How to respond to that time-old question: why should I read?

Bec Kavanagh has worked in the book industry for almost a decade, during which time she founded A Thousand Words Festival, a festival celebrating children’s books. Bec is a freelance writer and reviewer and speaks as a curriculum specialist for Booked Out Speakers Agency. Here Bec offers suggestions for how to respond when asked ‘Why should I read?’ and gives her recommendations for some books to entice your students. 

Why Should I Read?
Excellent question! Why should you? Why should anyone? You could be doing hundreds of other things instead – watching a movie, preparing lesson plans, going for a run, or spending time with your family. But when your students you the same question, you’d better have an answer prepared. “Because I told you to” probably won’t cut it. “Because it’s good for you” isn’t going to work either. At least not if you don’t have some solid evidence to back it up.

“Because it’s fun”
Let’s face it, even kids who love school have things to do that they love more. But they spend most of the week in the classroom. So when they’re not, they’re probably pretty reluctant to do something that seems like schoolwork. They need to realise that there are plenty of books that are nothing like schoolwork. That not only is reading fun, but it can be funny. (The added bonus for you of course, is that encouraging recreational reading will help with schoolwork and other necessary reading, but we don’t need to broadcast that!) Books that are funny are way to prove that reading is a good leisure activity. If you have students who are struggling to read, there are also funny books that incorporate graphic novel elements, which break up the text and make the reading easier.

“Because it’s exciting”
What is the biggest contender for free time for most of your students? I’m sure that for a lot of people film, tv or video games would be up there. For kids who don’t read, it’s probably pretty hard to imagine that books could be any where near as exciting. So much action can be fit into a three hour film, and it all happens right there in front of you! You can get all this and more in a good book. There has been such a push for action packed books in recent years (especially for boys) that there are enough exciting series out there to keep kids reading well into adulthood. The best thing is that the action in a film might be right there in front of you, but with a good imagination, the action in a book will be ten times more explosive than a film could ever be. If you want proof, just look at how many recent hit movies have been inspired by a good book. On that note, a good movie tie-in never hurt anyone. Sometimes getting students to really enjoy reading is as easy as associating it with an activity that they like more. Film tie ins are a great way to tie in reading to a more social activity. Finally, for reluctant and/or struggling readers, the pace of action novels is often a great way to get them reading books that might appear daunting because of length.

“Because it’s stories about things you love”
We can’t spend all our time doing the thing we love the most, I mean, it’s pretty great to have a job that you love or a hobby outside of home. But there are always going to be rainy days, cancelled footy matches, family holidays, that take students away from the thing that they’d rather be doing. They could always read about it though. That sounds like a bit of a lame concept. “Why don’t you read about football, it will be almost like you’re really there.” Most authors know that there’s nothing worse than reading a book that’s trying to be cool and failing miserably. So they do their research. And with the popularity of a lot of sport themed series in particular, it’s pretty clear that they’re doing it right. Maybe your kids love singing. Or dancing. Or building things. Guaranteed there’s a book about it. It will at least give them something to read when they can’t be at footy practice.

“Because the characters are like you”
The great thing about books is that they make people feel like you’re part of something bigger. Perhaps you’re not the only one who feels the way you do. Students who are about to head into high school especially wonder where they fit in as they try to develop their own styles and personalities. There’s nothing worse than someone telling you that they know how you feel. But reading about someone going through exactly the same thing? That’s different. There are so many character based stories, and you will find kids churning through entire books or series because there is a central character that they can relate to.

“Because it’s social”
Yes for a long time reading was a dirty word used to describe the kid who sat (alone) in the corner at lunch time. The rise of social networking has added another dimension to the way we interact with each other, and everyone is trying to stay on top of it. There are obviously huge concerns about the dangers of online networking (internet bullying being one), but there are plenty of controlled websites that offer kids a place to connect with and respond to their favourite books, authors and other fans. There are freebies, competitions, discussion forums, blogs, book trailers and of course the heads up on new releases. The immediacy of the internet means that as soon as a new book is released kids are talking about it. It also means that instead of waiting for months for their favourite author to (maybe) respond to a handwritten letter kids can email them, or occasionally even participate in online discussions with them! Schools can develop their own blog to give students a safe forum to respond to books in creative ways. Social networking has plenty of drawbacks, but it has brought books out of the corner and into pop culture.

Recommended books:

Funny

Siggy & Amber by Doug Macleod
A hilarious coming of age story about a boy called Siggy, the girl of his dreams, and a ghost. (Grades 7+)

 

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) by Jeff Kinney
Brilliant for reluctant readers because the text is broken up by comic style illustrations.  (Grades 4+)

 

 

The Undys (series) by Michael Wagner
This game filled action packed series follows the exploits of the Undys, a father/ son duo who love to play games with embarrassing (and hilarious) results! (Grades 4+)

 

Exciting


Extreme Adventures
(series) by Justin D’Ath
For kids who like some outdoor action. This series incorporates the wild outdoors, real life danger and excitement in books that are bite sized and easy to handle. (Grades 4+)
Visit puffin.com.au/extreme for more.

 

Young Bond (series) by Charlie Higson)
Fantastic for tv addicted kids. Charlie Higson is action packed, and “Young Bond” is a crossover action series that will lead to further reading. (Grades 5+)

 

TimeRiders (series) by Alex Scarrow
As a former television writer, Alex Scarrow knows from experience how to make a book pack a big screen punch. (Grades 7+)


 

Hobbys/ Sports

Specky Magee (series) by Felice Arena & Garry Lyon
Kids who think that reading doesn’t live up to the game itself will be torn between playing the game or reading the book. (Grades 5+)

http://www.speckymagee.com.au/

 

Foul Play (series) by Tom Palmer
A great cross-genre series that is perfect for kids who like a bit of mystery with their football. (Grades 6+)

 

 

Characters

Our Australian Girl (series) by edited by Jane Godwin and Davina Bell
“A girl like you in a time gone by”. A character for all girls. (Grades 4+)
www.ouraustraliangirl.com.au

 

 

Now, Once and Then by Morris Gleitzman
A series with pretty heavy themes, but with incredibly real characters that carry readers through the story. (Grades 5+)

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