“Daddy, can you take us to buy some more books!”
These 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.
One 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.
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.
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.
The 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.
In 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!