How to get my young cousin hooked into reading
December 27, 2010 9:58 AM   Subscribe

How can I help my 13 year old cousin get into reading?

One of my favorite people on earth is my 13 year old cousin. I think he's a very smart kid; he's got a very sharp memory for detail and is very active in a lot of different interests. He rides his dirt bike, he builds things out of wood, loves making/editing silly family videos, and plays a lot of videogames.
He likes reading, but not as a hobby. He never picks up a book to read if there is a chance to play Call of Duty online instead*.
I remember when I was about his age I really got into reading and began to substitute my gaming time with reading, and it was magical. The books that really got me interested in reading were mysteries by Agatha Christie and Stephen King novels.
My cousin and I get along very well and he looks up to me like a big brother. For this reason, I believe I may be able to help steer him toward a habit for reading more.

(here are some things he's into that may be helpful to your answer)
Science(right now, the theory of evolution is what he talks to me about when we drive somewhere together), animals (he wants to learn more about biology), Final Fantasy RPGs, skating (and the skating sub culture), and possibly film (he likes to shoot videos and editing them).

I would like to find my cousin some books that may get him "hooked" on reading, or that may make reading more fun and worthwhile, so that he may get a better glimpse at the wonderful world of literature/reading - and add this important skill to his arsenal (he wants to go to college).

To rephrase it another way: what would be some great books/authors that someone who is thirteen and active in today's internet/videogame universe take to his bedroom to read all night?

* I've read/heard that videogames and the internet are causing kids to have shorter attention spans. Honestly, as of today I haven't researched this to confirm it, but if it is the case, what are some new ways that kids nowadays are starting to get into the Reading habit? I'm not an educator, so I don't really deal with this kind of issue. Is it even an issue?
posted by fantodstic to Education (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Has he tried comic books? He sounds like the perfect candidate, and there are some really amazing storylines and art. I'd head down to your local comic book store and describe him to the awesome nerds who work there (I've never been to a comic book store staffed with anything other than awesome nerds who know a lot about comic books). They'll be able to load you up with recommendations.
posted by decathecting at 10:02 AM on December 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

Harry Potter is the obvious one.

Less obvious is Ender's game.

Really the goal is to not put something like Lord of the Rings in front of him. They WILL overwhelm him and make him less likely to read more. Find something easy and compelling and then work from there. Contrary to popular belief video games do not make you dumb; however reading does make you smart.
posted by Felex at 10:06 AM on December 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

Maybe the Dragonlance series of D&D books?
posted by Gator at 10:08 AM on December 27, 2010

...if there is a chance to play Call of Duty online instead*.

Tom. Clancy.
posted by griphus at 10:09 AM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, agreeing w/ not giving him LoTR. I read the Hobbit around his age and loved it and put down Fellowship after the second fifty-page-long description of a rolling hillside. I'm exaggerating, but he definitely needs something faster than Tolkien.
posted by griphus at 10:11 AM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Doesn't need to be fiction. My nephew (17 now) is big on hockey. Trying to get him interested in fiction of any kind is like pulling teeth, but leave a copy of Phil Esposito's biography lying around and it disappears, not to be seen for the 72 hours or so it takes him to devour it.
posted by philip-random at 10:12 AM on December 27, 2010

... and fully agreement on LoTR -- it's a book one should seek out, not have forced upon them.
posted by philip-random at 10:13 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about His Dark Materials? SO good.

Also, maybe with his enjoyment of video games etc he might be more inclined to read on a Kindle? (Though I get that it might be extravagant for someone who doesn't yet have a reading habit...)
posted by hansbrough at 10:16 AM on December 27, 2010

I'd say Michael Crichton - if he liked science, biology, etc. The pace of the plots is very fast, action oriented but it's also intelligent.
posted by mazienh at 10:19 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tom Clancy has some Splinter Cell novels that are pretty short and based on a video game series he's probably familiar with. Rainbow Six is a good one, too. Older but also had a popular game series based in it.
posted by InsanePenguin at 10:25 AM on December 27, 2010

And encourage him to skip parts that are boring to him, like political talk in Clancy stuff. I adore reading and I think part of what kept me in books as a child was the fact that no one cares if you skip some pages. Whatever.
posted by InsanePenguin at 10:27 AM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh, the Prydain Chronicles.
posted by Gator at 10:27 AM on December 27, 2010

I'm not sure if a 13-year-old would read it the same way now, but Snow Crash still holds up pretty well in my opinion. One of the main characters skateboards as well.

I'm exaggerating, but he definitely needs something faster than Tolkien.

Phillip K Dick novels are good for this, most of them are short and feel like they were written in a single marathon session in front of a typewriter. Also if he has seen and liked any of the film adaptations (Blade Runner, Minority Report), reading the original stories might be fun for him, especially since most of those adaptations only followed the originals loosely.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:30 AM on December 27, 2010

I've done little research into the area but, in my experience of working with children and young people, boys do spend a large amount of time gaming. However, I've seen nothing to suggest that this is detrimental to their development.

Accept that your cousin really, really likes games and will not spend less time than he does now playing them. Reading is not a substitute for gaming, and any mention of "get off the computer and read a chuffing book" will only reinforce the notion that books=boring.

That said, you have a very healthy attitude toward this already, so I'd suggest anything that other mefites say (alas, when I was 13 I mostly read 19th century novels) - particularly comic books. FWIW my brother (age 26, prolific reader and gamer) read a lot of comics, Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman during his early teens. My BF (age 27, prolific reader and self-confessed nerd with an inquisitive nature like your cousin) read sci-fi: Arthur C Clark and Isaac Asimov. Both admit they would've read less if their mums allowed them to play games more...

Most of all, though, I'd steer clear of telling him what to read. Try to engage him with what you're reading, because you'll make a better case if you can speak from personal experience. Most young people read what their peers are reading (see Harry Potter), unless they've been independent readers from a young age. Perhaps try reading one of the suggested titles here yourself, then tell your cousin about it and lend him your copy.
posted by dumdidumdum at 10:31 AM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

And encourage him to skip parts that are boring to him

Yes, yes, yes!

It is important for him to know that there are no rules and no one will be checked up to see if he's reading everything. He's not in school; there are no quizzes. It's for fun.
posted by griphus at 10:35 AM on December 27, 2010

Seconding comic books.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:36 AM on December 27, 2010

When you're driving somewhere, tell him you want to pick up a book and does he mind if you stop at the bookstore. Or make it a special trip. Then bring him in with you and tell him you'll buy him whatever book he chooses and let him go browsing.

Or tell him about a book you read, and why you liked it, so as to keep it in his head that *you* read and enjoy it.
posted by mrs. taters at 10:37 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would veer away from PKD at age 13, burnmp3s. There's a lot of worldly concepts in all his novels (mass media, World War 2, drug use, fallibility of memory) a 13 year old just wouldn't know the ins and outs of, and therefore they may seem boring. Like LoTR, I read Man in the High Castle at 13 and just thought "eh" and resented the ending (and PKD's endings are ... difficult for anyone). Rereading it at 25, if it didn't blow my mind, it got me back into reading PKD.
posted by griphus at 10:38 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

(I didn't mean take him to the bookstore as bribery - I meant that he should choose on his own, he probably doesn't want to spend his own money on a book, and I wouldn't trust a 13 year old with my library card (or most adults for that matter, I can rack up the late fees on my own, thanks).
posted by mrs. taters at 10:39 AM on December 27, 2010

Science(right now, the theory of evolution is what he talks to me about when we drive somewhere together), animals (he wants to learn more about biology),

Dawkins! Maybe Climbing Mount Improbable?
posted by orthogonality at 10:48 AM on December 27, 2010

Seconding the suggestion of non-fiction. Books like the DK books are a possibility - though you'll need to look them over first, as quite a few of them are geared to younger than 13. But they offer kids the opportunity to graze - pick up the book, read a bit, and then move on. It'd be great to have him reading connected text rather than the bite-sized bits, but if the bite-sized stuff is what gets him reading, so be it. There are a lot of science titles around by those folks.

Or maybe that idea underestimates him and he is someone who's got the attention span to read a large non-fiction book. Sometimes I (as a teacher of middle school students) have been able to hook in science-y type kids with the right intro. If I can recall a good conversation about something (say, like your conversations with your cousin on evolution), and find a book that keys into that, I'll say something like, "Hey, I was starting to read this and it made me remember when you were telling me about xxx. I thought you might like it. I dunno - it might be all right or it might be written a little bit above your reading level, I'm not sure. Want to give it a look?"

That last bit, about the reading level, isn't something I'll do with every kid, but I have found that some boys rise to the occasion when I frame something more as a challenge to be met rather than a task to be performed. It gives them the opportunity to want to impress me by meeting the challenge.

Possibilities there might include: If it turns out that non-fiction isn't his thing, I second the idea of Tom Clancy or similar books that are part of the spy/military genre. In my experience, a kid who's able to be turned on to reading by the great fantasy books (including Harry Potter) already would have been there by 13. Look for books that get into the action on page 1.

There are also quite a few books that are set in video game universes. No Call of Duty books that I know of, but there are many Halo series books, and such.

(As for your last question, despite the hysteria about the effects of video games, I don't find that students today have attention spans that are different than those in the past - at least when it comes to school-related activities. Admittedly, I've only been teaching since 1993, so pretty much all of my students have been from a video game generation. There definitely seem to be a few more kids than I remember for whom video games become a truly dominant activity, and I think that's partially because the advent of things like XBox Live and the like have allowed video gaming to become a social activity rather than a purely solitary one, and that ropes in more teens than before into the allure of that world).
posted by Chanther at 10:56 AM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding leaving off the PKD for now, I also read The Man in the High Castle when I was 13 and was very frustrated.

Sci-fi and fantasy do seem to be the prevailing themes... Try Terry Pratchett - if he likes it there are a billion others he can read afterwards! Or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!
posted by dumdidumdum at 10:58 AM on December 27, 2010

short story sci-fi collections, esp Asimov, etc, any of the Year Best Science Fiction anthologies.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:04 AM on December 27, 2010

The first thing I thought of was short stories. I believe people (not just kids) who aren't readers can start to love reading when they see that a great tale can be told relatively few pages.
posted by Dolley at 11:19 AM on December 27, 2010

"told in..."
posted by Dolley at 11:20 AM on December 27, 2010

my tween years were deficient for lack of Terry Pratchett's writings. if the kid has half a sense of humor, direct him into that universe.

Philip K Dick, much as I love him, is unlikely to be easy for a 13 year old to get his head around. the fiction that worked best for me at that age was the James Bond stuff (and various novelizations of popular movies).

And then there's Richard Rankin's Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.

A boy named Jack sets out to seek his fortune in the big city, but when he finally gets there, it is Toy City, formerly known as Toy Town. There is a serial killer loose upon the streets. One by one, the old, rich nursery rhyme characters are being brutally slaughtered. The Toy City police are getting nowhere. Bill Winkie, Private Eye, has also mysteriously vanished, leaving only his sidekick, Eddie Bear, to take care of business. But Eddie is ready, and when he teams up with Jack, the two set out on an epic adventure, not to mention a lot of heavy drinking, bad behavior, fast car chases, gratuitous sex and violence, bizarre toy fetishism and all-round grossness of a type not normally associated with Toy Town.

Way too much for younger kids. Way too juvenile for serious adults. Too stooo-pid for 13 year old girls. Perfect for 13 year old boys.
posted by philip-random at 11:21 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I read quite a bit of Tom Clancy and similar authors at that age, enjoyed them greatly and now I can't really see how they had much formative value. (I've better memories of Pratchett, although read less of him.)

Reading is surely more than books, these days? Surely he would be honing some of the same skills if he started looking at interesting blogs, newspapers or, say, metafilter?

At about that age I went through phases of reading newspapers (more than just sports) and/or online media based on current events that were interesting. Maybe you could look for websites/blogs that have to do with his interests and send him a link. If it clicks, he'll go through and find a whole lot of stuff himself.
posted by squishles at 11:34 AM on December 27, 2010

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow sounds like it would be good for this.

Seconding the idea about comic books too. Fables, The Sandman, and Watchmen are all excellent and might get him interested in reading some of teh books that are mentioned in them.
posted by raeka at 12:02 PM on December 27, 2010

Seconding: The Prydain books, Douglas Adams, Ender's Game, Snow Crash

Also, consider:
The White Mountains (The tripod trilogy)
The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper)

I agree that PKD and some of the other classic SF authors (Clark, Asimov, Bradbury) are probably a bit too dry for a starting place. Stephenson and Gibson are probably a better bet.

A little more off the beaten patch, but at that age I got very into Larry Niven, especially his collaborations with Jerry Pournelle (Lucifer's Hammer, Footfall, The Legacy of Heorot).
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 12:06 PM on December 27, 2010

Seconding Chricton and Card. Also try Heinlein, and H.G. Wells, too.

I find that with kids it helps a lot to model desired behaviors. That is, if you want them to develop a love for basketball, buy season tickets for yourself and wear jerseys all the time; if you want them to cook good meals spend your bonus money on a KitchenAid and swing by Whole Foods for snacks when running around town. Have books in your environment (coffee table, passenger seat, etc.,) take him to the library when you drop off your last group of finds, wear buttons that say "Frodo Lives," and put a "DON'T PANIC" bumper sticker on your car (or whatever.)
posted by SMPA at 12:13 PM on December 27, 2010

If the boy has a good sense of humor, he might enjoy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
posted by browse at 12:27 PM on December 27, 2010

The 7th-graders I teach really like fantasy series -- they get hooked on reading one right after the other until they have finished the series. Some of their favorites:

- Percy Jackson (more action than Harry Potter and seen as less childish)
- Cirque du Freak (gruesome vampire adventures)
- Maximum Ride (action-packed, a cliffhanger every few pages)

Another good series might be the Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz, which are sort of like James Bond for kids.
posted by kayram at 12:33 PM on December 27, 2010

I'd second Michael Crichton. When I first started getting into reading (age 11 or so), it was with Jurassic Park and Sphere.
posted by SNWidget at 12:57 PM on December 27, 2010

I'd like to second just taking him to a bookstore and tell him you'll buy him whatever he likes. Another good idea would be to give him a book you enjoyed as a child as a gift, along with a note about how much you loved it and were excited to pass it along to him.

I was a voracious reader as a child without needing to be prompted, but one thing that helped keep me into reading even as I started having other hobbies was the fact that it was seldom that my parents would take me to a toy store (or video store, or game shop) and give me free rein to pick out whatever. But weekend visits to bookstores were a family ritual.
posted by Sara C. at 1:22 PM on December 27, 2010

Yes, yes, yes to comic books. Until I met Mr. 26.2 I thought comic books were sort of dumb.

Good comic books have great story arcs and really beautiful art work. Especially the older books with all the hand lettering and hand coloring. Some of those are truly beautiful. Comics gave Mr. 26.2 an appreciation for good storytelling, character development, etc. That transfers to his enjoyment of traditional novels, movies, theater. Comic books aren't a 200 page wall of text that a 13 year old might find difficult to start.

If you want to make it really fun, I completely recommend supplemental readingThe Physics of Superheroes. The author is a PhD, a college professor and huge fan of superheros.
posted by 26.2 at 1:32 PM on December 27, 2010

Your Inner Fish
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:47 PM on December 27, 2010

I'll second the Maximum Ride series and the Alex Rider series. They're both good fun reads.
Oliver Sacks' Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood has some interesting stuff - especially for a science minded kid.

You might try various types of anthologies to start him off. The shorter stories aren't as intimidating and if he likes a particular author, point him to that author's longer works.
posted by jaimystery at 1:49 PM on December 27, 2010

Nthing "Ender's Game." And the sequel, "Speaker for the Dead," has a lot of science and evolution discussion. Great books - and I started reading them at 14.
posted by tacodave at 1:56 PM on December 27, 2010

When I was 13 the books I could not put down were The Godfather by Mario Puzo and Helter Skelter by Vincent Buligosi. To this day I can tell you that Sonny nailed the bridesmaid on p. 27 of the copy we passed around.
posted by bukvich at 2:04 PM on December 27, 2010

Take him to a public library, show him round and then give him a ticket and let him choose.
posted by quarsan at 12:06 AM on December 28, 2010

I'll expand on why taking him to a public library is the best thing for him.

Neither you, us or him know what reading he is interested in. A library is the best place to try out stuff to see if you like it, at virtually no cost. Some of my favourite reads were stuff I picked up in a library on a whim.

I was five when I first joined a public library - and was utterly amazed that I could take home any book I wanted for a few weeks, at no cost. I remembered looking at all the racks of books and thinking it would be amazing to read and learn from all of them. That was over 40 years ago and I still feel like that. It is no exaggeration to say that I have learne4d far more from libraries than from education.

To use the old slogan. if you give a boy a book, he will read for a day, if you give him a library ticket, he will read for the rest of his life.
posted by quarsan at 12:22 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

My 13-year-old nephew loved reading Bone.
posted by blueberry at 12:27 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

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