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)
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.
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."
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.