“Daddy, can you take us to buy some more books!”

We need Diverse BooksThese words I have heard often, from each of my eight children, from preschool through college. They are divine words to my ears. All of my children are avid and voracious readers, from my oldest, who is twenty-eight years old, to my youngest, who is six and even my oldest grandchild, who turns three in a week.

They have all grown up seeing me read, being read to and learning about the importance and power of books and being able to read – and write – them.

But some children, even those with high intelligence and good grades, would rather do anything than read. Others have learning difficulties and find reading a struggle.

Reluctant ReaderOne of my closest friends is a so-called reluctant reader. He has been for as long as he can remember. He says that reading books gives him headaches. His nine year old son says the exact same thing. His son will burst into crocodile tears if he is given a book and told he must read just one chapter.

This might seem impossible to you, but his story is not unique, especially among our boys of Afrikan descent.

What can we do to encourage our children, now classified as reluctant readers, to pick up a book, read it and enjoy it?

First, I will boldly – and accurately – state that there are no reluctant readers. That label, like many forced upon us, is a lie.

We have been using the phrase ‘reluctant readers’ like mad. Hash-tagging about them; struggling to “save” them; lamenting for them…but the fact of the matter is all of our students read – they read all the time, in fact.

Need proof?

Ask your child if they text. Ask them if they tweet; if they “hit their friends up” on Instagram or write on their friends’ walls on Facebook.

We need Diverse BooksDo they read street lit, comic books, blogs, or the subtitles on The Raid or Kung Fu Hustle? Yep, thought so.

The only things our youth are “reluctant” to read is the stuff they find boring, which means we, as authors, have to write what appeals to them, not us.

We must also acknowledge that their “literatures” – no matter how low-brow we consider them—are legitimate forms of reading.

Comic books and graphic novels are proven to be the second most popular form of book for youth between the ages of 9 and 16.

The most popular books – although their popularity has waned over the years among Black readers because, until recently, none of them featured a Black hero or shero – are gamebooks.

choose your own adventureThe Choose Your Own Adventure series of gamebooks is one of the most popular children’s book series of all time, with more than 250 million books printed in at least 38 languages. Each story is written from a second-person point of view, with the reader assuming the role of the protagonist and making choices that determine the main character’s actions in response to the plot and its outcome. The series has been used in classrooms from elementary school to college and has been widely commended for its appeal to so-called reluctant readers.

Many children feel alienated from the reading process because they cannot relate to what they are asked to read.

For most youth, however, gamebooks make them part of the process by allowing them to make a choice for the main character.

Another reason our youth are reluctant to read a particular book is because the author’s writing fails to engage them in the story. When a reader cannot identify with a story or cannot relate to its characters, they quickly disengage.

Consistently not seeing ourselves represented in the reading material as a cool, kickass hero is a huge turn-off.

One of the most rewarding experiences for a reader is having the opportunity to create your own world. To actually be the hero. This engages us in the story and we become invested in the story because we become the hero and control the hero’s actions.

Once our youth are engaged, they will not only read but will want to read more and about different things, including other worlds and other heroes who they can relate to.

The KeysIn my gamebook, The Keys, the reader has the unique experience of choosing to be one of two heroes, the extreme journalist and martial artist, Terry De Fuego or the mathematical genius basketball phenom, Jordan Drummond who quest to awaken the ancient gods within them while battling the immortal sorcerer, Henry the Navigator and his horde of monstrous creations.

Every child, teen and adult who has read the book and given me feedback has mentioned how they loved being able to choose whether they wanted to be a young man or young woman with vastly different abilities, but both working to achieve similar goals. They also got a kick out of being able to control the hero’s actions and some even tried to make all the wrong choices just to find out how wild, scary or funny the story could be.

So, the next time you or your child is labeled as a reluctant reader, tell them you are reluctant…to read wack books. Then open up your copy of The Keys and enjoy!

About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at https://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Afrikan.Martial.Arts; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at www.tumblr.com/blog/blackspeculativefiction.

7 responses »

  1. Fujimoto says:

    I find many of my friends seem reluctant to read books. One friend takes thing to surreal extremes by stating several times he couldn’t get into reading novels outside of the Harry Potter books, and now he’s trying to self-publish his own novel—while still insisting he can’t get into reading books.

    The Keys sounds better and better every time you bring it up.

    • Balogun says:

      A writer who doesn’t read…not the first time I’ve heard that. That is a recipe for a horrid book. He’ll learn. 🙂

      • Fujimoto says:

        He might be. Last I talked to him he expressed doubts about his book. It occurred to me why he doesn’t read more often though: he doesn’t identify with male heroes any more and wants to bring more sheroes into the world. I’m the same way, but I study books so I know what to do when I do begin writing.

  2. […] and I was trying to find some inspiration for something to write about. So when I saw this post, “There’s No Such Thing as Black Reluctant Readers, Just Wack Writers!”, my search for writing inspiration came to an abrupt […]

  3. […] put, an author must have readers. A writer may or may not have […]

  4. bgurrl says:

    I’ve also noticed those who say they kids are reluctant readers of whatever race tend to try to force their kids to read books they like. There was a parent complaining about his kid reading children’s/ or YA (modern of course) instead of greats like Huckleberry Finn or other “classics” (which themselves weren’t classics at the time they were written. LOL) What’s commercial today may be classic tomorrow. Shakespeare anyone. Everyone kept pointing out that your child enjoys reading just not the books you want them to enjoy. And think about it. Is that a book that person truly enjoys or enjoyed as a child or a book that people say children should read and enjoy to be “well read”? How many actually read those books as children vs. adults? I think many times adults get in the way of children’s enjoyment of reading from home to school. This notion that you have to read certain types of books, analyze the hell out of the etc. instead of just reading for enjoyment.

  5. […] CYOA-style book, The Keys, has long been a huge hit with youth and adults at conventions and festivals around the […]

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