Monday, October 17, 2016

4 Ways to Hook Reluctant Readers

The following is a guest post by Latina author, Mariana Llanos. 

The day my second son came home from school and slammed his backpack on the floor, grunting, “I hate reading! It’s so boring!” my jaw dropped to the floor and my heart felt like it had been ripped in two.

I’m a writer: I breathe books! How could he possibly not like to read?!? My oldest son was a natural reader and a book lover. Actually, our main problem was getting him to put away his book so he could go to sleep!

But his little brother felt quite different about books. He learned to read by himself at 4 ½. He read way above his grade level… but still, reading didn’t come naturally to him, despite it being in his blood.

After I recovered my composure, I tried to convince my son that maybe he was just reading the wrong books, and he needed to find something else. His response? “Nope. I’m never reading again.”

So I did what I always do when there’s a crisis at home - I hit the library and the Internet. I read several articles about reading and different reading patterns. With all the knowledge I gained, I put an “emergency reading plan” into action.  And now, in case you’re going through the same thing with your child, I’m ready to share what I learned with you:

What is your child REALLY saying? 

Reading has a strong connection with our emotions. Is your child having difficulty reading? Can there be an underlying vision problem? Dyslexia? Any other problems that might be making reading an unpleasant experience?

After a long conversation with my son, I discovered that he disliked his advanced reading class because the teacher was strict. I know she meant well, but my son was stressed during class just trying not to get into trouble for talking. He was over-thinking all the comprehension questions that would come after reading. He wasn’t enjoying the books he read at school because he was too worried about having to answer questions and write papers about the book. I talked to the teacher and told her exactly what the problem was with my son. She was extremely understanding and opened her classroom to change. Taking the stress off my son’s shoulder was the first step to mending his relationship with books.

What does your child like to read? 

Not everyone likes the same kind of books. Some kids might enjoy reading non-fiction, and others might enjoy fantasy or sci-fi. Some people enjoy reading long books (you can’t see me, but I’m raising my hand and waving it madly), while others are overwhelmed at the thought of reading that many pages! Lately, everyone seems to be talking about what your child should be reading at a certain grade, but the truth is, reading is such a personal experience, that the reading level should only be used as a reference, not as a determining factor of what books your kids are allowed to take home.

In our house, we read plenty of picture books and picture storybooks (slightly longer books with colorful illustrations). These short stories still carry a lot of content and on occasion, touch complex subject matter (think of Show Way or The Smoky Night), opening doors for a meaningful conversation. My own books, Tristan Wolf and A Planet for Tristan Wolf, are geared toward reluctant readers: short stories, with poignant themes, but still with plenty of illustrations to aid wandering minds. I discovered my son, who in third grade was at a fifth-grade reading level, still enjoyed reading stories with vibrant images. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Technology is on your side. 

It's funny but people are so different when it comes to reading habits. I can't stand reading long texts on my Kindle reader, but some people do. I noticed my son was more receptive to reading when it was on a tablet. So, why not? We’ve downloaded some picture books and chapter books on our tablet, but we also read in print. Some kids just enjoy the variation of format. They can highlight text, bookmark pages, and even look up words. Use this to your favor! You can download my chapter book The Staircase on Pine Street by clicking here.

Be an enthusiast for books. 

Now, it’s your turn to be honest: are you modeling reading? Children pick up all our habits, and reading is no exception. It’s a great idea to carve out a time where you get to enjoy your favorite book or magazine, while your children practice their own independent reading. But it’s also important to have some kind of family reading time. After I discovered my son wasn’t enjoying books, I began reading aloud again. He likes that a lot! Currently, we are almost finished with ‘Bud Not Buddy’, and our next book will be ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’. He just turned ten, but no, he’s not too old to enjoy some time reading with mom.

Also, I like to take him on special dates. It’s our little secret: during the school year, I pick a day where I’ll go and check him out from school to take him with me to my favorite indie bookstore. I do this one child at a time, so it’s our ‘special time’. At the bookstore’s café, we eat a treat, and then we pick a couple of books. We enjoy a little time together until it’s time to pick up his brother and sister from school. What’s my goal with this? To help my children have fond memories of reading, to find pleasure and warmth in it. Other ideas to be an enthusiast for books are:

  • Attend book signings and book fairs
  • Support local authors by purchasing their books
  • Write a letter to your favorite writers
  • Follow your favorite writers on social media and show your   kids the content these authors share
  • Give books as presents
  • Visit the library at least once a week and participate in their reading events
  • Begin a book club with your children and their friends
  • Make your library accessible to all members of your household
  • Use simple goal charts and rewards. Your reward or treat doesn’t have to be anything material. Actually, kids enjoy rewards that are fun and original: maybe a picnic at the zoo, or a roller-skating date! (Our current chart goal is three chapter books and a tennis match as a reward)

It’s been almost two years since I changed my approach to reading with my son. Has he changed his opinion about books? Yes and No. YES, because now he’s more willing to read, especially when he sets goals (“I’m reading two picture books today, or three chapters of this book”), and NO, because he still wishes he could play Minecraft all day long.

In the end, we have to accept that everyone is different. Some people just love reading naturally, while others need to put a little more effort into it. Just like some people would rather do math, while I would prefer running with the bulls in Pamplona. We have to respect everyone’s differences, even within our own family. But by all means, keep on feeding your child’s curiosity through the wondrous world of books. Don’t dismay. Be consistent. Your child will be grateful one day.

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Photo credit: WavebreakMediaMicro


Mariana Llanos is an award-winning children’s books writer. She was born and raised in Lima, Peru, and currently lives in Oklahoma with her family. Mariana’s books are available in English and in Spanish on and on her website


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