“Books where stuff happens…but easy to read. Not a book for kids.” This is a common readers’ advisory question for reluctant or struggling teen readers (and their adults). Such readers often feel keenly the gap between the books they are able to read, and the topics they *want* to read. Must they read from the children’s section, with its juvenile topics and the same titles they would have picked in grade school? Not at all. This is a gap that hi/lo books aim to fill.
The term “hi/lo,” or “high/low,” refers to books that have a high interest level and a low vocabulary or readability level. These books won’t intimidate those reading below their grade level, but will not bore them to death, either. Michael Sullivan’s 2012 School Library Journal article is a great primer for this topic, touching on both the subjective (what makes a book really interesting?) and the scientific (what are the readability formulas used by hi/lo publishers?).
It happens to all of us. We’re trying to help someone find a book, but they’re not interested in anything and say they hate reading. That’s when we pull out the big guns: the books that even the most reluctant of readers might give a try.
What’s your favorite book to recommend to a reluctant reader?
Unwind by Neil Shusterman. I read this book when I worked as a middle school librarian and the eighth graders were reading it for class. I became obsessed with this book and thought it was completely amazing. I remember making a book trailer to go with the book and thought it fit perfectly with Linkin Parks’ song Leave Out All The Rest. I always recommend this book to reluctant readers because it has a fast pace and is very exciting. Unwind has an awesome storyline with amazing characters. – Kimberli Buckley
On Saturday afternoon at the 2014 YA Literature Symposium, I attended the presentation entitled Reaching Reluctant Readers: from Creation to Circulation. The speakers were Patrick Jones, a librarian and author based in Minnesota, and Zack Moore from the Austin Independent School District in Texas.
The presentation focused on why reluctant readers aren’t reading, qualities of good book recommendations for reluctant readers, how to ease in-library access, examples of what reluctant readers will read, and things that you can do to reach reluctant readers of tomorrow. One point to mention here is that both speakers stressed the importance of remembering that reluctant readers may be aliterate, not illiterate. There is a big difference between approaching a teen who can read, but chooses not to and a teen who cannot read.
I have listed a few examples from each section below. The full presentation can be found here if you wish to read more.
I feel very lucky to have been able to attend YALSA’s YA Literature Symposium in Austin this weekend. It was a great weekend full of thought-provoking panels, amazing author interactions, and just a lovely time talking about YA literature!
One of my favorite panels that I got to attend – and sometimes you had to make some hard choices! – was Sunday morning’s “Keeping it REALLY weird (books for the fringe & reluctant readers).” This had a great lineup hosted by Kelly Milner Halls it also included Chris Barton, Andrew Smith, Lisa Yee, Jonathan Auxier, Bruce Coville, and Laurie Ann Thompson. These authors have a reputation for writing about subjects sort of on the fringe compared to other YA books. Their books involve cryptids, unstoppable giant insects, Star Trek geeks, gamers, oddballs who make change, aliens for teachers, and ghost gardeners among other things. But many readers connect strongly to these stories of outsiders and happenings on the edge of what may be normal or accepted. Not only was this a really informative panel but it was also so much fun. Why? Take a look…
See Lisa Yee in the middle? Jonathan Auxier bet her that she wouldn’t come to the panel dressed like Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and said if she did, he would sing all of his answers to the questions to the tune of “Moon River.” So Lisa dressed up and Jonathan had to sing until he brokered a deal with the audience to do yo-yo tricks for a singing reprieve.
That’s the fun stuff, but what did we talk about? The panelists talked about the weird things they did as a child – Lisa Yee used to pretend she had headgear to fit in with her friends; Chris Barton jumped off a second story roof; Jonathan Auxier, after an obsession with Teen Wolf, tried to convince his mother he was a werewolf – and then moved onto to more serious fair.
Asked whether the publishing industry made it harder or easier for so called “weird” books currently Bruce Coville and others noted that publishers often just want to clone hits like the Hunger Games or Harry Potter. They often are trying to catch up to trends instead of create them. Andrew Smith noted that it was really the author’s fear of ‘going there’ that kept the strangeness out of books.
Only a month after many librarians were in Chicago for the 2013 ALA conference, a number repacked their bags this week and headed for the Cincinnati, Ohio/Covington, Kentucky area for the 8th National Conference of African American Librarians. The theme of the conference was Culture Keepers: Challenges of the 21st Century: Empowering People, Changing Lives. The conference had several tracks, and the Diversity and Cultural Heritage track included a panel called “Empowering the Voice of the Black Male in Children’s and Teen Lit.” The panelists and audience discussed a number of YA books and how they might or might not attract reluctant teen readers, especially young black men. The discussion began with talks about how black male children perceive the world of fiction: many see American fiction as a place where they do not belong or are not wanted. The result of this alienation is lower reading abilities and standardized test scores among these young men. The discussion centered on the differences in the kinds of material that attract boys vs girls, especially regarding covers, and how to change the current status quo.
This post summarizes a session at ALA Annual 2013 that was presented by Barbara Binns and James Klise.
Most people agree that reading is an essential 21st century survival skill. Unfortunately, evolution has not kept pace. Unlike the genetically hardwired skills of walking and talking, reading requires that the brain be trained to manipulate squiggly lines on paper to make something that isn’t real feel real.
The good news: People who read fluently find it almost effortless. They soak in good stories that educate, promote empathy and self-knowledge, and allow them to practice confronting moral dilemmas and exercising ethical muscles. For eager readers, a good book is its own reward. The epiphany of a well-written novel can be like the surge of endorphins called the “runner’s high” and produce the catharsis — the moment the reader exhales and says, “That was good. I want another just like that.”
Eager readers look forward to the next thrill on the page — or on the screen, in the case of ebooks. Reluctant readers do not. They usually need a compelling reason to pick up a book, because something has taught them that reading is not “fun.”
The reading gap is real
Over 85% of children under age six are read to by parents, other relatives, preschool teachers, and librarians. Almost all kids love the experience and want more.
“Reluctant reader” and “teen boy” are not synonyms, but demographically, the majority of reluctant readers are boys. During the early school years, the “learning to read” stage, boys begin falling behind in the amount of time spent reading for fun. The less kids read, the more slowly their reading skills improve. Boys who get less practice face an ever-increasing gap in fluency and reading speed. It can all add up to give a boy a feeling that reading is a girl thing, something he will do only if he has to. Many middle school-aged boys admit finding reading much harder than it was in elementary school and less enjoyable; at the same time they are being pushed to read read harder texts. His slower pace of improvement aggrevates his feelings that he “doesn’t read.” Some rebel against the very idea that reading might be “fun” right into adulthood.
If you’re reading this post on a computer monitor that’s set to the recommended screen resolution, you’re probably viewing 13-point type. When you read a hardcover book, you’re looking at text that’s in 11- to 13-point type. Pick up a mass-market paperback, and you’ll notice the type is smaller, usually 10-point. If you have a low vision disability, none of these options will do you much good.
Low vision is decreased vision that cannot be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, or surgery. Vision loss may be severe enough to impede everyday activities, but the affected person has some functionally useful sight. You might think of it as a problem that mainly affects older people (and you’d be right), but based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s report “Americans With Disabilities: 2002,” 189,000 children aged six to 14 years old have difficulty seeing words and letters in ordinary newsprint, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses. Over 7.8 million Americans over age 15 are similarly afflicted. Many of these people would love to read YA books!