Jan 7, 2013

Writing for Reluctant Readers (and getting them to read!), Part One

I wrote My Zombie Dog with reluctant readers in mind. I had plenty in my classroom to motivate me. I wanted to share with you all the advice and help I've found for reluctant readers. There is so much information available, I've split this into two posts, here is part one:

Children's literacy is important to me. Although I was an early reader devouring adult novels from a young age, I'm well aware that many kids struggle to catch on to the reading bug. There can be many reasons for this, but I've come across many kids who don't read because they feel they're not very good at it (which could stem from not enough practice or from a reading/literacy/sight disorder). Nobody enjoys pursuing activities they're not good at. This can be a bit of a cycle when more practice can help improve reading technique and lead towards reading enjoyment, but lack of interest/enjoyment leads to not practicing.

If you want to write for reluctant readers (and they're not just boys), or you want to find suitable books for your reluctant reader, here are some suggestions I've found valuable:

Fast paced books
Kids want stuff to happen in their books. Not just metaphorical stuff, thinking, planning, reflecting--they want the protagonist to DO stuff. Take action, make things happen. How many scenes involve the main character running? Really running for their life?
Daniel X by James Patterson - kid gets gut-shot. I know, you think this is disturbing, but this kid is an alien with super-healing powers and boys just love the fighting action in this novel.

Who doesn't like to laugh? The best part is kids like all sorts of humour. If you don't think you can come up with the witty one-liners, try some slapstick humour. There are rules to writing humour (you want your character to sound funny, not cruel). If you want more tips on funny characters, see a previous post J is for Jester.
The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander is a parody of The Godfather. I like this concept because kids get a funny story, but are introduced to a more advanced story.

I've found this usually appeals to girls more than boys. They like a story they can solve before the protagonist does. The Maggie Brooklyn Mystery series books are short, easy to solve and have dogs in them. Kids like dogs.

Most avid readers wouldn't dream of watching the film before reading the book, but for kids who find novels daunting, previous knowledge of the plot, character intentions, and even visual aids for setting, can help them settle into a novel. Although Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton may be a bit advanced for most kids, you can now get action series books set in the world of Jurassic Park. Watch the film, then read the book?

Short chapters
Keeping chapters short and using chapter numbers (not just titles) allows kids to quickly progress through the story and be able to measure their success ('Wow, I'm up to Chapter 7 already!'). James Patterson is a master at this technique.

Short Stories
This can be a great way to introduce kids to reading without the commitment of a full novel. My kids both loved Chris Priestley's Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror. Short and scary is a good combination! (You can read their review at Paper Dolls)

Now you've just got to get them to read...

Lenny's World covered an awesome program involving kids reading to dogs. Specially trained dogs listen to kids reading books. Reading aloud helps a child develop their reading skills, as it's easy to miss words when you read to yourself. To save kids the anguish of reading in front of a parent or teacher, try getting them to read to their pet. Dogs don't judge.
Visit Lenny's post here: Reading To Dogs
Alice in Zombieland might give the dog nightmares Matilda!
I'll have lots more tips on writing for reluctant readers (and getting them to read) next week in part two! Do you have any reluctant readers at home? Any tips on how you trick/coerce/bribe them to read?


  1. Fortunately we are a family of readers. I have seen some parents ask their kids to staple blank pages together and draw pictures on each page, then write a few sentences.

    This helps get the kids going and they can add an additional sentence as or two as they become more comfortable with writing.

    The interest with reading soon follows.

  2. I don't think there can be enough short stories for kids (because I love them!).

  3. I grew up on short stories for children and can't imagine a world without them...

  4. Great ideas in this post. Tweeted it.


  5. This is a really good post. As a child I had difficulties reading and it came from not being very good at it and the feeling developing into low self esteem. It also didn't help that I was forced to struggle through books that were not at my reading level which only compounded my problem. Luckily, I got all caught up as a teenager and I thank Steven King and his novels for that. (:

  6. Great stuff to keep in mind. I was slow to warm up to reading and it's because my reading skill was behind my interest in content. I wanted 'more mature' books but they were too hard... until I found horror. Stephen King finally gave me what I needed in 7th grade...

  7. An excellent post, Charmaine - if you don't mind, I'm going to link to it from my children's writing blog Flights of Imagination. I always read to my two children and they still love reading as adults.

  8. Great tips. Humour is especially effective, but not so easy to write. You write it well, though.

  9. Thanks for the feedback. I've enjoyed researching for this information. I went through a stage as a teenager where I would ONLY read Stephen King, so obviously there's something we can learn from that master.

    I'm more than happy for you to share this info Rosemary :)

    Lynda - thanks for the compliment, my humour writing skills are well balanced when you see how crap I am at a love scene :)

  10. Yes, isn't it funny how boys are seen as the reluctant readers, and of course boys are, but so are girls. My previous high school had a whole book list collated for boys who hated to read, but nothing for girls, lol!
    As an English tutor, I encounter this problem all the time, and some of my students are reading in another language. However, some find Darren Chan - horror, but fast moving, and another now devours each Michael Grant book - such as Gone - faster than Michael can write them. He also reads the James Patterson's. The short chapters and racy stories are just the ticket for the younger audience. Kids love to crow about how many chapters they read for homework!!!

  11. Interesting plan to get young readers hooked for reading.

    I used to devour short stories and mysteries while in my early teens.

  12. Hi Charmaine
    I was a reluctant reader because I couldn't read. My mom bought Dr. Seuss and later I discovered The Hobbit and the Narnia series. I made sure my children learned to read early and now it's time for the grandchildren. My five year old granddaughter can read some of her books already. Making up stories together is also a favorite part of their time with me.

    The two characters I wrote about today are Frodo and Sam of the LOTR and General Gray is Gandolf.

  13. Good tips! I don't know many reluctant readers, but if I run into them down the road, I'll know what type of books to buy 'em.

  14. I agree that reaching reluctant readers is difficult. My son was like that. He's 14 and still like that even though he's at a high reading level. He always gravitated towards nonfiction. Now he makes sure he gets his reading done for school without me having to hover over him.

    Nice to know your writing was partly inspired by reluctant readers.

  15. I love that there's such a huge variety of children's literature. And very large bookshelves in my home. :)

    Loved the post!

  16. Excellent post, Charmaine! Bookmarking, tweeting, google plusing it!

  17. There's so much more available to kids today, compared to when we were growing up. I'm fortunate in that I've always been a reader, from a very young age...
    And yes, James Patterson is brilliant when it comes to the short, fast-paced chapter technique.

  18. I must say that the thought of unwilling readers is the number one reason as to why I veer away from writing MG books.

    Your suggestions make a lot of sense, though.

  19. Oh, there is a therapy dog group here in my town that runs a program with children reading to the dogs. I think it's such a fantastic idea! As a kid I always loved to read but I was nervous about reading out loud. I know I would have loved a program like this.

    Love the photo too, adorable! <3

  20. Thank you so much for this list! they look great.