Reluctant Readers and Living Books

Those of us who devour books find it tough to understand reluctant readers! “Living Books” are just that to us–LIVING, life-giving, inspiring! But for a reluctant reader there are many forces working against him. [Yes, I know girls can also be reluctant readers by my expertise is my son!]. No, it isn’t just “laziness” although that CAN play a roll! A trip to the eye doctor–especially one who has expertise in reading/eye sight problems can solve a lot of problems! I am in no way an expert–my degrees are in political science and library science [and no, I did not take Children’s Literature], but here are some of the key frustrations and so solutions:

VOCABULARY!!!! It’s not just that they don’t understand the word, but that they feel dumb because of it and then get frustrated trying to use a dictionary! The word is never there! And, why? They can’t always alphabetize in such stressful situations. No, annotated editions of books aren’t always helpful! Footnotes can be confusing and having to flip to the back makes losing your place a problem. I do use these now that he’s in high school–I tab the timeline and the glossary or notes section. He does use it more than when he was young.

Idiom, Metaphors and other figurative language!! What does “like a fetter” mean anyway, I was asked in Church as we listened to the hymn “Come thou fount of many blessings” in a Church service not too long ago. Rather than work out the meaning thru context, he shuts down feeling stupid again.

Cultural References that aren’t from THIS VERY MINUTE in TIME! Even today many people know that “Happy Days are Here Again” was F.D.R.’s [who??] theme song. Stuff like this drives reluctant readers CRAZY. They have to know ALL OF WORLD HISTORY SINCE GOD TO READ?? lol…. that may be how it seems!

BUSY, BUSY, BUSY pages! Modern textbooks are the WORST at this! Always trying to look like the home page of some Rock Star they cram too much into too small of a space. How many times have I heard “I don’t know where my eyes go.”  Another bad choice are the AMAZING “Eyewitness” books–way too busy! Photocopying them to black and white CAN help a lot.  Web sites are often frustrating too–see if they have an old “text only” link. The best textbooks I’ve found are the Rod & Staff books made for Mennonite Schools. You may not want such heavily Christian content, but my son could focus on theses. Simple black and white pages. Another thing is printing books off the internet if they are in the public domain–again black and white!

Smaller is better: Smaller “bites” of books that is.  Start with one sentence. How about one paragraph? If it’s in the public domain, down load it and format in nice-sized print, then print it out on 3 X 5 or 5 X 7 cards. One card a day–two, three, whatever works.

Reading Level vs Listening Level--while many kids are able to listen at a much higher level, reluctant readers may be just as lost listening. My son drove me insane trying to read aloud to him.  Usually this works–I show him how much I will read before taking questions. Before he can ask a question he narrates so I can see how much sense he’s made of the text. If we are reading it just for information I often “edit” the text when reading aloud and insert a more common word. While many “retellings” or “abridgements” are anathema to Charlotte Masonites they CAN serve a purpose.

Books for adult literacy and adults with emerging literacy: These can really save the day!! They cover all kinds of topics, but in much shorter sentences and with a smaller vocabulary. You don’t have to read Mein Kamp in the original German to learn about Hitler and the Nazis. Very thorough learning can occur with books meant for Young Adults or new adult readers. The public library is usually an excellent source for these. [Trust me, if my tiny rural, underfunded library has them, yours will too!]

Pictures! Pictures are either helpful–i.e. looking at pictures of typical Hassidic Jews with “side curls” and other features BEFORE beginning the Chosen by Chaim Potok, can be very, very useful. A book with tons of pictures will usually guarantee a narration based solely on the photos/illustrations.  Consider covering many of the pictures, leaving a few here-and-there to help with context.


One thought on “Reluctant Readers and Living Books

  1. It’s so important to draw attention to reading, and attract reluctant readers to it, especially boys. In fact, I’ve recently completed a feature magazine article on this subject that came out in October, “Help for Struggling, Reluctant Readers.”

    I grew up as a reluctant reader, in spite of the fact that my father published over 70 books. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for tween boys, that avid boy readers and girls enjoy just as much.

    My blog, Books for Boys is dedicated to drawing attention to the importance of reading. And my new book, Lost Island Smugglers – first in the Sam Cooper Adventure Series – is coming out in July-August. Contracts are also signed for Captain Jack’s Treasure and River Rampage.

    Max Elliot Anderson
    PS. My first 7 books are going to be republished by Comfort Publishing later in 2010

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