Making Reading Fun - Part Three

This column is part three of a three-part series discussing ways to incorporate reading for pleasure in young people's daily lives. Part one was about reading with and to very young children and part two was aimed at making reading fun for middle grade readers. This week we take a look at the YA, or young adult, crowd.

A recent report released by the National Endowment for the Arts states categorically, "Americans are spending less time reading." But when you actually take the time to read the report, instead of the panicky articles, you see that while some Americans are reading for pleasure less, others are reading more. I find this to be very interesting, and misleading, because internet usage is cited as a reason people read less. Take a second to think about that; what are you doing right now? That's right, reading, and reading for pleasure really because nobody's paying you to read this and as far as I know nobody is going to test you on it. Sure, lots of people spend time every day on World of Warcraft or Second Life but don't you have to spend at least part of your time reading to play those games well?

So what is the major concern? I think it's really a fear that literature is being neglected. And what do they mean by literature? I'm not really sure. I would hope it would encompass all fiction, including graphic novels and comics. (BTW, many of the young adults of my acquaintance are reading comics online, for whatever that's worth. Some are single strip comics and some are epic adventures that go on for years. But I digress.) I don't think these guys are worried that classic literature is being neglected; hardly anyone expects teenagers to read Moby Dick instead of playing video games. What their concern is that when reading for pleasure rates drop, so do comprehension rates, which leads to poorer job skills, which leads to a miserable life in an attic somewhere. Or something like that. The actual report says things like "Poor reading skills are endemic in the prison population." And "Less advanced readers report fewer opportunities for career growth." Pretty scary right? So what can you do to avoid this dire predicament? First see the above paragraph and think about how much reading your child is actually doing. Is it a fair amount? Most likely. Then, try a few small things to make reading for pleasure more likely.

Help your teen feel less overwhelmed

How do you make reading fun for young adults? Making ten minutes at bedtime to sit down with your one year old to read Good Night Moon is relatively easy to do. Encouraging your older child to make room in their busy schedules for more reading, after just wading through chapters ten through nineteen of The Scarlet Letter, can look a lot more daunting.

Reading at a Lower Grade Level Is Still Reading

Common publishing wisdom states that teenagers like to read about characters that are a couple of years older than they are. Middle schoolers like to read about high school students, high school students like to read about college freshmen, etcetera. I suppose the idea here is that they are scouting out the territory ahead; trying to get a feel for what their lives will be like soon. But there are plenty of young adults who want to read books about younger children, whether from nostalgia or the same reason my friend's mother would watch Mr. Rogers when she got home from work; for completely stress free relaxation. When your daily work is exhausting you want your leisure time to be as easy as possible. If your student is keeping up with their schoolwork and wants to unwind by reading Lloyd Alexander's wonderful, magical coming of age fantasy series The Chronicles of Prydain, ostensibly written for middle schoolers, then where's the harm? They're still learning about Welsh myth, still being entertained, and still getting all the benefits of daily reading.

Graphic Novels Have the Word Novel in Them for a Reason

The same sort of reasoning is useful when considering the graphic novel. For years comic books have been considered the junk food of the literary world and the domain of children, but we've moved on and left those stereotypes behind. We no longer have to point at Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize for Maus: A Survivor's Tale, his masterpiece about his father's experience during the Holocaust, to prove that the walls of the comics ghetto need to come tumbling down, comics are already a proven art form. If you feel uncomfortable because your child is reading manga (with those bubblegum colored covers and manic characters it can't be real reading can it?) try one yourself. Personally I find starting a book at the back and working your way to the front is more intellectually taxing than reading Great Expectations. If your reader is interested in manga but hasn't been able to figure out where to start we strongly recommend Yakitate!! Japan by Takashi Hashiguchi. This fast paced series is about the quest for the perfect bread to represent Japan. After all France and Italy have their own breads; why should Japan be left out? In fact pan means bread so with the word right in the country's name it's even more important, or so reasons Kazuma Azuma, a young baker blessed with Hands of the Sun, palms warm enough to start the yeast rising as he kneads the bread. While a series about bread may sound improbable, the cultural bias against bread, which has the taste of defeat according to one character, a fascinating cast of characters, and wild and imaginative cooking wars make Yakitate!! Japan immensely readable.

Everyone Else is Doing it, Why Can't I?

I used to have a friend who only liked things as long as they were unpopular. If he discovered an obscure band he would stop listening to them once everyone else "jumped on the bandwagon." While plenty of us are like this friend, there are many in the opposite camp, those who find comfort in doing what's popular. If your young adult enjoys doing the same kinds of things as her peers you're in luck. The number one, two and three best selling books on the Publisher's Weekly list for children are all by Stephenie Meyer. They are respectively, Twilight, Eclipse and , three books in an incredible series about Bella Swan, a teenager who moves to a tiny town in the Pacific Northwest to live with her father and is drawn into the mysteries and trials of an odd family called the Cullens. Bella is very attracted to Edward but utterly confused by his behavior. He alternately acts drawn to her and as though he despises her, going so far as to rush out of the classroom when she sits next to him. As she unravels his family's secrets she discovers that his feelings for her come with a terrible danger. Your mileage may vary but I've heard nothing but good things about this series and it was the buzz of the entire theater department this year at my son's high school, with much passing of the books from avid reader to avid reader. The author's website, with general information about the series, as well an audio excerpt from Twilight and the first chapters of New Moon and Eclipse can be found here.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Mr. Apathy who has this to say about Johnny Depp's new film: "Sweeney Todd was delightfully bleak. It was a bit more morose than I had expected but was sincerely enjoyable. It's pretty funny! Fans of Sacha Baron Cohen* will enjoy his role as the over the top Italian barber who has a shave-off with Sweeney Todd." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at
* Sacha Baron Cohen is most famous for his character Borat, the title character in the film of the same name.