When reading is enjoyable more information can be obtained from it; as a result, the reader is rewarded from the experience. I have noticed through teaching that students need to like what they read to get more out of it; I can relate. The word “relate” is key, because when a reader – kid or adult – can find a connection with the main character(s) she/he will find a higher purpose for reading the book, retain more information from it, and more importantly, enjoy it. Consider the quote from Alvin Irby below.
“That means, first and foremost, that reading should be fun. It also means kids need to see their lives and interests reflected in the stories they read” – Irby
Reding a story with a character who is easy for the kid to relate to draws empathy and can work at holding her/his interest. These stories may not always be the literary classics students are required to read and analyze in school but can encourage students, younger or older, to critically think about what they read. Then they can more easily connect the theme and ideas in the book with the real world and so begins a learning process that they find meaningful and fun.
How do we find the balance between informative and interesting?
I recall being assigned to read Pride and Prejudice in high school; I wasn’t drawn to the book; at least at the time, I found it to be dull(forgive me those who love this book). The requirement to read certain books can drive one, especially kids, away from reading, because they will see it as a task, and not something to enjoy. They may even see it as a punishment if they are given the option to read the book or fail the course. In the military, soldiers have to run, then run more if they don’t follow protocol, fail to meet standards, etc. By the time, they are out of the military, they hate running; not all of them of course, but those I have talked to had grown to find running more than a mile miserable. When kids are forced to read books they are not interested in, later in life, they could be less likely to have the desire to read. The introduction to the world of literature should be not be forced. When this happened to me it caused me to struggle with finding joy in reading as a kid. Today, I am that English and Writing instructor, avid reader, and inspiring novelist whose aim is to inspire youth to fall in love with the magic of reading. Being I mostly instruct at the collegiate level, I am encouraging adults, which also brings its rewards, because they have the opportunity once again to find the magic in reading, just as I did in my later academic years.
However, reading shouldn’t necessarily always be easy. Reading that challenges kids and adults to critically think about the subject is important. I feel reading material that provokes the intellect to be involved doesn’t have to be a book a person doesn’t relate to and find interesting. It does not necessarily need to be Shakespeare, Willaim Faulkner, Sigmund Freud, etc.
When kids, and adults, relate to a protagonist, care about the character, and are invested in the character, she or he will learn more from the reading, since what happens in the reading is driven by the character, if not primarily then secondary. For example, a student may not relate to the situation the characters are in Macbeth, or the Catcher and the Rye, or Huckleberry Finn but will relate to the characters in Harry Potter. This is not due to Potter’s magic but his roots outside of the magical world, him as a boy struggling to find himself in his world at home and trying to excel and find acceptance at Hogwarts. He is a kid trying to escape his abusive situation at home and prove himself at a prestigious school full of competition and danger. Kids can invest in a character they relate to, whether it is Harry Potter or a character from Lord of the Flies. Additionally, adults can invest more in a story if they can relate to the character(s).
Lord of the Flies is just one book I enjoyed as a kid. I enjoyed this even more reading it as an adult. There are many characters to find a connection with. The theme of survival and sacrifice is hard to not be drawn to if a reader is able to put himself or herself in a character’s position.
“As a society, we’re creating reading experiences for children that are the equivalent of telling bar jokes in a church, and then we wonder why so many children don’t read” ~ Irby
I believe this refers to the short messages in social media and text today, which seems to replace the time when a kid sat and read a few pages in a book. This brings me to another possible reason why kids(and adults) don’t find reading enjoyable; they feel like they have to consume the whole book at one sitting. This can bring pressure, which can bring stress and doubt, and eventually for them to give up because it is easier to simply access social media or a text and read. Adults find themselves doing this(I’m raising my hand) But, seriously, finding reading to be a meaningful and enjoyable experience at an early age can make an impact through the later years in school and careers.
Solutions to make reading fun for kids in this modern age: Find a story and character they relate to. Read something they intend to learn from and that leaves an impression on them. This may be risky, but read articles and books from their phone(I can see the possible chance for distraction). However, not allowing them to read from a platform they are comfortable can lead to them feeling forced and controlled. “You must read this book” and “you must read here and in this position, not laying across the couch” and “you should use this format to read.” With all of these rules, there is more strain put on the decision the kid makes to read.
I had a younger cousin who decided he loved reading after reading Harry Potter starting at age eleven; this is what started his reading adventure. Now, he reads other books and occasionally sends me suggestions.
I’ll leave you with the quote below from Alvin Irby:
“While they may lack reading skills, their books — and their schools — often lack what Irby calls cultural competency. By that, he means the ability to translate what they want kids to know or do into reading experiences that children find relevant and engaging” ~Irby.
Here is the full interview with Alvin Irby.
Below is a link to an article concerning teenagers lack of interest in reading books for fun.