Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Reluctant Reader

 When I first had my children, I could never have conceived of the idea that I would have a child who was not anxious to read.  I remember I could not wait to read, and as soon as I was able, I read everything I could!
I read Pride and Prejudice at the age of 8.  I did not really understand it, but I read it anyway!
So I was very surprised when my son turned out to be the most reluctant of readers.  I blame my husband.  He is not the most avid of readers, he does not care for fiction and my son both takes after him and likes to emulate him.
It is not that my son is not a good reader- he is a good reader.  He just doesn't like to read.  He'd far rather play while listening to an audio book.  I suspect he is typical of many boys- reading means they have to pause and refrain from doing something else... of course it is o.k. when it is his idea to read.  Which for my son, usually means in the middle of another lesson, or instead of cleaning his room, or instead of going to sleep...
So how can you encourage the reluctant reader?
In the beginning, I started with the graphic novel and comic books.  Tintin can encourage the most reluctant reader to want to read a book, and Asterix works really well for history :)  Marvel and DC comics are good (though you should pre-read them) and the newer Japanese Manga books can be great.  Those can cause a little confusion at first since they are often printed backwards, but they are a lot of fun.
Next I found his weakness.  Weaknesses are not something that my son cannot do, but rather something he was very interested in.  In his case it was Lego Blocks.  I found a book on Lego blocks and building with them that really encouraged him.
Then I discovered 'silly' books.  Silly books don't have to be 'twaddle' (although some definitely are), but they have to be books that appeal to the humour of a child.  In my son's case, this was the Horrible Histories, Horrible Geography and Horrible Science books.  Horrible Books always draw his attention because they are just plain 'interesting', and written to appeal- and he still likes to read them.
Stories of children having adventures appeal too.  The reluctant reader can relate to them.  My son liked The Magic Tree House books and later, as he grew older and kind of outgrew the Magic Treehouse, they were replaced by The Hardy Boys, The Famous Five and The Secret Seven.
The Magic Tree House books were wonderful, because they were so short he would finish a book in no time. For the older elementary grades, the Hardy Boys have interesting adventures, and the Famous Five and Secret Seven books are stories about children his age having adventures.  That is almost always guaranteed to appeal!  He is a third generation reader of the Famous Five by the way- both my Mum and I read them and loved them ;)
The most recent addition to his reportoire would be the Redwall books.  I read these as a child his age, and I knew he'd like them.  My husband had seen the show and thought he'd like them, so we were non-plussed when he refused point blank to read them.  I kept the book around and would make him read a little every so often, but he still complained.
Then struck the latest of my 'tricks'.  I suggested that perhaps by reading this book he'd be better read than a local child he is somewhat antagonistic towards- because surely they had not read it.  He was encouraged to start reading it.  Then he started to argue.  So his punishment was one more chapter each time he argued.  He stopped after 5 chapters were assigned, started furiously reading- and read 7 chapters.  He was pleased with himself for reading the extra chapters ("that'll show you Mummy") but had ended up hooked, so the next few days he was reading the book as often as he could sneak an extra chapter!  I don't particularly recommend this method unless it is strictly necessary!

Nowdays he is just as difficult to please.  He doesn't want to read the books assigned for literature (too boring/badly written) or history ("I'm not interested in reading about that").  His excuses are just that- excuses.  He is being lazy, and it is difficult to ascertain the point where laziness and true dislike meet.   A true dislike is something that needs to be addressed, so typically when he comes up with a complaint, I ask questions to see why he is not enjoying it. 
So recently he was complaining about a King Arthur book I had assigned for Literature.
"Why don't you like the book?" I asked, as he complained.  After all, it's Knights and Castles and battles- surely those appeal to a boy?  Not to mention even his Dad told him he didn't understand why he wouldn't read it.  (Dad is the ultimate authority here- anything Dad likes, Rebel usually likes it too).
"It's boring," he said.  "They do stupid things!"  I asked for clarification.  He could give me none, so I said that was obviously not the problem.
He then complained that the book was written like a comic book- a complaint I really didn't get because he loves comic books!  I assumed this meant that he just did not care for the style of writing.  So I switched to a different re-telling.   Apparently that suits him better- I chose to get an audio version or Howard Pyle's retelling, where the style of writing is somewhat archaic so I made him listen and read along with it (I used an e-text for this, apparently e-texts are popular with him).
Afterwards I asked him, "So what do you think of that version then?"
"It is better written and it is funnier too..." came the response. Success!

His similar complaint of a history book turned out to be sheer laziness.  In that instance I just got an audio version for him to read along with...  
That is another good reluctant reader trick.  Following along with a book helps them to focus and seems (to them) to be less work.  It also frees you up to work with another child ;)

In essence, the reality of dealing with a reluctant reader is persistence and determination.  You have to patiently figure out what your reluctant reader likes and tailor the reading to suit.  You have to wait and try different techniques, different books and work hard.
And you have to never fail to try and make your reluctant reader, a book lover.
My brother was once a reluctant reader.  I used to work so hard to encourage him to read different books (yes I started young LOL).  I wouldn't say he is a bibliophile like myself now- but he reads books of his own choosing and has things he enjoys reading... so perseverance works.  On brothers- and hopefully sons too!


max said...

It's so important to draw attention to reading, and attract reluctant readers to it, especially boys. In fact, I've recently completed a feature magazine article on this subject that came out in October, "Help for Struggling, Reluctant Readers."

I grew up as a reluctant reader, in spite of the fact that my father published over 70 books. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for tween boys, that avid boy readers and girls enjoy just as much.

My blog, Books for Boys is dedicated to drawing attention to the importance of reading. And my new book, Lost Island Smugglers - first in the Sam Cooper Adventure Series - is coming out in July-August. Contracts are also signed for Captain Jack's Treasure and River Rampage.

Max Elliot Anderson
PS. My first 7 books are going to be republished by Comfort Publishing later in 2010

Spinneretta said...

That's great Max! Thanks for telling me- I'll have to tell my son (he loves action adventures!).
Thanks for commenting!

adkmilkmaid said...

It's even more difficult if your child (statistically more often a boy) has a learning difference like dyslexia. Learning when my son was not quite 7 that he was very dyslexic and was "at risk for hating reading", alarmed me (an obsessive reader) terribly. I spent the next four years making his reading a top priority. In the process I became so well-read in dyslexia research I could have almost passed as a learning specialist. My son is now graduating from college with a degree in literary journalism.

One thing I would underline is that listening to audio books is just as valid a skill and will give many if not most of the same benefits: a story education, a grasp of grammar and vocabulary, patience with a narrative arc, as well as empathy for characters of different backgrounds.

My son listened to about 85 books on tape the first year after he was diagnosed as dyslexic. (If you have a doctor's signature, books on tape are available free, postage paid, from the Library of Congress. All the most popular books have been recorded. It's a fabulous service.)

Often struggling readers are forced to fight their way through books far below their understanding level. Listening sets them free.

For many years we required reading 1/2 hour a day. It doesn't matter what is it, as long as your child is decoding. The really intricate, rewarding stories can come on tape. And then one day with any luck your child will become impatient waiting for an audio to arrive, will pick up a book, and attack it.

Spinneretta said...

Thanks Milkmaid- you are absolutely right!!
I love audiobooks for my kids- firstly because they are so much more reliable than me ;) and secondly because, with headphones, they can both be independent and reading advanced books.
It also helps if your chosen book has archaic language, if your child can listen and read at the same time!
Thanks for the dyslexia tips, I will be sure to pass them on!

adkmilkmaid said...

Just FYI... Though people often recommend it, I never once made my boy read along with an audio book. He had his 1/2 hour of forced book reading a day, year round, and audio books were about nothing but pleasure. Because of this he chose to listen for hours. When I worked with other dyslexic boys in a learning lab, I did the same, with the same success.

To me the most pressing goal is to instill the desire to read. Desire will take children over many, many obstacles, including archaic language.

Should you wish to share it, here is the link for the National Library Service, which provides free books on tape (and a special tape recorder) to the blind and physically handicapped (dyslexia qualifies as a physical handicap).

Spinneretta said...

Thanks Milkmaid :)
I can understand your position :) My recommendation is more for those boys, who, like my son, are not dyslexic but just reluctant to read OR in situations where a schoolbook is a little antiquated in language :)