I feel super lucky to be able to publish this guest post today from Megan Daley. Megan is the amazing lady behind the excellent website Children’s Books Daily. Megan is a highly acclaimed Teacher Librarian, having recently been awarded Teacher Librarian of the Year by the School Library Association of Queensland, as well as the national Dromken Librarians Award, presented by the State Library of Victoria.
But just as, if not more important as those awards Megan gets kids and reading. She knows that some kids love to read while others are more reluctant and she has amazing ideas and energy on how to get reluctant readers more engaged and picking up books. Be sure to check out the links to her resources and her excellent new book ‘Raising Readers’ which I highly recommend.
So what can you do as a parent or educator to engage young people with reading when it feels like an uphill battle and how do you encourage a young person to see themselves as a reader? I have three simple strategies to get you started and I would urge you to persevere because readers are not created overnight and some young people may need many years of incremental skill building and positive reinforcement in order to develop an identity as a reader.
Step one is to model reading yourself. Parents and educators alike should invest time in modelling good reading habits. Just like we model good eating habits, exercising in moderation and making sound choices for our physical health, so to we should be modelling reading. It’s an oft quoted line that ‘reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body’ and for many of us, it is a priority to model being strong and healthy through regular exercise. Reading should be thought of in the same way – prioritise it, fit it in to your own life, model it to your children. I am totally giving you an order to sit in a comfy chair, read a book, magazine or comic and ignore the washing – you are role modelling reading!
In my work as a teacher, this year we have been working on weaving mindfulness practices throughout the busy school week, in order that we help our students to train their brains to focus on one task at a time, calm their busy minds and increase their attentional focus. ‘Mindful reading’ has been a part of this process and students and staff alike are stopping and taking the time to read for a set period of time. In all my years of teaching I have never had the time (made the time?) to read in front of my students and yet it has been such a simple and powerful thing to do. The conversations we have had about books and reading habits have been well worth the twenty minutes of not replying to emails or filling out student data sheets.
Bring Books to Life
I have seen great successes over the years with hardcore reluctant readers meeting the ‘faces’ behind a book. When we meet the author or illustrator of a book it brings a book to life and helps readers to understand, appreciate and engage with the ‘story behind the story’. It also makes a book seem more accessible and real, especially if that book has been written by someone with whom your young reader can connect, maybe over a shared sense of humour, a love of sport or a gentle and whimsical spirit. Author visits are a shared experience and break down the stereotypes about ‘those who read’ and engage both keen and reluctant readers.
We don’t all live in major metropolitan areas with ready access to authors (although many prioritise visiting regional areas and schools in areas of need) but social media also allows us to connect with the creators of books and bring the reading experience to life. For teens who use social media, connecting with authors can be a great way to curate their social media feed with good book related content and the simple act of having books and authors appear in your news feed is a reminder of the worth of reading for us all.
Digital technologies are a further way to bring books to life and engage the reluctant reader or the reader who experiences reading difficulties or differences. Good literary apps and worthy e-books do an amazing job engaging readers, particularly those who are unable to sustain attention for an entire print book or those who need to ‘read’ while moving (hello toddlers, sporty types and fidgeters of all ages). They also allow readers to delve deeper into a book, clicking on an author bio, navigating to the dictionary to find out the meaning of an unknown word and downloading the next book in a series immediately, in order to keep up the reading momentum. While e- book readers tend to replicate a print-text reading experience, for some young readers, e-books have opened up the world of story in a way that was not possible with print text, through varied screen size options, page- turning features, and general layout, their many tools and settings (including audio narration) which allow for a wide range of individualised reading experiences.
Right Book for the Right Child at the Right Time
Not always, but there is sometimes a book, author, genre or text type which will turn on a ‘reading switch’ in young heads. When presented with the right book at the right time, many young people will begin to see the value and the joy of reading. The challenge then is to feed the young reader with age appropriate and engaging books in order to keep the reading momentum . However, when presented with an entire wall of books in a store or a library, it can be hard to choose and it all becomes a little overwhelming.
For many of you, choosing a children’s book is similar to how I choose a red wine; my eye is drawn to the label and its design, then I am won over by how many shiny gold award stickers adorn the bottle, then I look at the price point. These strategies (book cover, shiny award stickers and price point) can be useful when choosing a children’s, middle grade or young adult book, but, like when buying wine, it’s even better if you can sample first or ask for expert help in choosing the perfect fit for you. Read and sample a little of each book you are choosing – if you don’t enjoy it, chances are your children won’t enjoy it either because no child wants to be spoken down to or to read writing which isn’t clever and engaging.
Seek out expert help in matching your child with an ideal book for them. We bookish types relish opportunities to talk with young readers and recommend books that will keep them reading and many bookstores have children’s and YA book specialists on their teams. Public and school library staff are there to help you so do pick their brain, we librarians and teacher librarians are in customer service and readers are our customers.
I wrote ‘Raising Readers’ because I am passionate about engaging reluctant readers, extending keen readers and bringing books to life for young people. I’ve unpacked twenty years of educator and librarian knowledge into what I hope is a personable and accessible guide, enhanced with up-to-date research and firsthand accounts from well-known Australian children’s authors. You can read more about ‘Raising Readers’ and the story behind it here. If you’re after some books for your reluctant (or very keen!) reader, you will find all my latest book reviews here.
About Megan Daley
Megan Daley is passionate about children’s literature and sharing it with young and old alike. In daylight hours, Megan is a teacher librarian at a girls’ school in Brisbane and was recently awarded the Queensland Teacher Librarian of the Year by the School Library Association of Queensland, as well as the national Dromkeen Librarian’s Award, presented by the State Library of Victoria. A former national vice-president of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, she is currently on the Queensland chapter of the board of the Australian Children’s Laureate and is a judge for the Queensland Literary Awards. She blogs about all things literary, library and tech at childrensbooksdaily.com.