The Reluctant Reader and the Search for Meaning (Or, You Know, Something to Read)

School is coming. Yes it is, as surely as it's almost cool enough to sleep at night now and I'm already too late to get any interesting backpacks. And that means summer ends too, along with its blissfully welcoming reading time—when you can read whatever you want, as much of it as you want, and for God's sake don't log it.

Someone asked me recently what I would recommend to a reluctant reader. And I said, "You've done the Wimpy Kid?"

"Oh yeah, we tore through all of those. Then we tried A Wrinkle in Time, but it was too much, too soon."

I completely know what she meant, I have many times been guilty of pushing something before anyone is ready, mostly because it's something amazing and I want to share it and I get impatient.

But I've been thinking about it. Mostly about the reluctant reader who read all of Wimpy Kid. Because maybe that's not the most reluctant reader after all. Right, all of Wimpy Kid? That's a lot of Wimpy Kid.

I mean, I know that compared to most of us reading this blog, that kid is less likely to go searching for a book to read when there's nothing going on in the house. But at the same time, he still has his ability to love books. And that's really all you want to give a person.

I've been thinking, too, about what I wanted to recommend, which was Horrid Henry. And I didn't, because I thought, Oh, he's probably too old for them, and she'll think I think her son can't really read, and and and…

And I realized that this is entirely the wrong way to approach a so-called reluctant reader. It goes away from love and fun and who-the-heck-cares, no-one-is-watching-and-you-should-read-what-you-like and instead goes to reading levels, and age-appropriateness, and reading logs and all the things that make these allegedly reluctant readers so reluctant in the first place.

I think this is why I shy away from putting reading levels/age levels on these posts. I know they can be helpful, but they can be troubling, too.

So for all those readers out there: it's still summer. Read what you like. Read baby books or Beatrix Potter or Horrid Henry or Gossip Girl or Eat Pray Love or Jackie Collins or Trollope or or or…anything. I really and truly think that this is the way to happiness. And then you take that excellent feeling you get from reading exactly what you want to read, even if it's Frog and Toad and you're in 6th grade, and you bring it with you into September when you go back to school. And, I swear, that happy interested satisfied reading will be like a protective blanket from the whole assigned reading, homework logging, level-assessing mess. It will do you good. I promise.

14 thoughts on “The Reluctant Reader and the Search for Meaning (Or, You Know, Something to Read)

  1. Amen! And, yes. And, I still read CHILDREN’S LITERATURE and I am 40, so What? My favorite books this summer were YA. Not that I am not eager to begin Cutting For Stone, but heck, they’re BOTH good.

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  2. I was going to say the same thing as Megsie – If I still read and enjoy children’s lit, then a kid slightly too old for Horrid Henry can certainly enjoy that. Let kids read what they like and especially let the reluctant readers gain confidence by reading enjoyable things at a level they find very comfortable. I used to have middle school students who would read Captain Underpants during free reading. Books that they were nearly TWICE the age for. But I never tried to make them feel bad about it. I mean, way to kill reading, right?

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  3. Yes! I had an almost identical interaction with a patron the other day. The mom was convinced that this kid was “not a reader” but might try Diary of a Wimpy Kid… all of which were checked out. I recommended The Time Warp Trio, and had to spend a good deal of time reassuring that the book was the appropriate level. I felt like I was talking out of both sides of my mouth, “Yes, this book is easy enough to read! No, it’s not too babyish!”
    We mustn’t let ourselves by tyrannized by “grade-level appropriate” reading. I tell a lot of parents, “Hey, not every book you read is War and Peace; sometimes you just want to read something light and fun.”

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  4. You’ve made me feel better about the summer my kids have spent immersed in ‘The Marvel Universe’. Tiny Titans, Hulk, Power Pack, Fantastic Four, they have read everything the library has to offer. And other comics too. Asterix, Tintin, Patrick the Wolf Boy, Bone, Amulet, Garfield, Peanuts, The Far Side, B.C, Foxtrot, the list goes on and on. Will they recognize a paragraph when they get back to school in September? Will quotation marks feel like a slap in face? Time will tell, but at least they have had a very good summer.

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  5. My favorite book I read this YEAR was a late children’s title (Crunch) so I hear what you are saying. Age is not necessarily the most important factor.

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  6. This is somewhat comforting since my 7-year-old spectrum kid is still asking me to read aloud picture books she can totally read herself–meanwhile I am reading Little House in the Big Woods to her 4-year-old sister who only gets about half of it. I guess it is all about what’s pleasurable and comforting in a book.

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  7. He might be ready for the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. Or How to Train Your Dragon Series by Cressida Cowell. I’d try to match his interests with books. Does he play sports? There are also some great baseball books. I have a post on my blog on those.

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