Rummanah Aasi
  I wanted to write a post about reading for quite some time, but I wasn't completely sure where to start. I began to reflect on my own literacy autobiography, wondering how I transformed from someone who wouldn't give a book a second thought to someone who is constantly reading. Looking back on my childhood, I would definitely label myself as a reluctant reader. In fact I didn't really develop a love for reading until about fourth or fifth grade. Believe it or not, I would actually get reprimanded for not reading. My journey from a reluctant reader to an avid reader is not very different from other stories I've heard or witnessed while working at a library. I'm dedicating this post on the Top 5 things I've learned about my own journey and including some tips to help out struggling parents or readers themselves.

Top 5 Things I've Learned about My Own Journey

 1. Allow the reader the freedom to choose his/her own books to read instead of being forced to read it. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the following: "If I hadn't been forced to read it in school, I probably would've liked it". Like many, I too, once believed that reading was just like any other homework assignment: frustrating, boring, and painful. I actually spent more time as a child sitting in front of the TV more than reading because it was more active with lively characters, crafty plots, and virtually effortless on my end. It's not until someone asked me what I liked and gave me a choice to read book with appealing stories that my mindset about reading changed.  

2. Finding the right book for the right reader can make all the difference. I believe everyone is a reader. My definition of a reluctant reader is someone who hasn't found the right book for them to read. I went through a series of hit or misses with books when I was a kid. The Boxcar Children and Pollyana were a definite no while the Ramona books and Encyclopedia Brown books clicked. Why? That leads me to #3 and #4.

3. Knowing the readers likes and dislikes is very important. Narrow down what the reader wants from a book early on. Does he/she like character or plot driven novels? A fast paced book that will keep them on the edge of their seat or a book that will slowly grow on them? Books that introduce them to new worlds and creatures or a setting that mirrors their own lives? For example, I didn't like The Boxcar Children or Pollyanna because the stories were sad, unrealistic, and repetitive. How could these children survive, practically unscathed, and overcome all obstacles by just being good?

4. Reading is a personal experience. Most of the time you have to be vested into the characters, the plot, or even the themes of the book. Therefore, its essential that I like books that contain believable and relatable characters without the author's condescending tone. For me, there is nothing worst than reading about a perfect character who never gets into trouble, because frankly that person doesn't exist. When I read, I want to be able to picture myself in the book, wonder if I would make the same decisions as the characters that I'm reading about. I didn't see any part of myself in Pollyana, but the rumbustious, lively Ramona Quimby? Heck, yeah. I got in trouble for snooping around, breaking things, doing things that I was told not to do. Who didn't do those things when they were little?

5. It's okay not to love books that other people like. My reading tastes are very different than my siblings and even from my own coworkers. I don't know why, but it took me a long time to realize that I don't have to like everything that everybody else does. Having a community of eclectic readers allows discussion and insight. I can't tell you how thrilling it is to see that spark of excitement when a fellow reader tells me about a book that I have to read or better yet rant why I recommended this book to them because it was "awful". Once a reader has a positive experience about reading, they are more likely to want to have that experience again.

6. Reading should not be limited to just books only. The way we define literacy is much more complicated that the simple "read and write definition". Some people are visual learners while others are auditory. If you find reading books boring, try reading a magazine, an online webcomic, graphic novels, newspaper, reading blogs, checking out audiobooks from your library, etc.The bottom line is: find a format that works best for you. 

"Shameless!: the true story of how I won over a reluctant reader, in graphic form, by LaDuska Adriance and Ellen Lindner. Found on School Library Journal (9/26/2008)

Tips to Help Reluctant Readers
1. Learn why he/she is a reluctant reader. There are a wide variety of reasons why people don't like to read. Some claim that they don't have time, others find it simply boring, or they are just unmotivated, or unskilled at reading. The more you know about the person you are helping, the more prepared you will be.

2. Find out what the reader likes and doesn't like to do when or after they read. Some readers are very specific of their likes and dislikes. Some may like to have their teacher read-aloud a book, compare the movie to the book, or even do activities based upon a book which isn't necessarily a book report, but the single most important thing to keep in mind is let them choose a book of their own choice from a narrow list. Giving the reader an option allows him/her to take an active role and shows them that their interests matter.

3. Find books that are appealing to them, particularly in the book's description, cover appeal, and writing style. First impressions are very important to reluctant readers. If you give them a book that has a catchy, action-oriented, attractive, appealing, a good "blurb", chances are they are going to pick it up. Other things to keep in mind are: print style (i.e. is the book easy to read without squinting or using a magnifying glass?), format (i.e. is it consistent?, is there enough balance between text and white space in the book?), artwork/illustrations (is it appealing, does it add to the story?) As for writing style, you should think about the sentence structure and use of sophisticated vocabulary. The last thing you want to do is to make the reader feel dumb. Of course, you also need to keep the structure of the book in mind as well: does it hook the reader in the first 10 pages?, are the characters well defined, distinguishable and easy to relate to?, is the plot believable?, are the plot lines developed through dialog and action instead of paragraphs filled with descriptive text?

4. Know which book list to look for titles. Don't just choose books that are popular and expect reluctant readers to like them, but provide them a list of books that is suitable for their maturity and reading level. Some books that worked really well for reluctant readers in my experience are: Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowlings, The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, and Monster by Dean Walter Myers but by no means are these the only books. If you are looking for more titles, be sure to check out Marilyn Reynolds's  I Won’t Read and You Can’t Make Me: Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers in which Renyolds, a current author for teens and a former teacher, shares her motivation and strategies for reaching reluctant teen readers, including success stories from her past students and questions from readers, Edward T. Sullivan's Reaching Reluctant Young Adult Readers: A Handbook for Librarians and Teachers which not only identifies additional titles but also gives new strategies to reach reluctant teen readers, and you can always find helpful titles and a wide variety of book suggestions from the ALA's Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers which comes out annually.

5. If you don't succeed, try and try again! Working with reluctant readers can be frustrating experience for both, but use this opportunity to get to know your reader better and keep pitching them books that you think will catch their interest. Seek help from your school librarian, public librarian, your reader's peers, and even your trusted bookseller. You never know what will catch their eye.

I would like to hear from you. Were you once a reluctant now turned avid reader like me? What was your experience like? Any there any essential tips in helping reluctant readers that I missed? Please include them in the comments!
10 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    Wow, what an awesome post Rummanah! I especially agree with #5 about it being okay to not love books other people like and vice versa. When I first started reading YA and romance novels I got a lot of looks that told me I was too old for YA and then the looks that said "why on earth do you read romance novels" and it took me a little while to feel comfortable with my choices. Now, even within those two genres, it's fun for me to read differing opinions and find out why some people loved a book I didn't or why I loved one book and someone else gave it a 2:) It makes things interesting!

  2. Seriously, Rummanah, this post is made of WIN, and I hope a lot of people who feel like reluctant readers, read it! Very helpful tips and insight. I can't tell you how many times I've felt much the same about books I was forced to read in a genre that didn't interest me. It really does have an effect on your reading habits.

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post. Sometimes I need that reassurance that it's okay that I didn't like a book everyone else was crazy about. :)

  3. Jenny: Thank you! This means so much coming from you. I had the same reaction when people find out that I read "comics" or YA. Many people fail to realize how personal reading can be.

    Missie: Thank you! I hope they read this and find it helpful. :) I'm really starting to hate the term "required reading". Though I understand it's important to analyze and find the deeper meaning to the literature, it's hard to turn that off and just enjoy the ride. Like you, I also need reassurance that's okay to NOT like everything I read.

  4. Brillant post. I completely agree with your post!

    For me I think finding the right book by exploring different genres really what turned me into an avid reader. I just use to read maybe every few months and it was chick lit. I would have never thought of paranormal was going to be for until I try it a few years ago. Since then I have been addicted to books :)

  5. max Says:

    I was one of those boys who grew up hating to read, even though my dad was the author of over 70 books. Today I write the kinds of adventures & mysteries that I would have enjoyed as a kid.

    Video - Guys, Read a Book
    Books for Boys Blog
    My Youtube Videos

  6. After reading other peoples comments I wonder what more I could add. Keeping it simple I'll just say, gr-r-reat post! I'll send this to some parents I know.

  7. Nic: I had the same reaction to paranormal too. I never thought it was for me until I tried it and now I can't get enough!

    Max: My family are very strong readers and it was so frustrating for them to see me not. It took them a while to understand what was my hang up.

    Jessie: Thank you. I hope they will find this post useful. :)

  8. Small Review Says:

    I LOVE this post! I want to print it out and give it to every teacher, librarian, and parent I know. You are so spot on.

    I cringe every time I see someone try to force a child to read a book when it is so clear that is the wrong book for that particular child.

    One of my library girls doesn't like fantasy and her father is constantly trying to push the Harry Potter series on her. Now, I adore the HP series, but for a reader who doesn't like fantasy and magic, those books just won't appeal to them (she read the first book and it was like pulling teeth).

    I gave her The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall instead and she loved it. This is the biggest lesson I wish more adults would remember: When you're recommending books, it doesn't matter what YOU like, it matters what THEY like.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    In addition to doing all this, after seeing the results of students SRI Inventory results Friday, I see that as classes come to the Media Center for books, instead of just talking about what students like to read, we're going to have to talk about what they can read. I plan to show them how to find books by reading level in the catalog as well as showing them how to find reading levels on the books themselves. It's not easy to talk about reading ability with a group of students visiting the Media Center, but I think many of them will appreciate that someone knows what their problem is and wants to help them.

  10. This is fabulous! Another thing that I think is helpful to remember is that a book doesn't have to be fiction. I think a lot of kids - boys especially - prefer non-fiction. Not everything has to be a novel to be a good book.

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