• Concise chapters
Ideally, each chapter should contain one clear event (or one specific point in nonfiction) and have an arc of its own (a beginning, middle and end). This makes reading even one chapter a satisfying experience.
Chapters that end on a high note in the action will make the reader want to see what happens next. Episodic novels (where each chapter stands alone as a short story) are also good bets for reluctant readers.
• Kid Relevance
This applies to the themes and ideas that form the basis for plots or how an author approaches a nonfiction topic. These ideas should be relevant, meaningful, and applicable to the reader’s life.
Instead of conveying a lesson your adult perspective tells you the reader needs to know, try using the reader’s frame of reference as a starting point. Write to your audience, not at them. And remember, books can be just for fun.
• Suitable Text
Depending on the age and ability of the reader, the text needs to be challenging but not overwhelming. Strive to write your story as clearly as you can, using active sentences and concrete nouns and verbs.
When writing for a broad age range of reluctant readers (8-12, for example), make the vocabulary accessible to the younger end, but the interest level appealing to kids on the older end of the spectrum.
• Unique Presentation
Reluctant readers often choose nonfiction over fiction because it speaks to their personal interests. Finding a new or unusual slant to your topic helps keep that interest alive. Humor doesn’t hurt either. It’s Disgusting – And We Ate It! True Food Facts from Around the World by James Solheim appeals to middle graders’ love of the gross while sneaking in some history on the side.
• Visual Appeal
Authors generally don’t have much say in a book’s design, but author/illustrators might. Larger typeface, the generous use of white space, and illustrations that elaborate upon the text all help break up the string of words and make the book less intimidating to read.
Laura Backes is the author of Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read from Prima/Random House. She’s also the publisher of Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers. For more information about writing children’s books, including free articles, market tips, insider secrets and much more, visit Children’s Book Insider’s home on the web at Write4Kids.com.