A few weeks ago (okay, it was the beginning of June!) I was lucky enough to go to a Reluctant Reader Symposium put on by the Center for Young Readers at the Library of Congress. The morning consisted of a panel discussion on reluctant readers with 4 amazing speakers:
- Jarrett J Krosoczka of Lunch Lady and picture book fame
- Stephan Pastis the creater of the Pearls before Swine comic strip and Timmy Failure books
- Dr. Trude Haecker, the Medical Director of Reach Out and Read Greater Philadelphia
- Claire Agard, Ph. D, a school psychologist.
It was really interesting to hear the four of them, each from a different background, discuss how to engage kids in reading. Both Jarret Krosoczka and Stephan Pastis were hilariously charming with their anecdotes from their childhoods about struggling with reading and finally finding their passion in drawing, comics, and graphic novels. They both shared stories of feeling like the reading they were doing as kids (reading comic books and newspaper comics) wasn’t “real reading”. I do feel like many more teachers, librarians, and parents are embracing graphic novels and free choice in reading, but I think the idea of “real reading means reading print books that some adult has said is the right book for you” still exists all over. I can’t even remember how many kids have asked me if they have to read certain books for summer reading or if reading on a tablet or reading in a different language or reading comics counted! Our summer reading program really seeks to encourage kids to read, period. It’s completely up to them. Yes, there are different skills to be learned when reading different things, for example nonfiction, and those skills are extremely important. Still, as a librarian, I often want to encourage reading for fun. Especially during the summer when so many kids avoid reading and anything else that even hints at being like school. If we are hoping to encourage life long learners and life long readers, reading needs to be something that is enjoyable. At the library, I think that often starts with free choice and the opportunity to explore and do the kind of reading you want to do. Do you still see a stigma against graphic novels or comic books in your libraries? Do you think the lack of free choice makes reluctant readers, or is there something else going on? The other part of the discussion that I found really interesting was the medical perspective shared by Dr. Trude Haecker. Dr. Haecker talked a lot about how learning how to read really starts from birth. She totally backed up everything librarians do in terms of early literacy – sing, talk, read, write, play! We know this stuff and we do it every day in our libraries, but it was so cool to hear it reinforced from a medical professional. Sometimes it can feel too simple and overlooked or when we are burnt out it’s easy to forget how much this work matter. It’s important and it makes a difference!
As a pediatrician Dr. Haecker says she often thinks about nutrition, sleep patterns, the family’s home environment and approach to technology, and so much more of the family’s medical history when working with a child who seems to be struggling with reading. There is often a lot more going on, and her patient, empathetic, and kind attitude really showed through everything she shared. I think approaching struggling readers with kindness and patience is so important. Claire Agard, the school psychologist, also talked a lot about relucatant readers and the fear of failure and lack of confidence that comes with struggling in school. They both emphasized praising kids for their effort, even when they are struggling. Encourage them to come to the library. Be kind. Overall, it was a nice reminder that reading can be fun and libraries can be that place where anyone and everyone can find that thing they love – like really love! Whether is comics, how-to manuals, murder mysteries, books about puppies, whatever. We all love something and reading helps us to dive deeper into whatever that is. It really reaffirmed that when a kid comes into the library it’s my job to get them here: Because, really reading can get you that excited!