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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Helping young non-readers love books: Librarians and others offer advice

For some, the idea of spending a lazy summer day at the beach or cabin with a good book sounds like heaven.

But for a lot of kids, “they think of reading as a chore they have to do at school,” said Gwendolyn Haley, a public services manager for the Spokane County Library District.

Yet it’s essential that they keep reading over the summer, to stop that “summer slide” in academics.

The Spokesman-Review talked with librarians and others about how to help reluctant readers enjoy reading. Here are some of their tips:

Kid’s choice

It’s all about options, when it comes to reading. And, sorry mom and dad, but if you choose the book, it’s bound to be a loser.

“The trick really is exposure to lots of different things, then you can dial into what you really like,” said Sumi Shadduck, a youth services library at Spokane Public Library.

Libraries are one place to expose kids to lots of options. Have them grab several books and just read the first page or two to see if something grabs them, Haley said.

For kids who love YouTube and watching videos, you can search for book trailers online. Some are by students, teachers and librarians; others are put out by the publishing houses to promote their books.

And if a child starts a book and decides after a chapter or two that she just isn’t that into it, it’s OK to move on.

“Life’s too short to read something you don’t enjoy,” Haley said.

Pique their interest

Linking reading to another passion is another way to get children excited about reading, said Michelle Martin, the Beverly Cleary Endowed Professor for Children and Youth Services in the Information School at the University of Washington

“If they love horses, find them horse books they can’t put down. If they love comics, ask your local librarians which comics and graphic novels they can’t keep on the shelves, and check them out,” Martin wrote in an email.

Movies can be an enticement, too. If a child wants to see a movie that started out as a book, have him read it or read it aloud to him before seeing it. Then, “they can see the book is nearly always better than the movie,” Martin wrote.

Reading rewards

Sometimes we all need a little extra push to do the right thing. The trick is finding the right motivation.

During the summer area libraries host summer reading programs that offer prizes.

At the Spokane Public Library, Shadduck calls it summer reading “gamified.” As kids read, they unlock the ability to add on to avatars that are part of the program’s online component. After 15 hours, they earn a free book.

But computer avatars may not be your kid’s thing. When Haley was struggling to get her own daughter to read over the summer last year, she found that what her daughter really wanted was time with her. So, she used a game night and a mother-daughter sleepover as a rewards for summer reading.

Meet the author

Sometimes just knowing you’ll get to meet the author is reason enough to read, Haley said.

The Spokane County Library District is bringing author Grace Lin to Spokane Valley on Aug. 8. To make it easier for families to prepare, the library has created “book-discussion-to-go bags” for three of Lin’s novels, plus “preschool book bags” with a collection of her picture books.

Author visits to area libraries and bookstores, help kids see authors as real people, and writing as a real job, said Janelle Smith, who’s worked as teacher and bookseller

“Maybe they realize that they, too, could be an author, that they might have a story to tell as well,” she said.

Go graphic

Some parents are hesitant to let their kids read graphic novels, but they shouldn’t be.

“There are so many at all ages that offer so much,” Smith said. Some are simple, funny stories; others deal with deep socials issues. Greek myths have been made into graphic novels, as have classics like “A Wrinkle in Time.”

“The storytelling is just as compelling and complex” in graphic novels, Haley said. “There’s a lot of meat to those stories.”

Plus, the pictures in graphic novels can help with contextual skills for struggling or reluctant readers.

Call an audible

You’re never too old to be read to.

“Many parents stop reading to their children after they acquire the ability to read themselves. That’s the wrong approach,” Martin said.

Reading aloud to your child helps you bond with them more, and can expose them to genres and stories that they would never pick up on their own, she said.

The important thing is to “choose books you can’t put down to read aloud, and you’ll both enjoy it.”

Audio books are another way to engage kids in stories. They can be used individually or by the whole family. For some kids, reading along as they listen can help increase their reading skills.

Haley’s family would listen to “Hank the Cowdog” audiobooks on road trips. Though they’re meant for a younger audience, the whole family (including the older kids) had fun. “We would just laugh,” she said. “You listen to that for an hour and miles just fly by.”

Just have fun

Above all, reading should be fun. Especially summer reading.

So don’t worry about reading levels and all that stuff, Haley said.

“It’s more important to be reading,” she said. “Even if you’re reading something that’s ‘too easy,’ it builds fluency.”

And, once the child reads a book and likes it, she’ll feel successful and want to read more. The key is getting her to love reading.

“There’s so much out there that’s so good, the hard thing is to find the right thing,” Shadduck said.