Sunday, March 27, 2011

reading reluctance

liquid gold,
our own maple syrup

In my work at the library, I often have the great pleasure of helping people, kids and adults, find things to read. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I have one particular customer who is my personal challenge reader because she is difficult to please; I love this and will never give up on finding her a book that she will relish. This is one of the best parts of what I do and I take it very seriously because I know the panic of booklessness, or even potential booklessness. Like the idea of a particular handknit sweater is what makes it itchy, according to my sons. It's a terrible thing to face an empty bedside table and the thought even makes me itchy.

Being a good listener helps. Knowing how to ask the right questions helps. Having a good knowledge of what's in our collection helps. We have tools that help (NoveList, Amazon, etc.). (Readers, check out NoveList through your library---lots of great ways to use this tool, like readalikes, books in a series in order, there is even a K-8 version.)
2nd Sunday: sewing liberation project
Sometimes I also get a trickier question: parents who are looking for books for their kids. It's harder to do my job when the reader is not in front of me, but it's still possible. There's a sense of remove though and no instant feedback.

Then there are parents of reluctant readers. These are worried parents, usually. Sometimes annoyed parents. And what they want is a magic pile of books that will make their kid a reader. (And since I'm no expert on learning disabilities, I'm talking about kids that can actually read without challenges.) Reluctant readers can be boys or girls, but it seems there are more boy reluctants than girls, according to Michael Sullivan. And he has lots of lists of books for boys; interestingly, girl reluctants will likely find books that appeal on these lists, too.

What I have learned the hard way, through lots of questions, is that often these young people actually ARE reading. Just not the way they "should" be, according to their moms (it's usually the moms that I see). "He only reads comics." "She only reads nonfiction." "He never finishes a book." "All he reads is Captain Underpants." "He only likes magazines."
So mostly I reassure them that all of this is actually reading and building important skills like vocabulary, comprehension, retention, etc. A veteran librarian just told me that it's quantity, not quality that makes a reader. I know plenty of adults who only read the newspaper (online). Or adults who are intelligent people who don't read at all (my brother is one). I send the moms home with an armload of books that might appeal to their reluctants and I try to encourage them that keeping a steady supply of books coming is a good thing, or that it's OK that their kids only read comics, or that it's lovely that their child still really prefers being read to.

As long as the reading is fun.


  1. This is wonderful. Any blog post that has labels for both Denyse Schmidt and Michael Sullivan is the blog post for me! I have seen Michael speak, and he is absolutely compelling.

    From one crafty mama librarian to another, keep fighting the good fight and get those books in their hands. Isn't it just the best when they come back for the next in the series?

    Have a great day! :)

  2. Oh Iris - I love this post! I love the way you've interspersed your sewing liberation project - easing out what we think we *should* be reading (or sewing) from what we love to read (or sew). And, of course, I love just about every book you put in my hands. Finding that you've set something aside for me is always the highlight of my day. THANK YOU.

  3. I can tell you as an ex-adult literacy teacher that any reading is good reading. It's true, reading fluency is built up by volume, quantity is the most important thing. Also, it must be enjoyable and 95% within the person's reading level - in other words, the stretch in demand must be TINY.

    I understand the anxious parents- don't we all want the best for our kids - don't we all hope to build future citizens with as many options for a changing world as possible? In this culture, being literate and educated is a necessity.

    Motivation is the key - it must be inherently interesting or useful to the reader - otherwise it simply won't get done.