Keep ‘Em Reading – Reluctant Readers! (Keeping Things as Unintimidating as Possible)

Hey! Thanks for coming back! As promised, I’m back on the porch, with reluctant readers still on my mind. Actually, reluctants are never far from my mind, as they are a group dear to my heart. Yet to find the love of reading, these kiddos are often so close but still need a little extra support from the adults in their lives.

Instead of delving in and providing specific book recommendations, yesterday I spoke to the when and where of getting a reluctant to read. As I wilt on the front porch in the early morning (Houston is still in the triple digits. It’s been a looooong summer…..), let’s chat some more. We may as well; nobody is mowing this overgrown yard until things cool down a bit (like maybe in October).

Now that your reluctant reader is physically comfortable (yesterday’s post), let’s make sure she feels the same way about what she is reading.


Find a beautiful book. There are thousands of books out there from which to choose. If you’ve got a reluctant reader on your hands, the choice is especially noteworthy. These are kiddos who, for whatever reason, aren’t so interested in books, so just grabbing any ol’ book isn’t going to do the trick.

If they look grubby to you, they will to your kids, too!
If they look grubby to you, they will to your kids, too!

Forget the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover.” We all do it. We can’t help ourselves. Take a look at a book to see if its appearance is appealing. Yes, the cover probably needs to be attractive, but so does the book, itself. Books that are falling apart, feel a little gritty, have dated pictures and/or covers aren’t tempting to anyone, much less someone who isn’t too terribly excited about reading. You could talk to your reluctant about stereotypes and the concept that looks aren’t everything OR you can find a fresh, clean, inviting copy of a book. It’s your call, but if you wanna save some time, think about having him learn that lesson some other way, and seek out a handsome book with your reader.

Let’s talk white space. I bring up white space all the time – really, I do. I cannot tell you how many times I’ll recommend a book to a child (reluctant or otherwise), and she flips through the book, just to look at it. More often than not, if it doesn’t have enough white space, it will be returned to the shelf (hopefully in the right spot. I know. I’m such a librarian). To be clear: the child doesn’t speak in these terms. The child just sorta kinda knows what looks unintimidating and pleasing to the eye.

White space literally is the area on a page that – assuming the book’s pages are white – are white. Margins, line spacing (lots of kids love a 1.5 line spacing), how a chapter heading is placed on a page — these all can make a book seem dense and difficult or lighter and easier. I routinely watch children inspect copies of the exact same book, usually published in different years, and always select the copy with more white space. It is never a debate.

I purchased my first pair of readers a couple of years ago and thought, “Man, I’m getting old.” r glassesLaughable now, as I’m just a few years older and already need stronger lenses. It is always such a relief, these days, to be able to see the text I’m reading. So, take a look at font size. Our children prefer larger, more readable fonts, too, even if they’ve got whippersnapper eyeballs.

True story: a friend of mine with more than two children (I know! She and her husband cannot play man-to-man defense in her home. In awe. I have two children: my first and my last. She is wonder woman.) pulled me aside a while back, concerned about one of her kids. Turns out, child is a pretty good reader but child was unwilling to move forward and try some more complex texts on her reading level (don’t get me started….). We talked a lot about pictures and white space and font size, among other things. A week later, she called me to say ramonathat this same child read Ramona the Pest on her own. Using her Kindle, Mom modified the font (made it bigger) and the line spacing, and – she was in disbelief – her child was off and running. Loved the book. Wanted more. (Child is now in high school, by the way, and reads plenty. They will get there!) If you have an e-reader, create your own “white” space and larger fonts – ingenious! And if you’re looking at physical books, remember that these attributes, like it or not, really influence a reader before he even starts the book.

If we tend to be drawn to some white space, I suppose it should come as no surprise that we like a few illustrations every now and then. Clearly, this is not an issue with picture books, but if your reader is into chapters, an occasional sketch can work wonders. Publishers, I think, are figuring this out, and increasingly, chapter books have some pictures in them these days. If your precious child really is struggling as a reader, this is not the time to make judgements on whether a proper chapter book does or does not include illustrations. There is no room for “in my day….” (What? We read books three inches think? We read books without pictures? We walked to school uphill both ways? None of these points will motivate a reluctant reader to try a book.)

texasMaybe this Texas heat is getting to me, but I’m about to rant a little, here. Aside from the visual appeal of books, we, as adults desperately trying to entice a reluctant reader to read, must remember that an unintimidating read (with attractive cover, larger font, plenty of white space) pairs well with an unintimidating atmosphere. Step away a tad. Try not to hover. Provide a little space. It is crazy hard to do this, sure. But nobody ever said that parenting was easy. And let’s be honest: we’ve been through worse. Making comments about her choice of book, her disinterest in reading, your disapproval of the book’s seemingly “light-weight” qualities will not be productive. Keep it to yourself. Call your best friend and quietly confess these things. Write it in your private journal. But, please. Please oh please oh please do not, in any possible way, discourage or pass judgement on a reluctant reader (or any reader, for that matter). Children so desperately do not want to disappoint (I tried to re-word that to sound more positive, but it doesn’t end up with the same meaning. And this concept is so important, I’m leaving it as it is: they truly dislike disappointing us).

Right now is a really good time to look inward. Some parents may recall being reluctant, themselves. Parents have different personalities and temperaments and histories, all contributing to a different way of reacting to their child as a reader. But if you have issues with the fact that your child is a reluctant, now is the time to come to terms with it. Kids pick up on not just what we say but our facial expressions and body language, so if you feel disappointed by what your child reads (or doesn’t read), she will know, even if you don’t say a word. Your child may love you to death, but he will be a much stronger, lifelong reader if he loves to read for himself and not for mom or dad or teacher or nanny or grandpop, or Great Aunt Sally Sue. I often say, “so much of reading is psychological,” and it is quite true. If you’ve got a true reluctant reader on your hands, he needs support. Encouragement. A tricky mixture of trust and guidance. Get grouchy about the wet towel on the floor or the blob of toothpaste still in the sink, but not about what he is reading. Not now.

On a more positive note, here is a list of other things adults can provide for reluctant readers to be more successful and the reading process less overwhelming:

~Try some take-turns reading/switch reaching. You read a paragraph (or page or chapter, however you want to divide it) and then she reads the next one. When a child looks at a page in a book, it is a little more manageable knowing someone else will tackle about half the text that appears before him.

~Start the book for your reader. Sometimes, just getting started and “into” it is the hardest part.

~Read alongside your reader! If you’re on your iPad, talking on the phone, or watching TV, it’ll be just that much more challenging for your reader to get onboard. Be a reading role model and find something wonderful for yourself to read!

~Make reading-time something pleasurable, a happy event, a reward – and never a punishment. Get your reader comfortable. Allow for choices in their reading (I’ll get to that in OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe next few days). Honor her moods.

~Find a reading buddy – a younger neighbor, friend, or sibling? Or, perhaps a pet or stuffed animal. There is safety and comfort in numbers.

Without even offering the title of a book, you never knew someone could have so much to say about reluctant readers, did you? Maybe that’s why some kids are a bit reluctant: it isn’t entirely the title as it is the circumstances. Perhaps. But, the type of book does make a difference. Explore all kinds of recommendations with me, will you? I hope to be back tomorrow to have some serious fun.

Keep Reading,


Contact me at fplweb (at) frontporchlibrarian dot com

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