Last week I had a great visit with two fifth grade classes in my hometown of Heber, AZ. In preparing for the presentation, I asked one of the teachers if there was anything specific she’d like me to cover. Her reply was very helpful.
“My kids seem to think that the whole writing process is a nightmare and particularly hate to do any brainstorming/prewriting. I’m mostly hoping that meeting an author will change their perspective on the power of the pen.”
I decided the best way to increase their interest in writing was to first interest them in reading.
I think it’s safe to say there is not a single successful writer out there that doesn’t love to read. It wasn’t my college writing classes or my desire to be rich and famous that inspired my writing career. It was the words of great authors (Dahl and Rowling especially) that inspired me to take up the pen.
So when I arrived at Mrs. Ballesteros’ classroom on Thursday morning, I started by asking how many of the students liked to read. A little more than half of them raised their hands, and I noticed some arms partway up, and a hands making a so-so gesture.
To all those that weren’t sure they liked reading, I said, “You’re reading the wrong books.”
My wife got through all of grade school, high school, and most of college thinking she didn’t like reading. After our marriage, I put a stop to that nonsense. I read her the entire Harry Potter series (with British accents and distinct voices) and by the time we’d finished she’d totally changed her perspective. What she’d mistaken for a “distaste of reading” was actually a distaste for certain types of books. As soon as she found a genre and/or author she could sink her teeth into, she realized that she LOVED books.
Now, she is a self-proclaimed sci-fi/fantasy nerd and if she’s near the end of a particularly good book, our kids will often end up in their pj’s eating cereal all day. Which I’m TOTALLY okay with.
I told the fifth-graders that I’d grown up loving reading (since I was horrible at sports I had to find something to do) but that in high school, I decided to make more of an effort to fit in. I played sports (horribly) and watch a lot of movies with my friends. While this was an awesome time in my life, my passion for books dwindled. I might have ended up an imaginationless illiterate, had it not been for Jo Rowling’s series. After I devoured Harry Potter, I got back into my childhood favorites, and discovered some new YA gems like Hunger Games, Bartimeaus, and Uglies.
Goodreads is Facebook for intelligent people and a particularly useful tool in finding good books.
Especially if you connect with friends that have the same tastes as you. It’s also fun for kids to rate the books they’ve read and see those covers sitting on their cyber shelves. Even if you don’t have any Goodreads friends, the site recommends other books based on your ratings of other books.
One secret I shared with the students is that they don’t have to finish books they’re not enjoying.
Unless of course, it’s for school. But if they pick up a book for fun, and after a few chapters aren’t excited to finish it, PUT IT DOWN. The author will never know. There are enough awesome books out there that they shouldn’t be wasting time on books that don’t fully engage them.
Graphic novels are great tools for easing kids into reading. Here’s one that I found particularly fun.
Every year, the ALA compiles a list of books they think will hook reluctant readers. I’m not sure if I share their taste, but their lists are here.
I also came across a guy (we had kickstarter campaigns at the same time) who has dedicated much of his life to helping boys love to read. He might be a good resource if you’ve got a particularly hard egg to crack. His website is here.
The only way to find your future favorite books is to go to the library and start looking.
And just in case you’re debating whether it’s worth all the trouble to get your kids turned onto books, I’ve included the top ten benefits of reading which I got here.
1. Kids who read often and widely get better at it.
2. Reading exercises our brains.
3. Reading improves concentration.
4. Reading teaches children about the world around them.
5. Reading improves a child’s vocabulary and leads to more highly-developed language skills.
6. Reading develops a child’s imagination.
7. Reading helps kids develop empathy.
8. Children who read do better at school.
9. Reading is a great form of entertainment!
10. Reading relaxes the body and calms the mind.
So the next time your student tells you they hate reading, slap them upside the head with their library card.
Thanks Marti Ballesteros for the great photos!