Kids and the Decline of Reading, Part 2: What We Can Do As Authors

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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.

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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?

About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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9 Responses to Kids and the Decline of Reading, Part 2: What We Can Do As Authors

  1. Pingback: No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links | No Wasted Ink

  2. Thank you for such a thoughtful post with concrete examples. And thanks for the shout out as well! As a former teacher, I know the struggles and constraints teachers have so as an author my goal was to make my books as easy and user friendly for the teacher as possible. So to have guides based on the Common Core standards and provide rich meaningful questions and activities that stem from those standards has made it possible for many school systems to pick up Gilded. It does take time and effort up front, but I believe that the long term result has been worth it.

  3. :Donna Marie says:

    Becca, ALL these points are perfect, I think, and of course, Donna’s input is invaluable, too. I hope one day I’m an actual author who can implement these things 🙂 Thanks, ladies!

  4. Alex says:

    I like about this article that it assumes the kids’ point of view.

    Thinking about what kids want is a much better way to get them reading than forcing them to read. Forcing somebody to do something has the effect that they will try to stay as far away from it as possible.

  5. Skype visits are a great way for students to “meet” their favorite authors, interact with them and ask questions . . . without the school breaking the bank to afford it. It’s also a lot easier on the environment than in-person school visits that require a lot of travel.

    • That said, Donna, it’s also easier for the author to do virtual visits, who may not be as free to travel as they’d like for reasons other than financial, but never underestimate the power of in-person school visits.

      When life, time, and health are not working agsint you, or the school(s) involved, and despite being an introvert, I do see the value of in-person event whenever they’re possible.

      Plus, you might be able get your book signed if you’re already a fan of the author.

      It’ll be awhile before I figure how I’ll handle school visits (sold my first book in 2012 and it’s still in proccess), but I went to my first author signing last summer in Chelsea, Michigan, I live in Detrioit, so it was a LONG car trip both ways (I don’t drive yet so I had to ask a realative to drive me), but worth to finally meet an author I only knew online.

      I was so nervous, and I was the fan, soon I’ll be the author people come who knows how far to see (if it’s in-person) and even virutally, the pressure to be “on” is something I’m going to struggle with.

      I hope I can afford to hire a coach at some point to work through this stuff with.

  6. All true. I hope what I’m writing will interest my prospective readers! Guess I need to go interview some!

  7. Becca,

    I’ve been reading your posts about this with great interest. (Thanks for including my books and reading/activity guides in your post.) It’s so, so important to get kids hooked on reading and writing. And you’re correct that because our worlds are enmeshed in books, we forget that so many kids are not passionate about books the way we are. Sharing our passion is exactly what we can do — with school visits, Skype visits, writing workshops after school and at summer camp, book giveaways, book drives for schools and students in need, etc. We’ve got to give it everything we have . . . because the consequences of too many kids turning their backs on books is not one I want to imagine.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this very important subject!

    • You bring up a really good point about school visits that I forgot to mention. I know that you do a TON of school visits via Skype, which I never thought much about before. But it makes things so much more convenient for writers, eliminating the expense and hassle of traveling. And the possibility might alleviate stress for authors with a fear of public speaking. 🙂

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