In case you missed it, I posted last week about the decline of reading among kids (particularly teens), and how we could head that off at home. Some good ideas were generated, and I came away from the discussion with a particularly encouraging bit of news: many of you said that while your kids did stray from reading during the teen years, those who loved reading as a child often came back to it as an adult. That was good to hear.
So, as was mentioned in that post, if we want our kids to love reading, there are some things we can do at home to encourage that. But as authors—as the ones writing the books that we want our kids to eventually read—we also have a vested interest in this issue. Here are some steps we can take in that direction:
1. Write the books that excite us. When we write with passion, it comes through in the finished product. Being excited about our work drives us to keep at it, do it better, and make the end result awesome. If we want to provide kids with books that are exciting and full of life, we need to write the stories that excite us. As with any art form, passion translates well into the written word; it will come through in our stories.
2. Write the books that kids want to read. I know, I just said to write the book that you want to write. And it’s all well and good to be jazzed about a given topic; if you’re excited to write about Jar Jar Binks’ favorite snack foods, then by all means, go for it. Written well enough, there’s a market for just about anything. But if we want to engage kids, our best chance is to combine our passion with the kinds of books that kids want to read. Talk to librarians. Talk to classroom teachers. Better yet, talk to the kids themselves. What topics hold their interest? Which books are their favorites, and why? What kinds of books would they like to see on their library shelves? If you can learn what kids are looking for, you just might hear something that gets you all worked up, enabling you to write a book that kids want to read AND one that you’re excited about. The best of both worlds.
Sidebar: One thing that most kids like? Humor. According to a recent Scholastic Reading Report, 70% of kids want books that make them laugh. Also high on the list: books that tell a made-up story, allow them to use their imaginations, contain the kind of characters that kids emulate, teach them something new, or provide a mystery or problem to solve.
3. When possible, provide ways for teachers to use your books in the classroom. One of the big issues discussed in the comments of last week’s post was the required reading in classrooms and how the books themselves were turning kids off of reading. If we don’t like the kinds of books that are being used in classrooms, we need to be writing the books that teachers can use, and making it convenient for educators to use them.
Donna Gephart writes funny, contemporary middle-grade books that aren’t the typical required reading in classrooms, but she provides reading and activity guides for all of her books so teachers have ready-made lesson plan options for kids who read them. And teachers are using them. Another example is author Christina Farley, who recently spoke at a school in Seoul where Gilded, her young adult contemporary fantasy, had been read by the entire 8th grade class. Christina also provides Unit Study Guides and Common Core Educator’s Guides for her books, making it easy and appealing for teachers to use her books in the classroom.
Most teachers are actively seeking materials that will engage their students while helping them meet core criteria. After you’ve written a great book, be sure to provide materials for teachers, making it convenient and easy to incorporate those books into their lesson plans.
4. Provide books in kid-friendly formats. We know that the average teen is addicted to his/her phone and uses it for much more than its original purpose; kids use them to watch movies and TV shows, play games, view YouTube videos—all pleasure activities that are easy to do on the phone because the phone is always with them. While most kids still prefer print books, it’s my belief that digital books are going to increase in popularity simply because reading them is one more thing that can be done on a phone or tablet. Again, it’s about convenience for the consumer. Whenever possible, we should be reaching kids on their level and making books available in whatever format they’re most inclined to use.
5. If you’re a published author, engage in school visits. While it’s likely that teachers and many of their parents are trying to get kids to read, author visits introduce students to yet another human being who sees reading as valuable. It’s one more person saying, “Hey, this is important!” It reinforces what is hopefully already being taught. And it gives kids insight into not only the writing process but a viable career option that they may not have considered—one in which they might become authors who help to encourage the next generation of kids to read.
So those are my grand ideas for solving the problem of kids who aren’t so interested in reading. Problem solved ;). Seriously, you all offered some great advice last week on how to address this problem at home. What else can we do as authors?