February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Why Reading Sucks: Talking honestly with kids might make them more passionate readers

I try to help my students be passionate readers. To be the type of children who fit reading in whenever they can, who bring books with them wherever they go, who cannot wait to get to the next books they have on their lists. I try to be a role model for this in the classroom—but to do this I have recently realized that I must also discuss why, for many students, reading sucks.

Reading Sucks cropThe beginning of the year is when we lay the foundation to support our passionate readers. It is when we have our community discussions, where we share our funny stories about reading, but also where we share our honest opinions on the subject. So in one of my first lessons of the year, I always ask my students how they feel about reading. While many of them share wonderful things about why they love books—memories of parents reading to them or of sneaking in a favorite novel after the lights were turned off—there is also usually one student brave enough to admit that, for him or her, reading is just not their thing. This year was no different; a child informed me that “reading sucks,” and then waited for my reaction. I am not sure what the child expected, but instead of dismissing the notion out of hand, this year, I used that moment to kickstart a discussion with my students. On posterboard, I wrote the heading, “Why Reading Sucks,” and asked the kids to name their own reasons for why this might be the case. At first, the children darted glances at one another, not quite sure where this crazy teacher was headed. Then one student finally blurted out, “I don’t think a teacher has ever asked me that!”

And it’s true. In the past, I have not asked this question, since teachers are supposed to be the biggest proponents of reading that children will ever meet. But the opportunity presented itself, and I figured it had to be dealt with head on. The kids were cautious at first. Did they think I was trying to trick them? But then a few raised their hands, and slowly we created a complete list.

Whenever a child stated a reason, I did not argue with him or her. Nor did I try to doubt my students’ statements or convince them of how wrong they were. This was not my job at the moment. My job was to validate the feelings they were brave enough to share with me, to let them get their thoughts out—not to argue and persuade.

When we looked over the list we had created together, I agreed that these were valid reasons, indeed, why reading may not be the most favorite thing to do for a child or even many adults. Some children hate sitting still; others find reading boring, time consuming, or restrictive. They resent that they are forced to read certain books or at a certain time. They feel pressured, and some believe that they are bad readers. What it all adds up to is a miserable reading experience, and that is what we have to fight.

I thanked the kids for their honesty, and then asked them for their solutions. One after another my students raised their hands. “Can we pick our own books?” “Yes,” I replied. “Do we have to read a certain amount of minutes and log it?” “No,” I said. “I expect you to read every night and you only log it in [class].” “Do we have to finish every book we start?” “No,” I assured them.

With each question and answer, relief seemed to spread through the room. Perhaps reading would not suck as much as it had in the past. Perhaps they would not hate it this year. Perhaps reading would be something they could look forward to and not dread. Perhaps…and that is all I need: to have implanted the seed of an idea in my reluctant readers that, maybe, reading may not suck after all.

If we don’t ask the question and face this reading demon, then we can’t have the conversations that we need to have with these specific kids. Yes, most students will tell us that reading is amazing—whether they believe it or not. But I hail the kids who have the strength to tell me how they really feel. How else will I ever change their minds?

Pernille Ripp (@PernilleRipp) teaches fifth grade in Wisconsin. She is a proud techy geek, creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, cofounder of EdCamp MadWI, and author of Passionate Learners—Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today (PLP Press, 2013).

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. A great article that I needed right now. Thank you for always sharing your passion and helping kids! You are an inspiration!

  2. Love this article. What a smart idea. Thanks for sharing.

  3. As a children’s book author and private writing teacher, I applaud your efforts to reawaken the joy of reading in your students. I continually hear my students complain about having to read assigned books they have no connection to, and write essays proving they read the whole book. I feel for them, and often have to try to help them find merit in a book just to get them motivated to write their school essays. Sometimes I cannot find anything to help them like an assigned book because I don’t like it either! If only more teachers, like you, would be honest about the fact that they don’t finish books they dislike, then they could have students write passionate, well-written essays about why they disliked a book, essays supported with examples of the passages that turned then off! The point of education is inspiring students to think critically, communicate clearly and honestly, and to value reading as an activity involving choice, just as appealing as TV, in which we can flip through channels to find what interests us. I have noted that, when assigned books (in high school mainly) are linked to modern books that are thematically or stylistically similar–books chosen by the students–interest level rises significantly too.

  4. Patricia ryback says:

    My son who lives in France wrote and asked me to list the ten best books I remember reading when I was about ten years old. I remember I belonged to a Junior Literary Guild club and received a book each month – I am attempting to find a listing of books to send to him. I remember “Tales From a Finish Tupa” but have forgotten so many – I am now 87 years old – also “Young Americans From Many Lands”. Is there anyway I can find a listing – a website?
    Thank you to anyone who is in a position to help me. pryback@comcast.net