How do we persuade our "reluctant readers" to read? Well, let’s start by re-branding them.
The term "reluctant reader" is indeed an interesting one. It’s bounced around by educators, publishers and researchers to suggest a child or young person who might struggle to access texts, but more importantly, is just not interested in reading and who therefore needs considerable encouragement and support to do so. I’ve used it myself in my role as both teacher and writer to mean just that. But does it, really?
Increasingly, I’m realise it actually means young people who aren’t reluctant to read, but rather, who are simply incredibly choosy regarding what they read; let’s rebrand them, shall we? I like the idea of "discerning readers" much, much more.
Over the years, I’ve worked with many discerning readers. They don’t read Oliver Twist – or any other "classic" – for pleasure, they frequently have a reading age significantly below their chronological age, and they consider anything longer than a tweet to be, "like proper long".
However, give them an article about the latest iPhone or X-box game, about a local kid who’s been locked-up for some serious crime, about a ridiculously expensive car or motorbike, or a famous rapper who’s found himself on the wrong side of the law, and bingo! They’ll battle their way through dense, complex, lengthy texts without a murmur.
And we’re not talking about those allegedly "high interest, low reading age" materials here – the ones publishers, especially educational ones, just love to promote – instead, these can be technical papers or reports from quality newspapers. Okay, these discerning readers might not be able to decipher every word, and they might not know the definition of all the words they can decipher, but they’ll glean a lot more than just the gist; they’ll ascertain exactly what they need to. Crucially, they won’t be put off, because the motivation to read it outweighs any anxieties and makes the effort required worthwhile.
I think the same is true in fiction. Present discerning readers with characters they can relate to, situations that mean something to them and language that’s real to them, and you’ve got a fair chance of actually engaging them. Think of the films that our discerning readers are watching, the console games they’re playing; they’re loud, dramatic, risky, action-packed, controversial! If we are going to compete with these for young people’s time and interest, our novels have to be exactly that.
So I for one say, let’s give them what they want; you never know, it might just lead to them choosing to read Oliver Twist one day.
HEARTS AND ARROWS (THE S16 SERIES Book 2) by Kate Hanney – aimed at the 16+ age group – is available from Amazon.
We gave a ♥♥♥♥♥ review to Watermelon also by Kate Hanney.