Understanding the Middle Grade Reluctant Reader

As an author who has written early chapter books and middle grade novels that appeal to reluctant readers, I’ve naturally been curious about these so-called reluctant readers of middle grade fiction. Additionally, my 11 year-old son is definitely a reluctant reader and, as a parent, I’m always on the lookout for books that appeal to physically active boys with a short attention span.

Who are the reluctant readers? Well, I think I know because of my experiences with my middle son. But it’s a very big question. Do all reluctant readers really find books boring and the bottom-of-the-list activity after, let’s say, Youtube, television and getting their teeth cleaned? Well, maybe and maybe not.

It turns out that there’s no such thing as one agreed upon definition of a reluctant reader. That’s because there’s a whole host of very different reasons that children turn away from reading. That’s right. Not all reluctant readers are the same and it’s important to know the difference in order to select books for this sort of middle grade reader.

In her article “Choosing Not To Reader” Kylene Beers, Professor of Reading at the University of Houston breaks reluctant readers into four distinct groups: Dormant Readers, Uncommitted Readers, Unmotivated Readers and Unskilled Readers and contrasts them with the Avid Reader.  Let’s take a look at these five groups of readers.

The Avid Reader—This is someone like myself. At breakfast if you put a camera on me, you’d see this: spoon midway through the air, forgetting to land into my mouth. Why? Because I’m avidly reading the back of the cereal box. Who knew that lists of ingredients: corn flour, honey and riboflavin could be so fascinating? There is no stopping the Avid Reader. Just point their nose and they’ll bump into some writing.

The Dormant Reader—This is a reader who might enjoy reading but doesn’t have time because they are often over-scheduled or it’s not their highest priority. They might have even heard about a certain book as being cool and they actually do want to read it.

The Uncommitted Reader—This kid feels ambivalent towards reading in general. They might want to like reading, but they can’t commit. Like Annie, they are always thinking about tomorrow.

Unmotivated Reader—This reader never reads for pleasure and finds reading a big, fat ugly chore. Getting their braces tightened is probably more fun.

Unskilled Reader—This sort of reader doesn’t possess the skills to decode text.

So, if reluctant readers can’t be lumped together, what does that mean for those of us who are dedicated to attracting these readers? I would say decide which group your reluctant reader falls into before suggesting books that will attract their attention. For example, the Dormant Reader experiencing time restrictions may do well with a novel that they can easily finish such as The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz or a middle grade novel with chapters that read almost like a short story. A collection of short stories such as In the Land of the Land Weenies and Other Misadventures by David Lubar can work very well for this sort of reader. The Unmotivated Reader might enjoy a high concept story such as the Danger Boy series by Mark London Williams or a graphic novel series with bold visuals such as the Bone series by Jeff Smith. While an entire book can be dedicated to this topic, I hope looking at the different categories of reluctant readers will be helpful. Bring on your ideas, because I could sure use them!

Hillary Homzie would even eat cottage cheese if she could figure out how to get reluctant readers to pick up more books. To find out more about Hillary, go to hillaryhomzie.com

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