Turning Middle Years Students on to Literature

Article excerpt

Abbey Clark from Walker Books Australia offers insights into choosing books to engage middle years students in the reading of literature. She draws on her in-depth knowledge of what is available to make suggestions and recommendations that will be useful to teachers.

I often get kids in their middle school years who come to me and say, 'I need something to read. I don't want to be bored and don't give me classics.' Usually, that gives me something to work with, until they say, 'Not that one. I have to read that at school', or 'I read that at school and I hated it. What else is there?' That's when my job becomes fun: finding a practical solution to their problem. Some readers are easy; just ask them what their favourite movie is or what is something they're interested in, and I can pick out about five different things. But others are harder: 'No, that sounds like something I would read for school. It's too big. It doesn't have any pictures in it. I don't like fiction.' But the best part is when they say to me, after maybe ten minutes of searching: 'This sounds interesting. I'll give this a go.' Give them a week and they'll be back again after school with their mum or dad or guardian and want more of the same. You just have to find that one thing that they want to read and you'll have created a 'reading monster'.

While I'm not a teacher, my background in bookselling has taught me much about how to get students hooked on reading. I understand that there is so much to teach the kids and not much time to do it in. But perhaps by using the right literature you can help students not only find a passion for reading, but teach them what needs to taught as well. We live in an age where if something doesn't automatically grab them, they simply won't read it or all you'll hear is, 'Do we have to read this?' Using the right books with a healthy mix of fiction and non-fiction, it should be easy to find something that almost everyone can enjoy and they won't even know that they're learning.

There are so many options available now that it's possible to find a balance between what teachers, educators and parents want their children to use as resources in the classroom and what teenagers really want to read. While not everyone may agree with each other, there are quite a few new and exciting ways to find a happy middle ground. New formats are available for some of the tried and tested pieces of literature, as well as new ways of providing a learning experience while reading for pleasure.

Reluctant readers

There are some kids who just don't want to read. During my time as a bookseller, I have had many frustrated parents, guardians, teachers and librarians alike come to me and say, 'I need your help. There is a teenager I know who hates reading or is a lazy reader and I want to find something to get them reading. Can you help me?' The answer is yes.

After asking some simple questions--such as 'What do they like?'--I often find that the usual scenario is that they don't like reading. Sometimes this is because they find that they aren't strong readers and they're embarrassed about being behind their friends and classmates, so they don't read.

The best thing about this is that there are ways around this. There are some fantastic titles out on the market that can help children find the confidence to read. Boys often seem to be the least confident readers and that is why there are so many more books for reluctant boy readers than for girls. One of the most recognised is The diary of a wimpy kid series by Jeff Kinney, but there are more of this kind of series for middle school boys and girls. These include:

* the Middle school series by James Patterson;

* Big Nate by Lincoln Pierce;

* Tom Gates by Liz Pichon.

Specifically for the girls you could try:

* the Dork diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell;

* Dear dumb diary by Jim Benton. …