Children's column: Converting the reluctant

Nicolette Jones
Opinion - Children Monday, 22nd June 2009

This year's Booked Up list, which offers all Year 7s a free book from a selection of 12 chosen for Booktrust by literary scout and Bath festival director John McLay (chair), librarian Karen Robinson, Booktrust's Rebecca Wilkie, teacher Ros Waite-Jones and author Catherine Johnson, is notable for the way it exemplifies so many good ways of getting reluctant readers to read.

If asked how to convert the resistant, most of us would suggest:
a) Funny books. There are plenty of laughs in the books by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Jeff Kinney, Jack Gantos, Rick Riordan and Karen McCombie
b) Non-fiction: Glen Murphy's How Loud Can You Burp? offers funny but scientifically informative facts for those who think they aren t interested in sustained fiction.
c) Bite-size books: see above, and Wow! 366, which offers stories that are only 366 words long
d) Reading aloud. A collection of poems for every day of the year, Read Me Out Loud edited by Paul Cookson and Nick Toczek invites readers to perform.
e) Regular small amounts of reading. Both Wow! 366 and the poetry collection invite a daily taster.
f) High/low books: books with a content suitable for readers older than the reading age required by the content, for which Barrington Stoke books are the apogee, and Frank Cottrell Boyce's Desirable, in which social reject George gets an aftershave that makes him irresistible to women, has jokes to engage readers of any age or ability.
g) Books with pictures. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a step between comics and novels.
h) Books with dyslexic characters or ADHD: the hero of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, who happens also to be a demi-god, is dyslexic. The hero of Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key has ADHD.
i) Books that grab you emotionally. Morris Gleitzman's Once, which also, astonishingly, has humour, packs such an emotional punch that it is hard to imagine the child who would not feel afterwards that books could move you. And Joey Pigza is sad as well as funny. Karen McCombie is affecting too (Heather's father moves out).
j) Adventurous books. Emily Diamand's Flood Child (originally published as Reavers Ransom), Steve Voake's Blood Hunters and Catherine MacPhail's Underworld are all adventures with excitement and suspense.
Many of the dozen do not belong in only one of the pigeonholes above. And they all have the merit that beyond ticking the boxes of useful strategies for making readers they are entertaining and involving for anyone. There are substantial reads here too for those who are already enthusiastic bookworms.
And there are even six more accessible titles offered for children with special needs.
If these choices do not effect an improvement in the falling-off rate of reading between primary and secondary school, it is hard to know what will. Congratulations to the selectors.