Writing Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read

Let’s face it: some kids just don’t like to read. Increasingly, parents, teachers, librarians and editors are looking for books that will appeal to reluctant readers.

When I was writing Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read (Prima Publishing), I read hundreds of children’s books, old and new, that I thought would fit the bill. I discovered that there are eight qualities possessed by great books for reluctant readers and to my surprise some of my childhood favorites didn’t pass the test.

If you can work at least three of the elements listed below into your book, it will have a good chance of being loved by all kids, even those to whom reading is a chore.

Humor

Making kids laugh is essential to building a pleasant association with reading. But you need to understand what tickles kids’ funny bones at different ages.

The humor in picture books is broad and very visual. Easy readers (and some picture books for ages 6 and up) begin to introduce verbal humor: wordplay, puns, double meanings.

As kids move into the chapter book arena they can handle jokes that need a setup and a payoff that’s played out over several scenes. Dialogue, how characters react to each other, or the situation in which a character finds himself may be innately humorous.

Well-Defined Characters

Many kids want to identify strongly with the characters in their books; for reluctant readers, this is essential. It doesn’t matter what the character looks like on the outside (be it space alien, a clown or a talking frog), on the inside this character needs to embody the perspective of the reader.

This means the character is dealing with issues the reader might face, or seeing the world in a childlike way. Book characters must have multidimensional personalities with strengths and weaknesses in order for the reader to care about them and want to stick with them for the entire story.

In nonfiction such as biographies, authors who find an element of their subject’s life that is relevant to the target audience have a better chance of reaching reluctant readers.

Fast-Paced Plot

Kids who love to read don’t mind a story that takes a few chapters to unfold, but reluctant readers don’t have that much patience. The action needs to start in the first paragraph and by the end of the first chapter the reader should know quite a bit about the main character and have a good idea about the conflict or problem that character will face.

Subplots are fine for chapter books and up, but too many will get in the way of the forward movement of story. Keep the pages turning.