Friday, July 5, 2013

ALA 2013 - Attracting Reluctant Readers

I am now the author of two YA novels, one of which was a YALSA 2012 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list, and was on the School Library Journal list of best books for youth in detention in 2011. Being noted by on those two lists made my proud, because one of my goals in writing was to reach out and try to turn around the so-called reluctant reader and remind them of the joys of reading. I knew I had made it when a teacher told me a reluctant reader not only finished Pull in record time, but asked for another one just like it.

Since 2011, I have met with teachers and librarians and discussed ways to reach out to reluctant readers at a number of venues, including individual libraries, the Illinois Reading Council, Indiana Library Federation, and Ohio Educational Library Media Association. I was overjoyed last fall when my proposal for a presentation on the subject was accepted for ALA 2013. Last Saturday, June 29, was d-day (delivery day)

I recruited another author, Jim Klise, teacher, school librarian, and book club leader at a Chicago charter school, to join me for the presentation, Jim Klise. Jim is the author of Love Drugged, a story about a gay teen who thinks a drug can make him "straight" and therefore acceptable at school. Together, Jim and I represented public and school libraries, and populations (gay and teens of color) that are traditionally under served. Jim talked about the boys in his school, and how many of them enjoyed reading, including one who admitted to enjoying romances as long as the other boys didn't know. He confessed to being one of those boy eager readers as a child, and the family's trips to the library to bring home stacks of books are some of his fondest memories.

We had a room filled with both school and public librarians; a standing-room-only crowd that extended into the hallway, proving how much libraries and librarians care about pairing books and kids.

Being the science type, I began by handing out data on the problem. I entitled my piece of the presentation, Why Johnny, Jaime, Jose and sometime even Jane won't read (because there are girl reluctant readers too, just as there are boys who are eager readers.) Although both boys and girls are read to by their parents, during the early school years, the "learning to read" stage, boys begin falling behind in the amount of time spent reading for fun, and the very idea that reading might be "fun." Some of this is due to different children maturing and learning at different speeds. Another reason is that some of the reading material available may not interest some kids. The result can be two self-fulfilling prophecies. First that a number of kids learn to view themselves as non-readers - and all too frequently those as males. Second, that publishers think boys don't read books, and therefore concentrate all their efforts on "girl books."

The remainder of my presentation focused on strategies librarians can use to attract reluctant readers, including arranging shelves and displays that make books guys like (mystery, science fiction, non-fiction) easier to find, book trailer projects and other uses of technology, and recruiting male staff and community members to show that they read too to make reading seem like a masculine activity. Even the most reluctant reader might be pulled in by a "Don't Get Mad, Get Even" book display.

I handed out a list of suggested books for reluctant readers (the list and more information can be found at my website, and highlighted a few, including science fiction like The Rookie (football set hundreds of year in the future), Acceleration, a classic YA mystery, Lexapros and Cons, a humorous look inside the mind of a kid with OCD, and War Brothers, a graphic novel about children kidnapped and forced to become soldiers. I also talked about books with girls as protagonists including Pinned a story about the only female wrestler in her school, and Yaqui Delgado is Going To Kick Your Ass, (just the title alone would suck in any kid male or female) about a girl being bullied by another girl, but that will suck in both boys and girls who know how dangerous and friendless high school can be.

Jim provided some statistics from a survey of the boys and girls at his school about the kinds of books both genders like, and how they chose new books. His strategies for librarians include making sure they buy books for ALL patrons of all demographics. He noted that at his school he has kids from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and sexual orientations. He makes sure to have books with protagonists from as many areas as possible. He reminded librarians to expose the kids to different options. And to give the kids books they can keep, books they feel are theirs. He found that a key to getting kids to both read and retain what they read.

Comments and questions from the attendees included a desire for more books with gay characters of color, and a wish that publishers would understand they need to feature other groups in their books.


bj neary said...

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass was constantly out last year; our students and teachers loved it. I hoped the learned compassion and empathy from this book.

B. A. Binns said...

Glad to hear that, BJ. I loved it, and so do the kids at my library, both boys and girls, and all races (we have a multicultural setup here) I need more books just like it.