I wasn’t planning on doing another Dear Corn Syrup column so soon, but some questions are time sensitive! This one is for all you parents out there.
Dear Corn Syrup,
How can I get my 11 year old kid to read a book? The screens are so alluring and the summer so long. What would be irresistible to him? He was a huge Harry Potter fan at one point. A year ago, he tore through the whole The Giver series. Can't find anything that captivates him these days.
I am sorry to report that medium sized children are not especially lovely. They are too old to sit in your lap but too young to drive to store and get you a pint of Ben and Jerry’s when you need one. They need to be reminded to change their underwear. They consistently smell like armpit and roll their eyes.
I’m sure that there’s a mother on your Facebook newsfeed who built a “reading castle” in her backyard out of recycled crystal. She is claiming that her children are in there right this very minute reading Proust. Please realize that she posted that picture to make the rest of us feel badly about our parenting. I bet you all the money I make from this book blog that as soon as she got onto Facebook to brag about it, her children snuck off to play video games. No matter what you hear, most of us do not spend our summers with kids who look like this:
As a caveat, I do need to mention that I am not a reading teacher or a librarian or even a particularly successful parent. But something that I do know is that the most irresistible thing for your eleven year old would be to get into a battle with you over reading. One way for him to become the center of your universe and to suck up all the family’s attention is to raise the concern that he might someday be an illiterate adult man living in your basement.
Some kids prefer reading to doing just about anything else. You probably know some kids like that. She might be sitting on the playground with a book. Sometimes he gets into trouble at school for reading novels instead of doing class work. I’m sure her parents worry that she doesn’t run around outside enough, but they are likely relieved that the worst thing that will happen is that she will grow up be an academic or a book blogger.
But there is another kind of reader, and both of my kids fall into this camp. They enjoy reading when they do it. They read well. They can answer you when you ask them what books they like. But their idea of a really good day doesn’t involve reading. They would certainly rather play video games than read, and they can get derailed when reading at school is too much about this:
If you are a person who was the kind of kid who would rather read than do just about anything else, it is difficult to accept that reading won’t be the same kind of pleasure for your kid as it was for you. But I do think that it can be a different kind of pleasure. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Still, I totally appreciate that you don’t want to spend your summer doing this:
Here are some strategies (that I’ve used!) that might make your summer mothering just a bit easier:
1) Don’t make reading the antithesis of screen time. Your kid thinks of screen time as fun, and you don’t want reading to be the opposite of fun. Maybe reading could be part of screen time. Read the book, then watch the movie! Your kid can decide if the movie representation was faithful to the book, or if it deviated.
Here's a list of middle grade books that were turned into movies. And you can find a similar list of movies that came from YA novels here and here and here.
2) You and your son could read at the same time. I’m sure you have your own leaning stack to tackle, right? What if you made summer reading a time that you and he spend together rather than something he has to do alone? Plus, you'd be modeling the idea that reading isn't a punishment inflicted on children by nagging mothers. Instead, he'll see it's what happy adults do for fun.
3) Add sugar (corn syrup?). Nothing makes a book go down more smoothly than a tall glass of lemonade. The pinker the better. There is no better way to make reading feel like a treat than to...make it a treat!
For what it’s worth, my kids were game for just about every dystopian Hunger Games-esque spinoff at that age. Maybe the sugary drink will entice your son to read the first in one of these series? (Plus, see #1 above. All these books turn into movies eventually).
If he’s into middle grade books rather than dystopian teen tragedies, there are some good suggestions on this middle school librarian's blog. He could scroll through and find three books that he'd be willing to try. Note that the blogger has category lists at the top (sports, adventure, etc.)
The good news is that everything’s going to be OK, no matter what kind of reading summer you have. Your son has made it to the age where he does enjoy books that he chooses on his own. He might not tell you that he enjoys them, and his choices will probably annoy you. But anyone who can "tear through" a series is already a reader. That means that if he ends up living in your basement as an adult, at least he will be literate.