7 Ways to Engage Reluctant Readers

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

However, there are some children who simply do not gravitate toward reading as a recreational pastime. Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org) reports that reading rates have dropped significantly in the past 30 years: “In 1984, 8% of 13-year-olds and 9% of 17-year-olds said they ‘never’ or ‘hardly ever’ read for pleasure. In 2014, that number had almost tripled to 22% and 27%.” Not only are these children at risk for inferior literacy skills, but they also miss out on the simple joy of getting lost in a captivating story or exploring an appealing topic.

While reading, a child can travel to a different state, country, or even a different planet. A child can be transported back in time to a significant historical event or teleported to a futuristic life created only in their imaginations. A reader is introduced to unique and fascinating people, and they develop a relationship and understanding with these characters throughout the book.

Reading can take a child on adventures that they cannot, or would not, experience in their normal lives. Reluctant readers can discover for themselves the joy in reading — they just require a little more coaxing and nurturing. Parents can try a few simple strategies to help their child learn to appreciate reading as an entertaining activity.

Finding the right reading material for your child

Experiment with a variety of formats and genres when selecting reading material for your child. Determine if he or she would rather read material online or in a paper form.

Some helpful sites for popular book selections include amazon.com and The New York Times Best-Seller list. Both sites list e-books and paper books, and they are divided into categories such as picture books, middle school books, young adult, and graphic novels. Have your child explore a variety of genres such as comic books, joke books, graphic novels, and even some non-fiction books on a favorite person or topic.

Don’t forget about magazines. There is a magazine out there for almost any hobby or interest a child might have. This is a great way to start small — an article in a magazine does not seem as overwhelming and intimidating to a reluctant reader as an entire book. Potential titles to explore include Cricket, Ladybug, National Geographic for Kids, and Boys Life Magazine for younger kids. Middle and high school kids might like Seventeen, Teen Vogue, Alternative Press, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Time, and National Geographic.

Guys Read

Find reading material that will interest your child. Children love a story that will transport them to a world vastly different than their own. A great website is GuysRead.com, founded by author Jon Scieszka (known for the incredibly popular Time Warp Trio books). Even though this site was created to inspire boys to read more, the suggestions are excellent for boys and girls. As Scieszka has said, “Expand the definition of ‘reading’ to include non-fiction, humor, graphic novels, magazines, action adventure, and, yes, even websites. It’s the pleasure of reading that counts; the focus will naturally broaden. A boy won’t read shark books forever.”

Sneak in some reading

You can help your child understand the importance of reading by engaging in reading activities other than books. Examples include reading a recipe while cooking, reading the shopping list while in the grocery store, writing letters or invitations, reading interesting facts and information about your next vacation destination, or reading news about community or national events. This helps your child realize that reading is everywhere.

See what your community offers

Take advantage of community activities that bring reading to life. Public libraries and local bookstores often have storytelling events and puppet shows that retell a favorite story. Libraries have audiobooks (at all levels) that children can listen to while they read along. Also, explore your local theater companies to see what books might be presented on the stage (Shakespeare seems to be popular for this venue). It is important for a child to realize that literature does not only come in book form.

It’s always better with a friend

Parents can also encourage their child to share books with a friend. A friend might have the same interests, and it is always fun to read the same material and be able to engage in a conversation about the book. It is also an inexpensive way to expose your child to a variety of reading materials as children share books with their friends. Be sure to check your child’s school and local library for children book discussion groups — these are growing in popularity and including many adult/child book clubs.

Have you watched a good book lately?

Another fun way to engage your child is to read books that have also been made into a movie. After reading the book, the entire family can sit down and enjoy the film version. Some of the most popular screen adaptations include The Hobbit, The Lorax, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, the Harry Potter series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, The Chronicles of Narnia series, Coraline, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mary Poppins, and Charlotte’s Web. Ranker.com lists 300 children’s books that have been made into feature films. Some books even have more than one movie version.

Parents can set a good example

Parents can help a reluctant reader understand the joy and benefits of reading by setting a good example themselves. Let your child see you reading, enjoying, and sharing something you have just read. If you read an interesting article in the newspaper, share aspects of this with your child by reading it aloud. If you see a funny story in a magazine, set it aside to show your child.

Books popular with reluctant readers

Keep in mind that for some children, making the transition from picture books to chapter books is not always easy. Looking at page after page of nothing but print can be overwhelming and daunting — sometimes resulting in putting the book down all together. One solution might be to find books with graphic lettering and an abundance of illustrations. There are many on the market and on library shelves, here are a few suggestions.

Geronimo Stilton books (Geronimo Stilton/Elisabetta Dami) — These books follow a beloved mouse on all his amazing adventures. The stories are full of humor, surprises, and important messages about family, courage, happiness, and friendship. Every page is covered with bright illustrations and creative uses of the fonts and words. For example, the word “falling” might be written as if it is falling down the pages, or the word “frigid” may be written in cool, blue lettering with snow resting on the top of each letter. These books are visual delights for any reader.

Dork Diaries — This humorous series is written and illustrated by Rachel Renee Russell and features the diary entries of a 14-year-old girl. The pages are filled with silly illustrations that complement the diary entries. The diary entries read as if a teenage girl were speaking, filled with an abundance of such words as “like,” “BFF,” and “fab.”

Captain Underpants — These silly stories are written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey and feature outrageous facial expressions and humorous language that kids are sure to enjoy. The books are filled with humor that might seem a little gross to adults — but that is exactly why kids enjoy the books so much. There are numerous books in the series (and other similar books by Pilkey) so if your child enjoys these, there are plenty to keep reading.

Judy Moody — This series is written by Megan McDonald and illustrated by Peter Reynolds. An excerpt from one book reads as follows: “Judy Moody did not want to give up summer. She did not feel like brushing her hair every day. She did not feel like memorizing spelling words. And she did not want to sit next to Frank Pearl, who ate paste.” This seems like something that many young children can relate to as they contemplate the beginning of the school year. The books are a mix of type and illustrations — some drawings encompassing two entire pages.

My Life series — This comical series is written and illustrated by the mother/ son team of Janet and Jake Tashjian. The Tashjian team takes the reader on a journey through silly mishaps and adventures – all pages filled with quirky stick figure drawings and hilarious comments.

I Funny series (James Patterson) — This series takes a comical look at all the antics that happen in middle school. There are graphics on almost every page, so the reader does not get bogged down with too much type.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney) — Another great series featuring all the silly and dramatic events that happen in middle school. Entertaining graphics with accompanying hilarious comments make these books a pleasure for any reluctant reader.

Check Out These Authors (Kids Love ’Em)

Below are some popular authors that seem to appeal to many reluctant readers.

* Andrew Clements (novels, pictures books, and early readers)

* Mike Lupica (sports writer who has written many popular books on a variety of sports)

* Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid books)

* Lincoln Peirce (Big Nate books)

* Gary Paulsen (author of several young adult books and the popular Hatchet)

* Tom Watson (Stick Cat and Stick Dog books)

* James Patterson (author of many popular young adult books including The Adventures of Maximum Ride series and The Middle School Series)

* Rachel Renee Russell (Dork Diaries series)

* Eoin Colfer (Warp and Artemis Fowl series)

* Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians series)

* J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter series)

Children are unique and they all have their own likes and dislikes. A reluctant reader may never embrace reading over a game of baseball or a bike ride in the neighborhood. However, implementing a few of these strategies will help children understand and experience the simple enjoyment of quiet reading time and open a world of exciting new adventures.

Resources for Reluctant Readers

These websites offer wonderful resources for parents and caregivers to help support reluctant readers.

2017 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Supported by the Young Adult Library Services Association, the list is separated out between non-fiction, fiction, and series. A brief description of each book is provided, as well.

Top 12 Young Adult Books for Reluctant Readers. A middle-school teacher provides the top 12 books from her own class library, as well as information and commentary about each book.

Books for Reluctant Readers . This site provides an extensive list of books, along with a brief synopsis and age range. It also offers detailed information about each book in a section entitled “What Parents Need to Know,” which rates the books based on positive messages and role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs, and smoking.

James Patterson’s Read Kiddo Read Filled with information for parents and educators on how to get kids reading, you’ll find book reviews, suggestions, lesson plans for educators, and even a way to win free books.

Guys Read This site was founded by author Jon Scieszka in an effort to support young boys in becoming lifelong readers. It is filled with so much information, it is a challenge to digest it all in one sitting — new releases, author information, information about boys and reading, starting your own “Guys Read” club, and book recommendations on topics that appeal to boys. In all fairness to girls, this is a wonderful resource for them, as well.