EnglishTeacherDopers, advice sought on 11yo boy not keen on reading

[Yes, the same kid as the MathsTeacherDoper advice thread!]

This boy is bright enough, but hard to engage in reading anything substantial. So far he will only voluntarily read funny or scary kids books, so things like the Goosebumps series. He started on the Harry Potter books, but their increasing size and complexity have daunted him I think and he hasn’t picked one up for about a year. Our best success so far has been with the Tintin and Asterix comics, he eagerly devours those in a flash! But they’re running out and they’re a hard act to follow.

His comprehension when read to is very good; his mother reads him books like The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird, both of which he understood and loved (also Harry Harrison’s Captive Universe). But his reading comprehension is not good, he stumbles constantly and I think that reading to himself is hard work, not fun, so he never does it unless forced to. And no, he doesn’t have dyslexia or ADD.

He cannot compose a coherent paragraph describing what he did today, or how he feels on a particular matter, although the individual sentences are not too bad in general. His spelling was awful but is improving rapidly - his strengths are in Maths and Japanese, so I suspect the spelling is done more on memorisation of word lists than by learning from reading.

His mother was, like me, a kid who read everything she could get her hands on from about the age of 6 and is frustrated that he’s not like we were. I’m trying to reduce her expectations so she doesn’t put him off further by making the whole topic of reading a source of stress, friction and anxiety for him. I think I’ve got her to understand that making him go to his room and read for 15 minutes, as if it were a punishment, is counter-productive.

So I’m asking for suggestions of what we can move him onto after Tintin and Asterix, hopefully a tad more advanced but not so much as to put him off, and just as amusing. I’d prefer something timeless rather than too contemporary; also preferably not a comic book unless it’s as literary as they are. And any other suggestions to make him want to read rather than lying around doing nothing would be extremely welcome! Thanks in advance, folks.

I’m not a teacher, but I would recommend Japanese comics. They have the full range from Pokemon to adult-level political debate (Sanctuary or such.) Though I’m not sure if there has been a large enough bulk translated to English to go that route yet (certainly there is a lot more than when I was in school.)

But I think the first thing to do is to figure out why he doesn’t like reading, as probably until you have determined that you can’t make headway. Some possibilities are:

  1. Reading isn’t viewed as cool by he and his peers
  2. Books don’t have the velocity of TV or comics
  3. Minor dyslexia or such
  4. Other

And certainly the discussion with him when trying to determine the issue, just in itself, will probably help.

Sounds to me (9 year veteran of teaching 7th Grade Reading) as if he has a decoding problem. He’s using so much energy to sound out the word that he doesn’t have much left for comprehension. I would suggest a phonics program of some kind. When I was in the classroom, I used the Spalding Reading Method. I would also recommend that you tell someone at school. They might be able to put him into a class so that he get can get the support he needs. We use the Read180 classroom in our district. Another suggestion is to get him a book and the audiobook. Have him listen to the book as he is reading it. This could help him with the decoding problem, but he is not passively listening. Janet Allen is a pioneer is this field. Just Google her name.

In reference to “he only reads comics, and we are running out”, try Barnes & Noble. They have classic books (some of which you said you read to him) in comics form. B&N also has audiobooks, including Harry Potter.

Keep us updated!

Would second the use of audio books, there are loads of great ones around at the moment.
As for books try these series:

Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon

Animorphs by Katherine A. Applegate

The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence
Philip Pullman writes good sci-fi books for this age group, and Terry Pratchett also writes for children.

Good luck.

IANATeacher, but I volunteer in a child literacy program. We work with kids that are mostly illiterate when they enter the program.

After they learn their ABCs and we’ve read to them (one-on-one) for a while, we start reading out loud “together” (the kid actually echoes what I say as I say it). Then we take turns reading out loud, each one sentence, then a paragraph, then chapters. The child is looking at the book with you as you read it, so he or she is hearing you say the words that they are looking at.

My little brother (now 19) was the same way. My family always read mysteries (mostly Hardy Boys) out loud together after dinner each night, and my mom used similar tactics to great effect: Tommy’s room is now full of fantasy and sci-fi books.

The most important thing for me to remember in my program is that I am NOT teaching a child to read – I am teaching a child to LOVE to read.

Well, my theory is as I mentioned - that he is not sufficiently fluent for reading to be fun instead of hard work. Why fluency is lacking I don’t know, but I will say he’s a bit of a late developer, both physically and mentally. It’s possible he just hasn’t reached the mental stage where it all comes easily. But of course every other course he does relies on English so it’s not like we can drop him a year.

The school he goes to is excellent, their main focus it seems to me is inculcating tolerance for difference so I doubt he’d be getting caught up in the cool thing. After all he think’s I’m cool (the poor fool), he knows I read a lot, yet that hasn’t motivated him.

He gets to watch very little TV. He gets 1 ep of The Simpsons maybe 2-3 times a week if he’s been good, and sometimes stays up on a weekend to watch part of some adult drama - usually he falls asleep or toddles off to bed before it finishes. He has no comics apart from the ones I mentioned.

Minor dyslexia, well, I don’t know, I suppose it’s possible. He doesn’t write words or letters backwards, I’m not sure how else you’d tell if it was sub-clinical, or differentiate it from the development issue I mentioned above. He is left-handed, which makes it more likely from what I read. A bit of Googling finds this site which has a 10-point pre-test, if you say Yes to four or more then they want you to buy their full test. I’d say he scores either 3 or 4, depending on how you rate his spelling - “have difficulty with spelling” is a bit vague!

Thanks for the thoughtful response.

A lot to chew on in this response, and thank you for it. He does read non-comics, but he likes them to be silly, scary, or both, and we’d like to move on as they are more for ~8yo and he’s just turned 11.

Audio books is a good idea and one I hadn’t thought of, thanks a lot for the suggestion of simultaneous reading and listening. I’ll discuss it with his mother (B&N don’t operate in this country but there are plenty of other decent bookstores).

Thanks a lot for the specific ideas, and the good wishes! I’ll check into those authors; as a SF fan myself I’d like him to like it :smiley: and he really liked the Harry Harrison we read him. I have a plan to move onto the Earthsea trilogy next.

His mother did do the alternate-pages thing for a while, but I think with the more advanced books she’s onto now she’s had to stop that. Maybe I’ll encourage her to move back onto something more manageable for him, thanks for the suggestions and the encouragment!

Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, maybe even some H.P. Lovecraft

also, there’s a not-bad array of adapted-for-children classics which are available at lots of retail giants & regular book stores

Can he focus long enough to read a chapter? Maybe they could switch chapters.

My other suggestion: forbid him from books that are “inappropriate for children.” If he sees you reading something and asks about it, tell him that it is much too violent or mature for kids, and that you never even considered reading it until you were at least in college.

I second the “reading while listening” idea. Sounds good.

I’m of the “started reading at 6, never looked back” variety, so my experience might not count for much. FWIW though:

You can’t go wrong with Roald Dahl. His stories are short, fun, and delightfully twisted. Revolting rhymes should be right on the money I think. Short, hilarious and screwed up versions of already well-known tales. Also, there’s the whole rhyme thing. My intuition tells me that it should be easier to read when you sort of know the story, and you also have a hint as to what the next word will sound like. I could be wrong of course.

Roald Dahl has the added advantage of having written more mature stuff too. Mostly short horror/black humor stories, which should be perfect. This is good if he thinks that the child stuff is… well childish, or if by any chance he finishes them all. I seem to recall reading Roald Dahl’s horror when I was only slightly older (12-13), and I turned out OK.

Oh, and reading aloud with your children, the way described by SusanStoHelit, taking turns and whatnot, should be good. I loved reading aloud before bedtime with my parents for years and years, I think into my early teens. Quality time and all that.

Now as far as comics go, I’m a little disappointed in you :slight_smile: You’ve showed him Asterix and Tintin and that’s it? Anything by Franquin goes. “Gaston”, “Spirou”, “Idees Noires”… I don’t know how much is available in english, but I can’t see why it shouldn’t be when it’s available in effin’ Norwegian Don’t know the english names though. Goscinny of Asterix fame also fathered the excellent “Lucky Luke”. Delving into the western mythos that “Lucky Luke” made fun of, there’s Blueberry, by Charlier and Giraud (among others). For that action fix (possibly for later years) there are the 15-20 first installments of “Modesty Blaise” by Peter O’ Donnel. There are also some wonderful interpretations of various classics if you know where to look, but somebody else already mentioned this. I was introduced to Jules Verne that way.

For contemporary stuff, well, I’m an adult myself now. This is reflected in the comics I buy nowadays. “Sandman”, “Whatchmen” and “Lone wolf and cub” are probably all too wordy, not to mention too gory, not to mention too sexy unless you’ve got an unusually mature eleven year old on your hands. Maus may be too bloody traumatic. “Persepolis” is not quite as scary, but I’d still hold it a couple of years if I were you.

Ah, but there is one fairly recent comic which I most wholeheartedly recommend to kids: “Bone” by Jeff Smith. And as luck would have it, it has been collected in a single paperback volume at a very reasonable price. Usagi Yojimbo, although not in the same league, is worth a look. Try before you buy.

Charles Dixon, Sean Deming and David Wenzel have collaborated on a beautiful edition of “the Hobbit”, although they don’t leave out much, so it might be daunting to someone who don’t read too well.

Any Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge stories by the late great Carl Barks is excellent too.

On a glance, I think everything I mentioned should be up to your literary standards. I notice the possible exception of Usagi Yojimbo. I think it’s fun, but not great writing.

Yeah, I like comics. Can you tell? I’ve written nearly enough (more than enough some would say), I’ll leave it to others to recommend more books.

But I will say this: I realize that they are a big part of a lot of people’s childhoods, but personally I found “the Hardy Boys” and similar books (Nancy Drew and such. I have a hunch “Animorphs” fits in here) to be insanely boring drivel with no redeeming features when I was 8. This may be the case for your son too. Kids are smart. Get them proper books/comics.

Methinks I’ve forgotten something, but I’ll shut up anyway. Let me close by suggesting that even if your kid doesn’t read the comics I’ve mentioned, I still think you should. They’re the feces, they are.

Good luck on your noble quest

Nix on the comics, I’m afraid.

Looking over peoples’ suggestions I’ve gone with a Terry Pratchett book Only you can save mankind. Hopefully it’s at least a bit amusing for him, but it also keys in with his interested in computer games, so we’ll see. There’s at least one more in that series available. Thanks folks.

A lot of reluctant readers have enjoyed the Series of Unfortunate Events books. He might also like Jerry Spinelli, whose books are about kids his age who are going through some tough situations. Some other books kids have enjoyed: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine Lengel. If he likes horror, he might like the idea of working his way through a book of short stories, like Stephen King’s Night Shift or maybe a Bradbury collection. That way, he might pick up a bigger book but find it less intimidating, knowing he can finish a whole story in one sitting.