How to get a reluctant reader to love books?
December 29, 2012 2:29 PM   Subscribe

How to get an 11-year old into reading?

My 11-year old stepdaughter says she hates reading but has happily gone through all the Wimpy Kid books, finishing each in about two sittings, and does enjoy graphic novels in general - most recently she liked Bone.

She's behind her peers in spelling and still prints her letters, so it would be great to get her to read more.

What approach should we take? What writers do you recommend? I remember Enid Blyton being popular with that age group when I was a kid growing up in Europe - is that too outdated to appeal to today's kids?
posted by Dragonness to Education (33 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Any writer she is drawn to.
posted by notreally at 2:39 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I loved Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh when I was her age. The modern movie version of the book: it stinks!
posted by michellenoel at 2:43 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Westing Game. It's very puzzly and when I was a fifth grader my whole class read it and loved it.
posted by sweetkid at 2:45 PM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Tintin? It's way dated but my husband and I both loved it as kids.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:45 PM on December 29, 2012

You may want to look at this question for ideas: Books for a self-declared 12-yo non-reader.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:45 PM on December 29, 2012

I'm a librarian and I'm pretty into research on free voluntary reading. There can be a vicious circle when it comes to reading (You don't read a lot, so you're not a fast and fluent reader, so you don't enjoy reading, so you don't read a lot) and a lot of parents can make things worse by thinking their kids need to be reading "sophisticated literature." Be guided by what she wants to read, first and foremost. Take her to the library often; take her to the bookstore and buy her magazines or graphic novels or whatever she's interested in.

Some of the series that are popular with girls who like the Wimpy Kid series are:

Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell
Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls by Meg Cabot

Model pleasure reading at home; have lots of books available at home; take a couple nights a week and turn off the TV/computer, not to force her to read, but to make her seek out other things to do.
posted by Jeanne at 2:47 PM on December 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

...more comics, then. Buy her whatever comics you can afford to buy her; help her figure out the inter-library loan thing so she can get her hands on more.

This is (1) the advice of a few books on how to nudge along literacy that I waded through (quite pointlessly; they were all "Have books in house, give books to child" spread over 300 pages) (2) my own take, having been a voracious consumer of pap like Archie and Nancy Drew who then turned to Penguin Classics at an early age and later lots of gently wasted time in university lit classes, (3) still my take now, having a Garfield-addicted five-year-old who can sit through quite long readings from more sophisticated stuff, Shakespeare plays, and poetry.

The other research-backed factor is that the adults in the house need to have reading as a part of their own lives. House full of text + people engaged with text = consumption of literature normalised; no easy shortcuts there. But the first part is easy enough. I bought my daughter a ridiculous magazine called "Sparkle World" because the licensed characters and fluffy layout left her gagging to read it. Take her to a newsstand, make magazine subscriptions a part of the usual present-giving occasions.

Enid Blyton flies here but five and eleven are light years apart and I doubt that a balky reader would engage with Blyton at that relatively late age. But just reading is key; it doesn't have to be "quality" stuff. Tintin is a great idea; Asterix is probably also a go if Tintin appeals.
posted by kmennie at 2:47 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

A recent trial with some indigenous kids with below par reading skills has had great luck with Kindles. In the trial, the kids were given Kindles for a set period of time (3 months I think). If they improved their reading amount (hours per week) and improved their comprehension and confidence, they were allowed to keep the Kindle as their own. After 3 months, 96 out of 100 kids kept their Kindles.

And here's link for free kindle books.
posted by Kerasia at 2:48 PM on December 29, 2012

When my son was about 11 he didn't like reading, I asked if he would let me read to him for three nights. I read from Harry Potter. After 3 days passed he was still enjoying it, soon when I opened the book he would show me where to start because he had read ahead during the day. From there he was taking the book to school to read during breaks and on the bus.
The sad ending is that as an adult he is still not a fan of reading, he reads papers, loves history and geography and is able to read when required but he will never just read a novel. Some people just aren't readers.
posted by InkaLomax at 2:59 PM on December 29, 2012

I would say if she's reading graphic novels, then she is reading.

I'd definitely hand her Raina Telgemeier's Smile and Drama if she hasn't read them already -- both are amazing and perfect for her age. Telgemeier also did four comic adaptations of the Baby-sitters Club books, which may be a good way to get her to read more prose books (I imagine the Baby-sitters Club books may feel a little dated now, but they are still in print and the older ones have been updated somewhat).

Amelia Rules! is another comic she may enjoy and I feel it's about on the same reading level as Bone. The Dork Diaries is more of Tales of a Wimpy Kid for girls, although I don't think it looks to be quite as good.

This is a tough age, though, since she's aging out of kids' books that are on her reading level (in terms of subject matter) but isn't quite ready for young adult books. Still, a good librarian should be able to point her to more she'd like (there are plenty of fantasy novels she may enjoy, if she liked Bone, after all). Mostly, though, I'd let her direct you to what she wants to be reading. Some kids take longer to grow into reading than others.
posted by darksong at 3:13 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition to Dork Diaries recommended above, she might also enjoy the Big Nate books by Lincoln Pierce.
posted by Dr. Zira at 3:33 PM on December 29, 2012

A reluctant reader I know, who was about that age and male, was willing to read for HOURS if he was reading video game strategy guides (and, parentally-supervised, message boards about various games) online. Of course his parents were still providing a variety of other reading material, but reading the amount of video game stuff he read in quantities that large made him a faster, more fluent reader and made the other reading less onerous to him. (Now he is an adult who reads 1,000-page tomes for funsies.)

Maybe she will read everything in the world if it's about horses, or Star Wars, or Muppets. Whatever it is, there are websites for that!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:42 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

She ... still prints her letters, so it would be great to get her to read more.

No amount of love for reading books is going to give her Cursive handwriting.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:44 PM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Maybe it's too mature but what about The Hunger Games? There was an informal idea in my house that if you read the book, you could see the movie. Thankfully, we were adults before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But yeah, if she likes crappy tween books, reading those is better than not reading at all. I read every Babysitters Club book I could get my hands on. What about Gossip Girl?
posted by kat518 at 3:57 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Inspired by this article in today's paper... maybe she would enjoy reading to a pet? The kids in the story were more motivated to read aloud to friendly dogs than to read by themselves.
posted by kayram at 4:10 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Hunger Games, probably.

I also agree with folks who've said variations on "more of what she already likes to read" (graphic novels) and "stuff she is interested in knowing about".

I also agree with Harvey Kilobit that her handwriting and possibly her spelling might not go hand in hand with her amount of reading.
posted by Sara C. at 4:15 PM on December 29, 2012

Well, you can start with the LibraryThing page for Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I find LibraryThing to be very good with recommendations, personally. Also...

Ten Kids, No Pets by Ann M. Martin (and sequel, and all 101 Saddle Club books if she's into horses...I personally still own about 50 of them... and, yes, Babysitters Club...)

Encyclopedia Brown

Nthing that reading anything, even comics or fluffy tween books, is a good thing and that the best way to lure a kid in is by appealing to her other interests.

(Also, sadly, another vote for reading doesn't equal penmanship--although cursive may be a load of nonsense anyway. It also didn't help my spelling or grammar, which was a little bit baffling to my teachers.)
posted by anaelith at 4:16 PM on December 29, 2012

When my kids were that age I was still reading them bedtime stories ... only they were chapter books and I would read a chapter a night with plenty of interruption and interaction from them about the story, characters, something it reminded them of, what a word meant, etc. Sometimes a chapter took an hour. Lots of good memories. It only made one of them love books but it made both of them love stories. Among the highlights:
Roald Dahl (The BFG got a re-read)
A Series of Unfortunate Events (they were not into Potter)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip
The Magic Pudding (stepdad was Australian)
posted by headnsouth at 4:16 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might try "The Strange Case of Origami Yoda", which has a lot of the fun little margin drawings like the Wimpy Kid books. I think there's a new one out called Darth Paper. Also, Brandon Sanderson has a really funny and fast-paced series starting with "Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians" that might be a hit.
posted by Revie1 at 4:48 PM on December 29, 2012

Have you thought about getting her a subscription to a magazine? There are a ton of magazines aimed at kids in her age group, and if you found one based on a subject she's interested in she might read it. If she likes animals you could get her Ranger Rick or Zoobooks; if she likes sports there's Sports Illustrated Kids; if she likes science, you could try Ask magazine (Odyssey is also good, but probably above her current reading level). If she's already getting into fashion, etc., I've heard that Discovery Girls magazine is pretty good (as in, NOT some sort of awful mini Cosmo).

The good thing about magazines is that, like comics, they're full of pictures to help kids understand the meaning of what they're reading, and they also offer a mix of very short and mid-length pieces to read, and are designed to be picked up and put down at will rather than read in one go, so kids who are prone to reading frustration don't feel like they have to finish the thing all at once.
posted by BlueJae at 4:55 PM on December 29, 2012

I'm a librarian, and sometimes I steer professed non-readers towards non-fiction. One recent "win" was giving a humongous book on horse breeds to the mom of a girl who claimed she hated reading, but wanted a horse more than anything. Her mom said that she devoured the book for hours for several nights after she brought it home. So...maybe non-fiction about things that she is interested in? Horses, cars, weather phenomena, dogs, rocks, whatever. So long as it's reading, it's all good.
posted by Elly Vortex at 5:21 PM on December 29, 2012

Agreeing that the library is actually a great place for reluctant readers! We librarians are trained to be able to talk to kids and find out what they'll like reading. Plus, if the books are free, you can try so many different kinds! Encourage her to talk to the children's librarian, and maybe even kind of step away and let her pick stuff out with the librarian one-on-one.

In terms of actual recommendations, there are so many awesome graphic novels for kids right now -- it's a super quickly growing area. I particularly liked "How Mirka Got Her Sword" and "Giants Beware". Also, I think Elly has it right when she says that nonfic is often way less intimidating and more fun than fiction. The publisher DK puts out so many cool nonfiction books (like awesome horse books!), and they include lots of pictures and diagrams that make them a delight to browse. Recently I also really enjoyed a book called "Moonbird" about endangered shorebirds and their amazingly long migrations. Sounds lame, but was great!
posted by itsamermaid at 6:18 PM on December 29, 2012

If she likes animals you could get her Ranger Rick or Zoobooks

Isn't the stepdaughter in question eleven years old?

Granted, I was an accelerated reader unlike the kid we're talking about, but by the time I was eleven I was reading things way more mature than Ranger Rick, The Babysitters Club, Tintin, etc. At that point I was more into the YM/Seventeen/Sassy end of periodicals, YA novels of the S. E. Hinton ilk, and nonfiction that went at least a little bit beyond "Fun Fact: The Ring-Tailed Lemur Is The Smallest Primate!"

You don't need to give her adult books, but at least aim for something that doesn't feel babyish. Never underestimate the power of "maturity" to lure a preteen into reading. I think every girl in my fifth grade class read Forever by Judy Blume, even the ones who were Not Into Reading.
posted by Sara C. at 6:23 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd put some really fun books in her room, then at night tell her to stop reading in bed and go to sleep. "You can finish that one page but then close the book and go to sleep. Got it?" Then walk out. Don't turn out the light. Don't return.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:13 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

It looks like she is intimidated by a lot of words on the page. Maybe take her to a comic book shop and see what she likes.

To help her graduate to novels, why not read a low-level, high-interest book with her. Hoot and Maniac Magee are interesting to that age group and aren't as out-of-date as the Roald Dahl classics we love.
posted by jander03 at 7:34 PM on December 29, 2012

Sara C., when I was 11 I was reading Animal Farm and The Handmaid's Tale. But not every 11-year-old is the same.

In my experience as a volunteer school librarian, I've found that struggling readers of all ages, including teenagers, tend to like short non-fiction on subjects they're interested in. And Ranger Rick is actually explicitly aimed at kids up to age 12. I've seen plenty of girls that age check it out. But YMMV of course. What a kid finds "babyish" has a lot to do with what their peers are and are not reading at school.
posted by BlueJae at 8:01 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is reading difficult for her? Maybe it's a lot of work because she has some form of dyslexia or other reason that it's a struggle. The reading suggestions here are tops, but I'd check closely to be sure she's not having trouble with her eyes or headaches or other problems when she tries to read.
posted by aryma at 8:11 PM on December 29, 2012

Another librarian here, just wanted to say that many well-meaning adults buy books for kids that they loved as kids. In my experience, this is not likely to bring about the intended results– kids have changed, language has changed, books have changed. Put your trust in a a good children's/YA librarian.
posted by carterk at 9:44 PM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I tutor kids. A lot of them are older than your stepdaughter but they all struggle with reading and spelling. A lot of their animosity towards reading stems from that so first and foremost, I would deal with that.

If she has trouble spelling, then she might have trouble reading. I would read out loud with her - side by side so she can see the book as you read along.

I really liked reading Donna Jo Napoli's books when I was around that age. She rewrites fairy tales and I always found them interesting. They're in the Young Adult section but I don't remember them being super difficult.

Also, I've had success with books that have movie adaptions. I would read the book with the kids and then watch the movie together. They liked comparing their own imaginings with the movie.
posted by cyml at 11:39 PM on December 29, 2012

The books that turned me into A Reader were Animorphs. Because it's a series with continuity, I wanted to know what happened next, so I kept reading them as they were released - ultimately totalling 50+ books. There's tons and tons of YA series out there, in all genres, and all it takes is getting hooked on one of them. The more she reads, the easier the reading will become.

If she likes graphic novels, by all means encourage that too - has she read any manga? There's plenty of good series for that age, like Cardcaptor Sakura or Sailor Moon.
posted by Gordafarin at 5:02 AM on December 30, 2012

I agree that if she dislikes reading because she struggles with it, don't shy away from cheezy series books. The simpler language will not be as daunting, and there is a familiarity/ease about reading characters that you are familiar with. Babysitters Club *might* be a little dated by now but they are great - I'm pretty sure I read every single one! My cousin loves the Clique books. I am not sure exactly what age the Hunger Games, Twilight, or Uglies are geared toward, but they all have pretty engaging pots and are not a very advanced reading level.
posted by radioamy at 9:38 AM on December 30, 2012

Thank you all so much, your answers were enlightening and give us several directions to pursue. I've found everyone's input helpful, and we're off to the library today. There is a wonderful one not far from us.

My stepdaughter was evaluated last year and found to have some learning difficulties so the school assigned her extra help. This year she's in a different town in a superb school and her new teacher seems happy with her.

She certainly has a good vocabulary and loves memorizing facts about the world around her. The Guinness Book of Records was a big hit last year.

The kindle didn't do the trick, we tried that for Christmas last year. It's probably different if you have to read in order to get it for free.

I love the idea of having her read one more page then turn out the light at bedtime. This is exactly the kind of child that would work on.
posted by Dragonness at 6:05 AM on December 31, 2012

Do you have a set of readable encyclopedias? At some point I got a couple issues of a fairly good kid's encyclopedia at a book faire, but outgrew them before I collected the whole set. If the Guinness Book was a big hit, just randomly browsing an encyclopedia might be her thing.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:13 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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