Saturday, April 21, 2012

What the Experts Say: Paul R. Hewlett "What Will Get Children to Read?"

This is an age-old question.  As a children’s author I have asked myself this very question many times. 

There are several points to examine in order to answer this question.  First, is reading age dependent, and if so, does one need to use different means for different age groups? The next question deals with how to get them to read.  Is there a certain approach that should be used?  Finally, we must ask what kinds of characters and situations children want to read about.  In taking a closer look at these points, we will find the answer to our question.

I don’t believe that reading is age dependent.  I believe exposure to reading should start at a very young age and continue throughout one’s life.  I do believe, however, that different means should be used for different age groups.  Exposure should start with reading aloud to children.  Reading to children creates an interaction between child and parent that is very strong.  They will remember this time spent with Mom and/or Dad and will look forward to this time and the story that is being read to them. 

Continue to build on that, adding to it piece by piece as they get older.  I like to view this approach as layering.  Layering is a fantastic approach to help children build a strong foundation in reading.  As children get older, another layer should be added.  Introduce them to libraries and book fairs.  Make sure to sign them up for a library card.  Most libraries issue library cards to children older than the age of five.  This will make them feel invested in the experience. Let them pick up books, handle them, examine them, and check them out using their very own library card.  It doesn’t matter if they are reading advanced books or comic books, as long as they are reading.  Libraries often have activities such as book clubs or readings.  This is another great opportunity to further expose children to the wonderful world of reading. 

Add another layer to that, such as setting aside family reading time.  Parents can read aloud to younger children, and then as children get older, set aside time for the family to read their own individual books together in the family room.  Teenagers may want to read on their own, and in this case I would still encourage parents to ask questions and encourage discussion about the books they are reading.  Do not be afraid to reward children for reading, even if the reward is simple praise.  I believe parents are the biggest influence on getting children to read.  By incorporating these different means for different age groups and layering these activities, I believe, the foundation will be built for a lifetime of reading pleasure and enjoyment.

The next point to be examined is what kind of characters do children want to read about?  Do children want to read about certain types of characters?  I’m not convinced that there is any one type of character that appeals to all children.  Children have different tastes, just like adults do.  With that being said, there are certainly specific types of characters that they seem to prefer to read about.  A strong main character that they can relate to is important.  A likable character that has flaws and a good heart is always well received, everyone has flaws after all.  They can identify with them and they tend to pull for these kinds of characters.  If you don’t believe me, ask yourself how many children are rooting for Harry Potter?  Children, for the most part, want to read about strong, likeable characters with flaws that they can relate to.
That begs the question then of what kind of situations do children enjoy reading about these characters in?  They enjoy all kinds of situations, quite honestly.  They certainly enjoy ones that they can relate to.  Many children imagine themselves as the main character and enjoy reading about them in situations that they have experienced and can relate to.  They also enjoy fantasy; finding themselves in other worlds or using magic is very well received.  These types of situations allow children to leave everyday life, go to new places and experience new things, things that are impossible to do in the real world.  Whether it is a familiar situation or a fantasy, the only thing that really matters is that it reaches the child.  That is why it is so important to take them to the library or book fairs, read to them, encourage them to read, discuss what they are reading, and let them pick up dozens of books and look through them.  By doing this, they will learn what characters and situations appeal to them.

In closing, I believe getting children to read is extremely important.  We have determined that reading is not age dependent and that different means should be used for different age groups. We have examined these means and in doing so, have identified the layering approach to help get them to read.  Like building blocks, layer one experience onto the next as children get older to build a solid foundation. We also looked at types of characters and situations that they like to read about. The comprehension skills, vocabulary, and imagination that they develop and use from reading are invaluable.  Parents play a vital role in getting children to read and should take steps to encourage it.  Ultimately, it is up to the child whether they will read or not, but by exposing them to the many layers of reading mentioned here, I have no doubt that read they will.  Children are very smart and as a children’s author, I always write with Maxim Gorky’s words in mind:

            “You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults, only better.”

Let’s all put our best foot forward and get children to read.  They deserve it!

Paul R. Hewlett writes books for children. His first book is Lionel's Grand Adventure: Lionel and the Golden Rule. It is an early chapter book for ages 7-10. It is the first book in the Lionel's Grand Adventure series. Paul is a US Air Force vet who is married and has a "senior" dog named Joe that he and his wife adopted from the local rescue facility. His aim is to increase and foster children's interest in reading by combining entertainment and values

Lionel's Grand Adventure: Lionel and the Golden Rule link:

Lionel's Grand Adventure: Lionel Turns the Other Cheek link:

Lionel's Grand Adventure Facebook Page:

1 comment:

  1. Parents do play an extremely important role in influencing children to read. I've always thought one of the best things my parents ever did was to bring me (and my sisters) to the community library when we were four or five. Adding layers is a great idea. Loved this valuable post!