YA Literature Symposium: Reaching Reluctant Readers

yalsa_ya_lit_symposium2014On 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.

Reaching Reluctant Readers

Why They Aren’t Reading

  • By high school, reluctant readers have learned to “equate reading with ridicule, failure or exclusively school-related tasks”
    • It’s important to know that these readers have failed before and help them see that it’s okay to try again
  • It’s difficult for them to sit still long enough to read
  • Teens can be “too self-absorbed and preoccupied with themselves… to make connections between their world and books”
  • “Books are inadequate entertainment” when compared with other options
  • They can’t find “the good books”
    • The library can be a scary place for a reluctant reader if there are too many books

Ultimate Fighting

Qualities of Books for Reluctant Readers

  • A strong cover that is catchy, attractive, and action-oriented
  • Print style should be large enough to easily and enjoyably read
  • Artwork should be realistic, enticing, and demonstrate diversity
  • Have a high interest “hook” in the first 10 pages
  • Well-defined characters, but not too many
  • Plot lines that are “developed through dialog and action rather than descriptive text”


Ease In-Library Access

  • Shelve “quick reads” together
  • Give booktalks
  • Be prepared to help reluctant readers
  • Create displays that will appeal to reluctant readers
  • Rethink your reader’s advisory approach
  • Ask about the last thing they liked – not only books, include movies and televisions shows
  • Have them tell you what the book/movie/TV show is about – based on how they describe a story, you will know what it is they liked about it


What Will Reluctant Readers Read?

  • A great place to start is looking at books that appear on both the Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers and Best Books for Young Adults lists
  • Series fiction
    • The Spook’s series (Joseph Delaney), Ranger’s Apprentice series (John Flanagan), the Bluford series
  • General nonfiction
    • Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty (Joy Masoff)
  • Anything about pop culture (including biographies)
  • Series informational nonfiction
    • DK/Eyewitness books
  • Graphic novels, collected comics, single-issue comics, manga
    • Simpsons!
  • Magazines
  • Patrick Jones stressed that he tends to write books for reluctant readers in which “people punch each other in the face”

Things to Do to Reach Reluctant Readers of Tomorrow

  • Build relationships
  • Celebrate Teen Read Week
  • Arrange an author visit
  • Get out of the library
  • Keep current
  • Have a non-judgmental attitude
  • Weed the collection

Based on the backgrounds of the presenters, the reluctant readers that they spoke of were either incarcerated teens or students enrolled in alternative schools. As a result, some of the titles that were highlighted may not be the right recommendations for all teens, but I found that the strategies and rationales presented were fairly universal.

Connecting with Reluctant Teen ReadersFor more information, you may check out Connecting with Reluctant Teen Readers: Tips, Titles, and Tools by Patrick Jones, Maureen L. Hartman, and Patricia Taylor (Neal-Schuman, 2006).

– Jessica Lind, currently reading The Kidney Hypothetical: Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days by Lisa Yee