Are you turning a child into a reluctant reader?

By Michael Cardin

“We’re given second chances every day of our life. We don’t usually take them, but they’re there for the taking.”- Andrew Greely

The long-standing summer reading list

The practice of receiving a Summer Reading list is a shared experience of most middle school and high school students. These lists are designed to keep young minds active. There has been great consideration and discussion as to the makeup of these lists. Often certain titles remain on these lists for decades. The Scarlet Letter and Jane Eyre are great literature. As a librarian, I whole-heartily support the idea of children reading during the summer.

Blindly telling children what to read

However, as a public librarian, I am sadly accustomed to seeing parents shuttling their children into the library to hastily snatch up any book off the list. Their time in the library seems less a visit, and more a speedy, impersonal transaction. Often parents don’t ask what the book is about or read the summary on the book jacket.

Despite the well crafted list, the hastily chosen book might not offer what the child needs. Can the child identify with the characters, the cultures? Does the novel speak to the child? Are all these books truly universal in their appeal?

Children are told what to read.

Choosing the book with the fewest pages

This turns Required Reading into a chore—and children learn to dread reading. As a result, they see reading as work and thus become reluctant readers or non-readers. Some children are regularly encouraged to select books that have the fewest pages. By picking only the books that have the fewest pages, they might miss books that would mean more to them—just because these books are a scant 25 pages longer than the others.

Missing out on library services

Perhaps worst is that for some children this is the only time they get to visit the library. Along with these bad experiences with books, some younger library patrons develop sour impressions of libraries. Thusly all the services and programs offered by their libraries are likely not taken advantage of by these children, even when they grow up. These services and programs include computer classes, employment information, tax aid classes and other varied community based programs.

There’s still hope—even for reluctant readers and non-readers

However, all is not lost. There always remains hope for those who have been turned off from reading. Libraries and literature are always there waiting to be discovered. Libraries are always open to all and they do not—or should not—exclude anyone. Whether patrons venture into the physical library or visit through a library website, they are welcome.

The well-read, the non-readers, and the reluctant readers are equally important. Students, adults, or any person of any age and of any education that didn’t become enamored with literature the first time around the bend have librarians and other professionals available and prepared to assist them.

Librarians listen first

When patrons come into the library they should encounter good librarians who do not have agendas. Librarians do not push books on patrons. Good librarians listen first. Patrons are not dictated to, but rather advised with suggestions. Patrons can form relationships with their librarians.

Getting to know the patrons is the key to librarians becoming guides through literature. What are your interests? What have you read that you have liked? Questions come from these answers and eventually librarians come closer to finding what their patrons like. Librarians can offer more selection than any list. A conversation with a librarian can connect you to stories and themes and interests more precisely.

A second chance to embrace reading and library services

Those who dreaded summer reading have the opportunity. They have a second chance. They can become veracious readers, lifelong students, and even regular patrons of their local libraries. They can benefit from the array of services and programs libraries offer.

Michael Cardin, MLIS, is the Young Adult Librarian at the East Smithfield Public Library in Smithfield, RI. This year’s Teen Summer Reading Program will be the seventh that he has planned and carried out.

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8 Comments on “Are you turning a child into a reluctant reader?”

  1. Bob says:

    Thanks, Michael. We certainly need to embrace libraries and to find ongoing ways to inspire children ( and others) to read! Good suggestions here. I wonder, though, what you think about the dramatic change in the way the library space seems to be used these days. Is it the new community square for reading and exchange of worthwhile ideas? Or has it too often become a place to check email messages on the computer screen or pick-up another video? Can we hope it will remain a storehouse for knowledge and a place for human reflection or will it become simply another location for entertainment and amusement? What do you think?

  2. Anonymous says:

    The library can be all of those things. you describes and still serve the community. Every library user’s needs are as unique to each person. The library can adapt and be whatever until needs to me like a homework center, a place for performers and speakers. to share their ideas and experiences

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  8. Anonymous says:

    I agree that summer reading lists can be a turn-off to young students. I wonder, do you have any suggestions as to how they can be made more appealing? I do think it is important for students to be reading over the summer, even if they would not pick up the activity by choice, to keep their minds active and avoid the “summer slide.” (It is probably most important for those kids, actually, because an aversion to reading may be a sign that they are struggling with it.) Perhaps the summer reading system should be set up in a way that allows for more agency on the part of the student? Requiring them to read a certain number of hours, but leaving the book choice up to them?


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