If books are your lifelong obsession, few things are more upsetting than realising your child is a reluctant reader. If you have a young reader on your hands who “hates books”, the best thing you can do to tackle the problem is to break it down and understand the barriers that are standing in the way of their reading enjoyment.
The first step is to identify if the reluctance stems from a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia. A lack of confidence can also be a stumbling block, so your focus might need to be on finding a good book for younger readers with content that will still capture their attention. However, if comprehension isn’t the issue, it’s usually a lack of interest.
“How do I get them to put down the video games and pick up a book instead?” It’s a common lament of parents everywhere. But your child’s video game obsession might not necessarily be a bad thing: anybody who has played a video game in the last few years will find that these are often heavily story-based. Some even contain gameplay elements that require great amounts of reading. And even those games that aren’t story-based, such as Minecraft, still encourage children to create their own stories. Any parent or educator who has listened to a child’s lively tale of zombies and creepers can attest to that!
While this might not be “reading” in the traditional sense, games like this are performing a vital role in literacy: they are familiarising would-be readers with the concept of story, and introducing them to narrative. From here, we can start to introduce reluctant readers into written forms of stories, by using their existing interests as jumping-off points. Many video game franchises have book series specifically set in the world of video games, and there are countless great reads out there that mimic the compulsively exciting world of a video game. Fanfiction is another avenue that might interest these potential readers, as it will also encourage them to write their own stories, which goes hand in hand with turning a reluctant reader into an enthusiastic one.
There’s often an instinct to discount more commercial fare as “bad books”. As a bookseller, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard an otherwise well-meaning parent reject a child’s book choice because it has superheroes on the cover or “Underpants” in the title. Kids who think that what they’re interested in is without value will quickly lose faith in reading. If a child is interested in reading it, a book has value. It might not be something you value, but then, most of us aren’t the intended audience! On top of that, these books are often very well written – they’ve been through the same rigorous editing process as any other book on the shelf.
Keep an open mind when it comes to a child’s tastes. Try to show interest in what they love and validate these things. Once you’ve hit upon those natural areas of interest and encouraged it, you’ll probably find your reluctant reader isn’t so reluctant any more.
By Holly Harper
Author and bookseller