I wasn't a reader when I was a kid. I wasn't encouraged by my parents or teachers to read, so I didn't. I rarely enjoyed books that I had to read for my English classes in high school (but for some reason I still became an English teacher) and, as I reflect back on my younger years, reading for personal enjoyment never seemed to be a suggested option. Sure, I have cherished memories of favorite literary characters like Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. But, I don't remember actually reading a book. I think I liked the idea of it more than the reality of it. It wasn't until I was in college in the early 1990s that I started to enjoy reading. John Grisham's novel The Firm had just been released and was quickly becoming a must-read around the country. As I devoured the book, I remember thinking to myself, "Why don't I read more often?" I continued to read more of Grisham's bestsellers like The Client and The Pelican Brief and quickly found an author who inspired me to be a reader.
For the rest of college and into my adult life, I was a spotty reader. I would read books by well-known authors such as Nicholas Sparks and J.K. Rowling, and while I immersed myself in their stories and characters, I still didn't consider myself an avid reader. At least not until The Hunger Games was released. My sister, and fellow librarian, introduced me to this life-changing trilogy. She was a middle school librarian at the time, and I was going back to work as a teacher after having taken a six year hiatus after my twins were born. Looking for a book to capture my attention, I turned to her for advice. Like so many other people, I couldn't put the first book down. I shared it with my husband and eagerly anticipated the second book in the series. The Hunger Games trilogy jump-started my love of young adult fiction.
Now I read every day without fail, even if it's just for ten minutes before bed. The majority of what I read is YA lit since my library is packed full of it! I love to read what the kids read, and my hope is to create readers at a young age. If you're frustrated because your child or student isn't reading, consider trying some of my suggestions below. However, remember that you can't force someone to be a reader. You can encourage and you can model. They will have to find their love of reading themselves, and hopefully some of these tips will help them do that.
1. Read about what interests you.
Consider your hobbies and interests. If you love sports, read a novel about sports. Authors such as John Feinstein, Tim Green, and Carl Deuker are favorites among my middle school students. Consider your favorite genre. If you love fantasy, stick with it! Who says you have to read a variety of genres? While I believe it's important for some readers to explore different genre styles, if you're not an avid reader, just stick with what you love. You can always branch out later.
2. Don't judge a book by its cover.
I watch SO MANY students pull a book off a shelf, look at the cover, then proceed to the circulation desk to check out the book. What?!?! How can you possibly know if you'll like a book based on the cover? While publishers spend lots of money on the cover artwork, it's the pages of the book you'll be reading, not the cover. Take a minute to read the blurb on the book jacket flap to see if the plot interests you. If it doesn't, put the book back on the shelf. Even if you love the cover, PUT IT BACK!
3. Find a favorite author.
This one is easy. If you've read a book that you've loved, read another one by the same author.
4. Get a recommendation.
Ask a friend for a suggestion. You usually have similar interests as your friends, so your reading preferences might be similar too. You can always ask your librarian for a suggestion! She is your literacy expert and can always steer you in the right direction. Finally, open up a Goodreads account. As you start tracking your books, the website will provide you with book recommendations based on what you've previously read.
5. Take the pressure off!
Reading for enjoyment should be enjoying! Remind yourself that you won't be taking a test on the book, so you won't be analyzing the characters or identifying types of figurative language. While there is value in doing those things when you're studying a book for a class, if you're trying to become a reader, those things aren't going to get you there. Just relax with the book and let it immerse you in another world!
6. Give the book a chance.
I firmly believe that a reader has every right to give up on a book if it's not a fit. However, you have to give the book a chance. For middle grade books, I suggest that you read at least the first 50 pages before giving up on it. For YA books, I suggest about 60-70 pages. For adults, I suggest reading at least 100 pages since adult novels usually have a longer exposition and start the conflict a little later in the book than most YA reads. Once you've given the book a chance, then you may choose to either keep reading or ditch the book for another option.
7. Give the book some time.
When I start a new book, I make sure that I have at least 20-30 minutes of time to focus on only that. I don't start a new book right before bed or just when I have 5 minutes to spare. I believe that in order to really get into a book, you have to devote ample, uninterrupted time in the beginning so that you can start to immerse yourself in the characters and setting. If you just read a few minutes sporadically over time, you'll find that you haven't connected with the characters and haven't felt absorbed in the story. Give the book some time in the beginning and you'll be more likely to continue reading it.
8. Establish a reading routine.
Set aside reading time everyday. Write it on your calendar. If you're a student, set a goal to read every day for 30 minutes when you get home from school. I always read every night before bed. Sometimes it's only for 10-20 minutes, but even reading that small amount every night will help you finish that book sooner than you think! When something becomes a habit, you're more likely to start enjoying it.
9. Create a reading environment.
Find a place in your house that can be your special reading place. Get comfortable! Adjust the lighting and temperature to suite your taste. Snuggle up with a soft blanket or prop yourself up with some oversized pillows. Find a place where other members of your family won't be interrupting you. I like to read in bed with a white noise machine turned low. This drowns out the other noises in the house and outside in the neighborhood. Finally, minimize distractions by turning off your phone, the TV, or the Internet.
I hope these tips help you or someone you know become a reader! If you have any more suggestions, please put them in the comments below.