Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Megan: Publishing for Reluctant Readers

I had an English professor who used to say, “There are two types of people in the world, those who divide the world into two, and those who don’t.” Usually I tend to think that making either or distinctions doesn’t adequately capture a situation, but for the sake of this post, I’m going to succumb to the temptation. I am going to break teen readers into two camps: voracious and reluctant readers.

I think we all know voracious readers. Chances are many of the readers of this blog would consider themselves to be part of this camp. At the high school where I am a librarian, I am fortunate to have many voracious readers. They check out books ten at a time, and come back to me with full reviews, asking for more. These also tend to be students whose families will take them to Borders to buy books, so they have healthy home libraries as well.

Reluctant readers are trickier to define, and to serve. I took a great class with Jenine Lillian, and she presented it this way: if you ask a reluctant reader to make a list of his or her ten favorite things to do, reading isn’t on it. These are not poor readers, or poor students. Reading just isn’t at the top of their To Do list. Many of my students fall into this camp. They come to me not because they want a book, but because they have to have one for independent reading. Some tell me that they don’t like to read, but I can’t help but wonder if there were more books that they liked, would they like to read more?

What I’ve noticed is that there is a difference between what the voracious and reluctant readers choose to read. Most of my students want real life stories, be they gritty tales like those from Ellen Hopkins, more romantic Sarah Dessen-fare. I have boys who reminisce fondly about Holes --arguing with an English teacher about its literary merit -- but have yet to find a group of characters as relatable as the boys at Camp Green Lake. I have a student who has dutifully renewed An Abundance of Katherines at least four times, slowly making his way through it during our school’s SSR time. Another gives me updates on his progress through Fat Kid Rules the World. When these students read books, they want books about kids like them. Kids who play basketball or skateboard; kids who get crushes. Their life, only magnified: wittier, more intense, more real.

Of course there are many books that my reluctant readers enjoy, and I work very hard to match kids with books. When I succeed, the feeling is amazing. What I want is more, more, more. The word I hear through the author grapevine is that publishers want this kind of book, too, but say it won’t sell. And I guess to a certain extent that’s true. I mean, it only makes sense to meet the desires of the bibliophiles who will read -- and buy -- dozens of books each year, rather than the kid who keeps one book in his backpack for months on end. But here’s the other way of looking at it: If you build it, they will come. If more books are published appeal to reluctant readers, maybe those readers won’t be so reluctant.

In the end what a librarian hopes to build -- a lifelong reader -- will serve the publishing business well in the end. Because when a kid finds one book that speaks to them, they are more willing to try another.


  1. Megan, I love this post! I love how you defined a reluctant reader, because I think that's it exactly!!

    My books appeal to reluctant readers, and I'm so glad they do!!

  2. I love this post too! I was a reluctant reader growing up. I didn't care about fantasy worlds or things like that to read. I could imagine them on my own. But give me a book about kids in a real life situation that I experienced and I would eat it up. I loved kid sports books, but I was still very picky as to which ones I would spend my time reading. And I could probably count on my two hands how many I read through my teenage years.

    My goal is to write books that appeal to the kind of reader I was.

  3. I agree! I have two reluctant readers (teen boys) at home. I have books all over YA books and others. They read 'em but they tell me they would like to read more of specific types and, well, all the others are gushy love stories.

  4. Great post Megan! I have twin sons, 10 years old, and one is a voracious reader while the other is not. Thing #2 reads EVERYTHING--he once asked a store clerk if they had any really long books because he reads so fast he wants the story to last. Turns out he'd read everything that fit that description so even though I was willing to buy him a new book, he couldn't find one. Said he'd rather check out the short books from the library because he'll be done with it so fast.

    Then there's Thing #1, who has read precious few books and only likes to go to the bookstore to look around, almost never to buy. Thing #2 throws books his way all the time saying, "you'll love this one!", but Thing 1's response is never predictable. I can't guarantee he'll read something - ever.

    But I can tell you this: The few books he has really loved, he has become a diehard fan of. He will reread those books, he'll go to the author's website, where possible he wants to go to that author's signing. He's a fan for life.

    Just wish I could get him to be a fan of MORE books. Maybe in time . . .

  5. Wonderful! I also think that sometimes reluctant readers are a little behind their peers in skills because they just haven't practiced as much. AND I think that many slow/poor readers start out so because they just aren't motivated by the books they've been exposed to.

  6. Lisa, your books definitely appeal to my reluctant readers, so a big thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Ali, I've noticed the same thing that kids become really dedicated to books, especially if they are typically reluctant readers.

    I hope everyone finds books for their readers -- or writes them!

  7. Great post. As someone who writes realistic MG for boys, I can relate. Realistic fiction is what I always liked reading, so I guess that's why I write it. I agree with your point that there should be more of these types of books published. Just because the main character can't fly or cause massive catastrophes by winking, that doesn't mean boys (or girls) won't like him (or her). Reading about those characters is cool, but don't kids relate better to characters who can't do those things?

    I see it every year when we read The Outsiders. Long live Ponyboy.

  8. Hi, listen, I'm pretty new on this blogosphere and Internet thing, so I don't know if there's a sort of "subscription" method that I can use in order to receive notifications of your new entries...? Thing is I enjoy reading your blog a lot and I'd like to be up to date with your posts!