Julie Dina: Welcome to Library Matters. Here are your hosts, Julie Dina and –.
David Payne: David Payne.
Julie Dina: Do you have a child who is reluctant to pick up a book and read? Today we have Barbara Shansby who is a wonderful and knowledgeable children’s librarian, who is here to share with us activities, tips, and advice that will encourage reluctant readers to start turning the pages, perhaps even before this podcast is over. Welcome Barbara, and thanks for being with us today.
Barbara: You’re welcome.
David Payne: Well, Barbara we are talking about reluctant readers but perhaps we should start by understanding what we mean by that term. In terms of the work that you do, can you explain what is or who is a reluctant reader to you?
Barbara: Sure. We usually think about, consider people reluctant readers if they don’t seem enthusiastic about reading. We see this especially with children who come to the library and then they’ll ask for help finding a book for a class or for a book report, and when we give them a book, they just give you this blank stare or worse, and there just seems to be no appeal at all for the books. The kids often don’t say that they don’t like to read, but we can tell from their body language that that’s a big issue, and just as often we’ll get questions from parents who are very honest about that. They will say their children don’t want to read or don’t like it and can we help them get them the books that they do need?
David Payne: You talked about children. Can we count adults as reluctant readers?
Barbara: Absolutely; although to be honest, they are probably a little bit less likely to come to the library. I do think there are plenty of adults in this day and age who don’t read or who are intimidated by it in some way and it’s a challenge.
David Payne: Well, Barbara, let’s talk about you a bit as a reader. Did you like to read as a child?
Barbara: Yes, I did. I was a huge reader as a kid. I probably spent too much time reading. I was sort of the opposite problem. My parents were like, “Why don’t you go outside for a change?” So yeah, I’ve always been a reader and in fact my book club for a while, we were going to call ourselves The Women Who Read Too Much and I love that title.
David Payne: So how did you develop your – or discover your love for reading?
Barbara: Well, that’s a hard thing to answer because I can’t – I don’t remember what got me started. I just remember that I loved to do it. However, I will say that the libraries were probably a big part of it. We lived in Montgomery County and my mother used to take me and my sisters to the library every few weeks and we’d check out our two or three books or whatever and bring them home and then we finished we’d go back and it was just an ongoing thing and really as I said, a b part of my life. I mean I remember many of my books very fondly and then when I came back to work as a children’s librarian, there they were. That was pretty amazing.
Julie Dina: Why do you think some people are reluctant to read, both adults and children?
Barbara: I think there are a lot of reasons why people don’t like to read. There’s a feel of failure with it if they’ve had books that they didn’t like or couldn’t make it through for some reason, then the whole task might be intimidating. Certainly learning disorders play a part in especially again in children. There may have been frustrations that kids or adults faced in previous classes or with previous tasks. Sometimes people may want to read but they are not just finding what appeals to them at that particular point. I also think we can’t discount peer pressure again for the kids, that if their friends aren’t reading why should they pick up a book? And for adults, lack of time is often an issue. Sometimes a person might be willing to read but it’s just not a priority and with so many other things, they are not going to pick up a book.
Julie Dina: So for adults, it’s best to say make more time and then you become willing to read? Would you say that?
Barbara: Well, not necessarily. I mean it would be nice if that’s easy but maybe for some people, that will happen but often it’s a problem of finding the book that appeals to you that’s going to turn you on in some way and make you want to keep reading.
David Payne: Well, Barbara talking about books and appeal, what kind of books do you think have the potential to really sparkle up a reading inn somebody who doesn’t have it already?
Barbara: Well, I think that’s a really, really hard question. It’s very tough to know what’s going to appeal and what’s going to appeal to which reader. So since I’m a children’s librarian, I’m going to talk more about that. We found that there is a big cache with the super popular books that kids will be enthusiastic about reading Dork Diaries or Big Nate because all their friends are reading it. I think we all remember when Harry Porter came out, kids who had never touched a book in their life suddenly had to have all of those books and they actually did read them and that was clearly peer pressure. But in addition to choosing the most popular books, there are other ways to determine that you are meeting the needs of that particular kid and the first thing that I would look at is reading level. It’s really important to have a book that a child can have success with. If you give them something that’s too hard, it can be really discouraging. So often, especially at the lower grades I’ll show a child a book and say, “Does this look too easy, too hard?” But you want to make it easy for them, so that’s the first thing that we are looking at.
Julie Dina: How do you motivate a reluctant reader? What set of questions do you ask them and how do you go about matching the reader with a book?
Barbara: As I said, we started with the grade level and then we are looking at what’s popular. You know you can’t always suggest Captain Underpants or Dork Diaries. We are also looking at the format that the child wants to try a graphic novel or a ‘comic book,’ something that has more illustrations than texts. Sometimes kids and again especially the boys want nonfiction, books about sports or animals or science, something like that. So that’s the way to go. Sometimes we are asking them if they had a book that they read before that they liked, can we follow up on that somehow? So there’s a lot of ways to go at it and hopefully we are going to find something that really just lights up those eyes and get that kid into the idea that this would be a fun thing to do.
Julie Dina: Could you share with our listeners and tell us about some o the MCPL programs that will be actually helpful for reluctant readers and their parents or caregivers?
Barbara: Sure, I’m happy to do that. The first thing that comes to mind is our summer reading program and of course we are pretty far from summer right now and I know at spring you have a podcast on summer reading but that is a great way to encourage reading that kids actually get prizes for doing activities and for reading books and it’s a big encouragement for them to come to the library and look at different kinds of books and complete their books. So that’s just a wonderful program but during the school year, there are other programs. We have Early Literacy Story Times which are important. For the older kids, there is a Read to the Dog program which is really fun. It’s held at several different libraries and the kids come in and an adult has a dog that sits there and the child picks up a book and actually reads the book to the dog and that’s terrific because will give you no judgment. A kid who might be shy in a class or with another adult, may find it a little bit easier to read to a dog. Similarly, we also have a Grand Reader program where kids are able to read to an older adult who again may be a little bit less judgmental and a more comforting presence. Also, there are several book discussion clubs for kids and that’s a wonderfully motivating activity because kids who talk about a book are really learning more about it and it will encourage them to read more and to get more out of it.
And of course there are other programs. At lots of different libraries we have author visits, we have STEM activities, and there are just so many programs. I also want to talk a little bit about resources for reluctant readers and for any readers. One thing that I learned recently is that one new technique is to encourage kids to read large print books. They are finding that that is somehow less intimidating to a child to read than a book where all the print is kind of squished together and every page looks so dense. A large print book has more wide space, the word are a little bit further apart. It’s easier for many children to navigate and to have MCPL. We have a pretty good collection of children’s books in large print and of course there are also lots of adult large print. Another thing that can be used in a similar kind of way is e-books. We have again a huge collection of e-books that can be downloaded and read on a device or a computer. Again, you could make the print larger. Some kids might feel more comfortable just to read on a computer than to pick up a book, so that’s a good thing. And also for younger kids, we have two programs, read-along books and so that’s another resource that can be used. In addition, on our website we have all kinds of subject book lists. We have graded book lists, so if you want to know what your second grader might like you could print out the second grade list. If you want to know books on nature or history or whatever, you could print out that list. There’s a lot of great resources.
Julie Dina: I knew it, we worked for MCPL.
David Payne: Something – we had lots of readers.
Julie Dina: Yeah, we would cover everyone.
David Payne: And now, a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
Female Speaker: Looking for your next favorite book? MCPL can help. Fill out our what do I check out next online form and tell us what you like to read. You can find the link to the service on our homepage. We will email you a list of three to five books that are library chosen just for you, happy reading.
David Payne: Now back to our program. Well, Barbara let’s talk about a few books, in particular let’s say you have a first grader who says they don’t like reading. What would be your automatic go-to book for them? What about for a third grader or a fifth grader or a ninth grader? What are some of the automatic choices that you go to in those situations?
Barbara: Okay, well I’m going to answer with of course more than one because being a librarian, we always like to pile all these books on you. For a first grade reader, if they are below reading level we have a series called Flip a Word and it’s basically phonics. It’s really clear graphics, very simple, basically again phonics, rhyming words and it’s super easy and very appealing to kids. So that would be my first choice for somebody who’s not quite at first grade or struggling with it. If they are a little better reader but just not enthusiastic, I like to suggest funny books so I might say Fly Guy by Ted Arnold or Williams Piggy and Elephant books. I think humor gets kids reading. For the third grader, again the lower level maybe Mercy Watson books by Kate DiCamillo.
Again they are pretty easy, they are funny, they have humor, they have large print, it’s a pretty easy book to read but it’s thick. So that’s nice, that gives them a sense of accomplishment. For somebody more on level, we might do Captain Underpants, Geronimo Stilton, Baby Mouse, those are all good choices I think. For the fifth grader, again if they are below level I might go to some of those third grade suggestions if they are more on level something like Dork dairies, Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, those are all – again, they have the humor that encourages kids. They have lots of illustrations, they are very popular. So usually when a kid sees that, they are pretty willing to give it a try. The ninth grade is a little harder, I thought. If they are below grade level, I might suggest Hatchet by Paul which is a great adventure story but again it’s short, it’s easy text but it moves really quickly, might be one of those fifth grade books that I mentioned. If they are more at grade level, I might suggest Alex Rider or Hunger Games, a lot of excitement, they move quickly. So I think those books have a fairly good chance to encourage a kid to get reading.
Julie Dina: Could you tell me about a story where you were able to actually get a child who was reluctant and had sworn “I’m never ever going to read again” but you turned it around?
David Payne: Okay. So for this we are going to my family members because what’s a good podcast if you are not embarrassing someone in your family? And I’m going to start with my son and then if you want I can give you a story too about my niece. So my story is in middle school – well actually elementary and middle school, one of my sons really did not like reading and he has never become a huge fiction fan. But his summer reading for middle school one year was to read a novel, so I thought that should be pretty easy, how hard can that be? And I kept bringing home books and he kept saying “No, I don’t like it. It looks stupid.” So finally I brought home the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and something about it appealed to him. It’s the story of a girl who witnesses something horrible happening at a party.
The writing is very spare, it’s powerful, it’s not a long book and something in that book just appealed to him and he read it and then later in the year, his school or his class had a contest to design a new book cover for any boo that you had read and he did the cover for Speak and he won the contest. So I thought that was pretty good reinforcement for reading. The other story was also a summer reading story. My niece had to read a huge amount of pages one summer, that was the assignment, read – I don’t know 500 pages or 1000 pages or 200o pages for your summer reading and again I kept handing her all these young adult novels and she kept “No, I just don’t like it. I don’t know, it’s just –” and finally somebody – and I’m not sure I could take credit for it because it could have been one of her friends said – handed her Twilight and that was when that book was hugely popular. And she read the whole thing and that book is like 500 or 600 pages. I just couldn’t believe this girl who wouldn’t open a 200-page novel, but again there was something about it that just appealed to her. It moved quickly, it was fast, it was popular and so she made her 1000 pages by reading all the books in that series. So that’s my story.
Julie Dina: I love them all.
David Payne: So Barbara, for any parent listening who may be concerned that their child doesn’t like to read, what advice would you give them?
Barbara: Okay, I think it’s a really fine line between encouraging your child to read and pushing them too hard and you have to be really careful. So probably the best strategy is to offer books but don’t force them. You want to make sure that there aren’t learning disabilities that are causing the problems but once that’s been dealt with, again offer the books. If there is a specific problem, you want to maybe work with the teachers to get them to encourage reading. But again, have a choice of books, do the nonfiction, do the graphic novels, do the popular things, and make sure that there are some good options for the child.
Julie Dina: Well, still on the same line of what you just said, because you know many parents are concerned for their reluctant readers and some parents actually would prefer their kids to read above their grade level. What would you say to such parents who keep trying to give a child a book that they are not really interested in and it’s below, well the parents consider this book being below the child’s reading level?
Barbara: Well, we do see that a lot with these many arguments between many parents and many children at the library, but again, we are at that fine line. I do think there are kids who need to be pushed to move away from their comfort level and stretch a little, but some kids need to have the positive reinforcement of reading success at the lower level. So sometimes I do say to parents, “Look, it’s the reading that’s important, not so much the format or the level.” And again, this is something if they are finding it hard to get the child up to the next level, this is something more that a teacher might be able to do more effectively. At the library, we really want to make sure the child is enjoying and that it’s not becoming a chore or an effort. So if a kid is happy reading, you don’t want to mess with that too much.
Julie Dina: So we want a joyful child?
David Payne: That would help?
Julie Dina: Now we’ve talked a lot with regards to children but there are some adults who would mention and say, “I really don’t have time to read this long book.” Do you have any solutions as to what would be good for them?
Barbara: Yes. I think that’s absolutely a valid thing. Sometimes people just don’t want to commit to a huge book. In my old age I’m finding that to be more the case for myself. I’m just like, “Oh no, I have many pages.”
Julie Dina: So what would you recommend for yourself?
Barbara: A shorter book. There are lots of very good books that are 300 or 400 pages or less, fiction, nonfiction, whatever. So you don’t have to go the huge novel route but also there are short stories, there are novels or – I’m sorry, short stories or novellas, there are graphic novels, magazine articles, again the nonfiction is always an option. If you have a nonfiction book sometimes you don’t have to read the whole thing, you kind of skip around a little bit or leave out the chapters that you are not interested in. Another option which actually we didn’t talk about for kids but many people enjoy listening to a book, so that’s another way to deal with the lack of time and possibly the lack of commitment. So if you are on a long trip it doesn’t really matter how long your book is, you just listen for as long as it goes. Also I had another idea and that is that adults can also read young adult books or children’s novels. There are a lot of books that are so well written and have interesting themes and characters, but it’s usually a pretty quick read and that’s a great option.
Julie Dina: Well, finally before we let you go, it’s our tradition here o Library Matters to ask our guests to tell us about a book they have enjoyed reading recently. Could you share that with us?
Barbara: Okay. So I’m going to tell you about a book that I just finished a week or two ago and following my own advice for an easy read, it was young adult, nonfiction. The book is called Survivors Club and the author is Michael Bornstein. And this was an amazing story of a young Jewish boy from Poland who was sent to a concentration camp with his family. At the time he was only four years old, but he managed to survive and even more surprising, almost everybody in his extended family survived. Some survived by hiding, some survived by escaping, some seemed to survive just by luck. So even though it was a sad story and it was pretty awful to read about the violence and the trauma that he went through, I felt like it was so inspiring to learn about where everybody did survive and how he was reunited with his family.
Julie Dina: It sounds wonderful. Well, once again, thank you so much Barbara for joining us for this podcast episode.
David Payne: And being an inspiration to the many young children and the parents who are looking to get that boost into reading. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.
Julie Dina: You are very welcome.
David Payne: Don’t forget, keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on the new Apple Podcast app, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, please review and rate us on Apple Podcast, we’d love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today, see you next time on Library Matters.