There are, in my experience, three types of reluctant readers. First, there are the kids who struggle to read, know they are “poor readers,” and hate reading because of it. Then, there are kids who can read competently but prefer to do pretty much anything else, like sports, video games, hanging out with friends, watching movies, etc. Finally, there are the kids who are categorized as reluctant readers, but are actually highly selective readers, often wary of reading books adults want them to read. Naturally, nonfiction is the answer to all three of these problems! Below are specific series and publishers whose titles will tempt each type of reluctant reader.
The Struggling Reader
For struggling readers, I recommend Bearport publishers. This series nonfiction publisher specializes in high-interest nonfiction at a lower reading level. I don’t recommend them unreservedly; some of their material, especially titles from the Ruby Tuesday imprint, can have errors and not all of them resonate with every type of reader. However, their science, sports, and animal series are all excellent. I specifically recommend “Science Slam.” This series includes 129 titles, with each one focusing on a different animal, plant, or scientific subject (such as recycling, dirt, rocks, and seasons.) Struggling readers who need to access research materials for class projects will find these titles both readable and engaging. Bearport’s unique sports series also stand out. “Football Heroes Making a Difference” and “Basketball Heroes Making a Difference” go beyond the usual fare of sports statistics by promoting sports figures who contribute to their communities and fans. Students who can’t read the higher-level titles their peers may be devouring will be thrilled to find new facts and stories in these books to share with their friends.
The Disinterested Reader
The second category of reluctant readers, those who can read but have other interests they’d rather pursue, can often be enticed into reading with National Geographic’s titles. Many librarians are already familiar with the factoid and joke books produced by NatGeo, but if you dig a little deeper into their offerings, you’ll find a wider variety of enticing nonfiction. I specifically recommend their “Everything” series, which includes titles on subjects as varied as soccer, Vikings, money, birds of prey, sports, and robotics. When serving this type of reader, it’s essential to have a conversation (or several) in order to understand where their interests lie outside of the usual book genres. Once you know what they’re passionate about, you’ll be able to match them with a text that draws them into reading with bright photographs and interesting tidbits of knowledge. These kids are often reluctant to sit still for the length of time needed to read a full-length novel or narrative nonfiction title, so shorter, more browseable titles are usually successful and will show them that reading can be relevant to their lives.
The Highly Selective Reader
The third category of readers, those who can read well but aren’t interested in what the adults in their lives want them to read, are the most difficult to serve. Well-meaning teachers, parents, and librarians often push these kids to enjoy the classic novels they themselves read as children or “challenging” titles that will push their reading skills. Often, these kids stubbornly cling to a few favorite authors and refuse to try anything new, while their caregivers get increasingly frustrated at their refusal to expand their reading choices. For these readers and their adults, I recommend that most elusive of creatures: the nonfiction chapter book. These titles will satisfy parents who want their kids to read narrative books and teachers who assign titles that must be at least 100 pages long. Most importantly, kids who don’t want to read massive tomes and unbroken pages of words will be satisfied as well.
To get these selective readers started, I suggest two series; National Geographic’s “Kids Chapters” and little bee’s new nonfiction chapter book series, “Blast Back!” The titles in NatGeo’s series each contain three to five chapters, each chapter being a separate true story. They often feature true animal tales, but also include extreme sports and scientific research. The books are colorful and include photographs and extra facts, but are primarily focused on the narratives. Kids who are introduced to this series will devour them and then get interested in reading longer, more complex titles like the books in HMH’s stellar “Scientists in the Field.” The “Blast Back!” series, part of little bee’s excursion into the world of chapter books, is a natural read-alike for fans of “Magic Tree House” and “I Survived!” and offers kids who prefer notebook novels a look at how fun history can be. Each book, at just over 100 pages, introduces a different historical event or culture. Current and forthcoming titles focus on ancient Egypt, the U.S. Civil War, the Great Wall of China, the Titanic, and the Salem witch trials. Each title is decorated throughout with cartoons and the text is simple and brisk, with a helping of snarky humor. Of course, kids are not going to jump straight from reading “Blast Back!” to Steve Sheinkin, but after they’ve devoured the whole series try them on Georgia Bragg, Sarah Albee, and Nancy Castaldo and you’ll soon find you’ve got a dedicated reader on your hands.
It can be discouraging and frustrating to work with struggling and reluctant readers, especially if you’re also dealing with a concerned or stubborn caregiver, but these publishers and series offer something for both students and adults and will hopefully inspire them to discover the joy of reading together.
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