Mother Daughter Book Reviews is pleased to welcome author Cynthia Port with us today as a guest contributor. Cynthia is here to share her thoughts about how authors of children’s books can target reluctant readers. Please scroll down to see a free offer for “Classroom Book Party Packs” for teachers.
Targeting the Reluctant Reader
by Cynthia Port
Dear children’s author, please write for the kid who would rather trim her toenails for the third time than open a book. Please write books that are better than video games and snow days and pizza. Please write books that make you feel as good as when your brother admits that you will always be better than him at video games and snow days and pizza.
A daunting request, but think about it: if you can hook reluctant readers, you’re pretty much guaranteed that the avid ones will be gaga over them. It’s kind of like broccoli. Find a recipe to please the most finicky eater, and you’ve found your family’s new go-to dish.
I HATE reading
A reluctant reader is anyone who does not show a natural interest in reading. This definition is very broad, encompassing children with learning disabilities and visual or psychomotor issues. But even when medical and development issues are absent, a child may still treat reading like a chore, and I would know. Though we read equal numbers of books together, I have one child who did and one who did not experience an early love of reading. For the latter, just about any other activity brought her more pleasure, including staring at a television screen that I had turned off over an hour previously.
A Picture Leads to a Thousand Words
With my reluctant reader, the key to getting her into reading, the gateway drug, so to speak, of literature, was Graphic Novels. The books she initially chose were glorified picture books – goofy, simple drawings with fewer than 20 words to a page – and even then I wasn’t entirely sure she was reading any of the words. I did not care. She was holding a book in her hands willingly. She was taking them to bed at night and then propping them up against the cereal box in the morning. She was letting me know when it was time to go back to the library. She even wanted to read parts to me. And whether or not I found them entertaining, I pretended to be enthralled.
Slowly, over several years, she increased both her reading speed and her word to page ratio. By the time she was paging backwards through manga graphic novels as thick as bricks, she was devouring them the way I polish off a bag of potato chips, and by potato chips I mean carrot sticks. Today she is starting the third in the Fablehaven series.
After looking into the subject, I suspect the drawings in the graphic novels solved a problem many Reading Specialists identify among reluctant readers: connecting text to meaning. Simply put, some children experience reading as an exercise in tracking words on a page, aka DRUDGERY. The drawings helped her to make the connection between the words and the story because, while she might get the general gist of the story just by looking at the pictures, bothering to read even a smattering of words made the pictures more alive. The more she read, the more alive it became. Ta daaa! Reading!
For many children this process happens during the traditional picture book years, but my child needed an extension. She needed a way to be “held back” to picture book and early reader level without feeling punished or embarrassed by plots like “the puppy played in the mud and needed a bath.” And though I’ve never personally been a fan of Graphic Novels, for giving my daughter this second chance, I have undying respect and gratitude toward the genre.
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way Home From The Library
But wait, you say: I don’t write Graphic Novels! That’s okay, because pictures aren’t the only prerequisite to keeping my reluctant reader reading. As I peruse her library check-out history, there is an obvious second theme: humor. Without something to tickle her funny bone, it doesn’t matter how thrilling a story is, my daughter will likely find it dull.
So as I write my Kibble Talk series (Kibble Talk and Dog Goner), I work carefully on the humor. If you want some tips and strategies for funny bone tickling that don’t rely on bodily functions, check out my post HERE.
Being funny takes a surprising amount of effort and care, but it all pays off when you get reviews and comments like these from teachers and parents:
“Teachers might use this book with reluctant readers.”
And even better:
“My daughter has some dyslexia and dislikes reading, but she has read Kibble Talk at least a dozen times.”
And best of all:
“I bought this book for my 12 year old granddaughter who hasn’t read a book, other than what she had to at school, since she got her ipad at Christmas. All she ever wants to do is play games. But when she started reading Kibble Talk, she didn’t put it down until she finished it. Please keep writing, Cynthia, our kids need you.”
Now THAT is the sort of review that keeps an author sitting at her keyboard even when her toenails could really use a third trimming.
Free “Kibble Talk” Classroom Book Party Packs for Teachers:
As teachers prep for the 2014-15 school year, did you know that 99% of them spend their own money on classroom supplies and materials, with the average spending over $500? As a thank you to teachers, Cynthia Port wants to send 20 teachers of 2nd through 6th grade a signed copy of Kibble Talk along with a fabulous Classroom Book Party Pack complete with prizes, games, snack ideas, bookmarks, and coloring pages. And it’s all completely FREE. She’ll even throw in a free author visit right to their classroom via Skype! All the teacher needs to do is use the book as a read aloud. Last year 20 teachers from Nebraska to Florida took her up on the offer. Here are a few of their comments:
“I have to tell you, reading Kibble Talk aloud to them, they love it! I mean absolutely love this story! It has completely kept their attention, and even had them begging me to read more!” ~ Ms. S from Pioneer, TN
“There’s lots of laughter and giggling every time!” ~ Ms. D from Dalton, MA
“We just finished Kibble Talk today. Fifth graders (and their teacher) really enjoyed it. We’d love to Skype or Facetime with you and talk about the book and ask you questions.” ~ Ms. J from Papillion, NE
Interested teachers can contact Cynthia on Facebook or her author page (info below).
About the Guest Contributor
Living in the fossil-filled hills of Southern Indiana, Cynthia Port writes for the young and the stubbornly young at heart. When not writing her laugh-out-loud fiction, Dr. Port is a scientific consultant, assisting medical researchers across the US. She can also be found singing, cooking, entertaining her “advanced model” cat, or attempting every craft ever invented the moment it is invented anywhere around the globe. Dr. Port is currently working on the third book in the Kibble Talk series, as well as a standalone historical fiction that takes place in the Australian Outback. Wombats, anyone?