01 July 2015

How I Turned my Reluctant Readers into Book Lovers

Turning Reluctant Readers into Book Lovers

Hi, my name is a Mrs Readalot and I'm a bookaholic. I gave birth to three energetic offspring who rarely sat still long enough to pick up a book. Not one of them showed any librarian tendencies. All of them were Reluctant Readers. It fair broke my heart, I tell you.
I've known since my youngest days the magic of books.
Books contain worlds. They expand our horizons. They let us inside other people's heads. Reading fiction even helps develop empathy (and combats narcissism).
"A recent study found that reading fiction helps people improve their empathy, because it encourages them to place themselves in others’ lives and understand their actions. In that way, reading is like traveling — with your mind." (Source)

For all these reasons and more I was desperate for my children to love books, I wanted them to enjoy rainy evenings snuggled in bed with a good book, nodding off to sleep as the rain pitterpatters on the roof and the book grows heavy in their hands, their eyelids droop and they slip into dreamland...

I wanted them to know how to paint pictures in their minds, transforming the words on the page into adventures. I wanted them to walk in the shoes of people that exist only in stories. To learn, to grow, to explore, be brave, make sacrifices, dare greatly and conquer worlds, all through the magic of turning pages.

But they were not keen.
It probably didn't help that dyslexia runs in our family, through me. I have a "giftedness" that -coupled with the amazing efforts of my parents - enabled me to become an avid reader at very young age. I know I'm not your regular dyslexic person, though.

Dyslexia makes learning to read very tricky. Contrary to popular belief, dyslexia is not just being a bad speller/messy writer/reluctant reader. Dyslexia actually means that your brain processes information differently - you think in pictures, not words. It makes sequencing and linear processes difficult.

Learning to read can be a slow and painful process. Not many dyslexic people go on to become book lovers. Reading is usually associated with struggle and effort. It's not something you do for fun, relaxation or enjoyment, for goodness sake!

"It doesn't matter what you read - just READ!"
[To encourage reading we would have "Book Snuggle" nights where we would pile in my bed and "read"]

Back when our eldest son was learning to read, I had no idea that I was dyslexic, or that he might be. I just figured he was a typical boy with loads of energy and little patience for sitting still.
When he was around 7 or 8 years old he started bringing home "chapter books" from the school library, because everyone else was reading them. Never mind that he couldn't - he just wanted to fit in and do like the other kids.

Thank Heaven for Captain Underpants
It was when he brought home a Captain Underpants book that the fun with books really started. Boys that age seem to be fascinated with farts and poop and undies - anything rude or to do with bodily functions, really. Captain Underpants is perfect for boys this age. The author, Dav Pilkey, seems to really understand how boys' minds work.

I began reading Captain Underpants to my son and he was hooked - so I invested in the whole set. (Here's a story he wrote at the time on his blog about his love of Captain Underpants books. I got my reluctant reader/writer to write stories on a blog and sent the links to his teacher.)

I thank heaven for Captain Underpants.

It takes a while for the process of reading to become automatic, but guess what helps? Practise, practise practise.
And to facilitate practise (and reduce the painful whingeing factor), guess what the key is? INTERESTING BOOKS.

The key to turning a reluctant reader into a book lover is having the right books. Books that are interesting, humorous, engaging, pictorial. Books with large print, broken up with pictures.Stories that are fun to read. Simple language, plenty of action.

My eldest son, that reluctant reader, who began by loving Captain Underpants, discovered Diary of a Wimpy Kid in Year Four and was hooked. By Year Six his reading age had gone from below his age level, to two years ahead. By then we needed new reading material, because he'd read all the Wimpy Kid books and was now enjoying reading  himself to sleep at night. What we lacked was enough engaging, age-appropriate reading material.

After I read the Hunger Games books myself (when Dash was in Year 7) I knew he would love them if he gave them a chance. He made an attempt to start but couldn't get past the first few chapters - until I let him watch the movie. Once he'd watched the movie, he could picture the characters, the arena, the world of the Hunger Games, and he was off - he gobbled up all three books.
When a friend lent me the Maze Runner, I knew he'd love that too and I was right - he actually read the first two books DURING THE SUMMER HOLIDAYS.

My son is now a confirmed Book Lover, and all I have to do is keep him supplied with engaging reading material.

Here's the book path our eldest son took over the last four years:

A reluctant reader's path to reading

Captain Underpants books - perfect for kids who are fascinated by bodily functions
Zac Power Test Drive - a beginner version of the popular kid-spy books
Geronimo Stilton books - very visual and graphic books
Diary of a Wimpy Kid - brilliant kid-friendly writing in an easy-to-read format
Bear Grylls Survival Fiction - for Bear Grylls lovers
Most Disgusting/Dangerous/Awesome Books (by Anna Claybourne) - great non-fiction
The Hunger Games Trilogy - brilliant YA fiction; try showing the movie first!
The Maze Runner Trilogy - my son's favourite series; also a movie
The Divergent Trilogy - he's just starting these

Now as long as my son has a well-written book with sufficient action, he will happily read himself to sleep every night. He reads happily in class during SSR, and has produced a very decent book report on The Maze Runner. Not bad for a formerly reluctant reader.

My daughter travelled a different - though no less reluctant - path to reading. It wasn't that she didn't want to read, it was just hard finding books she could read. My daughter found that a page full of text would just confuse her. She could read picture books fine, but when it came to chapter books we were stuck. All that text just jumped around. She kept losing her place and would give up after struggling for a few pages. (She has dyscalculia, and thinks pictorially like any other "dyslexic").

The breakthrough came when we found Lauren Child's version of Pippi Longstocking. Miss Fab could read the book because it has large print and is very graphic, with the words broken up by pictures and interesting typefaces. And oh boy, did she love Pippi! Pippi was hilarious, and consequently, Miss Fab could not put that book down.

Loving Pippi Longstocking - walking along reading!

Once again, it all comes down to finding the right reading material. Once we found a style of book that could draw my reluctant reader in and keep her engaged, she was away.

At first it was tricky finding enough of the right type of books, as we were limited to chapter books with enough graphic elements to draw her eye forward. The more she read, though, the more we were able to try books with less graphics. I found The Secret Garden in SaveMart* and thought the text looked large enough to be worth trying. That was the first book she read that had no pictures.
After that we could try non-graphic books as long as the text was a decent size.

I had initially bought the Gregor Chronicles (by Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins) for her brother, but they weren't his style at all (another SaveMart* bargain - spotted for $2.99 each). In desperation and lacking reading material one night, I gave her Gregor to try... and she fell in love.
She absolutely gobbled up this series, only slowing down as she drew near the end in order to delay the finish. When she closed the final chapter, she felt bereft.
Now there people, is a true book lover.
She is reluctant no longer.

Then began my quest to keep her supplied with the kind of books she can read and enjoy...

Reluctant Reader's Path to Book Loving - Girls

Pippi Longstocking/Lauren Child: a Brilliant classic, awesomely illustrated by Lauren Child
Clarice Bean Books: written and illustrated by Lauren Child = she loved these
Dork Diaries: Kind of a girl version of Wimpy Kid
The Secret Garden (abridged): She loved this book! It was the first one she read that had no pictures.
Gregor Chronicles by Suzanne Collins: by the Author of the Hunger Games - these books turned my girl into a serious book lover. She almost wept when she finished the series. (Scored from SaveMart*)
Pip: the Story of Olive - Another SaveMart* find - she loved this too
Verity Sparks books - Yet another SaveMart* find! She is in love with Verity Sparks and I'm now committed to supplying her with the rest of series by whatever means possible. Meanwhile I am on the hunt for more potential great reads.

*SAVEMART: SaveMart is a giant second-hand warehouse with locations all around New Zealand. Most people know it sells clothes, but it also sells books. Real cheap.

Phew. After four years of scouring libraries, secondhand shops, friends' bookshelves and Book Depository for material, we now have TWO book lovers, who happily retreat to bed with a good book. They are both reading two years above their reading age and are no longer Reluctant Readers by any definition.

Now we are working on the last kid. My youngest son is also a reluctant reader, and a lover of farts. Captain Underpants is now on his second go round as little brother gets read to every night by his big sister. We have shelves full of books from the first and second time round. We have the example of two older siblings who were once reluctant readers and who now LOVE BOOKS. We can do this.

It just comes down to time, patience... and the right book.


P.S. You might notice I've changed my comment system to Disqus - this means you can now comment via mobile devices (woop!). You can log in via Google+, Facebook and Twitter OR just coment as a "guest" without logging in at all. You just have to enter your name and email address and select "comment as guest" and you're done. I'd love you to test it out: Leave me a comment and recommend some good books for my kids to try!

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