much of the time reading Morris Gleiztman’s Holocaust story, Once –taking turns to read each chapter. We got through the book in record time and then my son asked to read the sequel. Kids love to hear a story read aloud.
  • Discuss their books – Children, just like adults, get more out of a book when they have the chance to discuss it. Books with strong themes provide plenty of opportunity for discussion and follow-up research. But any story can be given air time, even if it’s just by asking: what was the funniest part of the book?
  • Hazard River series by JE FisonThe series factor – Children of all ages seem to love a series, so getting them hooked on a book in a great series often means they want to read the whole lot.
  • Rewards – In the US, schools have tried paying children to read. The danger is that kids will only read if they get paid. However, if children are given a small reward for reading and then go on to discover that they actually enjoy books, perhaps a small incentive is a good investment. If you use rewards – best to use them sparingly. A new book might work as an incentive. On the other hand, reading should never be used or seen as a punishment. It’s meant to be fun.
  • Choice – Children like to make their own choices with books (or magazines or comics). Enlist the support of your school librarian or the internet to help guide their choice. Don’t push books that are going to be too difficult and zap a child’s confidence.
  • Don’t forget non-fiction – My favourite book as a girl was Born Free – the true story of Elsa the lion cub, raised by hand and then returned to the wild. I couldn’t get enough of real wildlife stories. My sons devour books on strange but true facts. The more disgusting the better! Don’t forget about books on hobbies, pets and other interests – they’re great for dipping into.
  • Mentors – I have met a lot of passionate librarians and teachers since becoming a children’s author. They come up with brilliant ways to engage young and not so young readers. At one school, where older students read to the younger ones, the school cleverly offers books that will appeal to the younger readers, andengage the older students. The hope is that they’ll both get hooked on reading along the way. This can also work with siblings. Get the older children showing off their reading skills to their younger brothers or sisters.

Good luck!

 BUY the Hazard River series.

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