As summer rolls around, I begin to wonder, When will I get The Call? And by The Call, I mean that yearly call from my tween’s teacher to tell me my son needs to do “summer homework” to keep his reading level up. This is no easy task. Getting him to read takes bribery, subterfuge and some good old fashioned authority (not usually a good combination during vacations). Luckily, over time, I have developed an arsenal of strategies that will help get us through this ordeal as painlessly as possible.
1. Give choices. Although it’s tempting to drop him off at the library with instructions to “find something to read,” chances are he’ll come back with a Bone comic book and the latest issue of Nintendo Power. By challenging him to participate in MYRCA (the annual Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Awards), he has a choice of 18 titles that have been pre-selected to guarantee quality and kid appeal. All he has to do is read 3 off the list to be eligible to vote.
2. Judge a book by its cover. Be shallow, it’s ok. Tweens judge books by their covers all the time. Tweens who hate reading also judge books by their length. The Bedmas Conspiracy has the perfect cover: an electric guitar, a ZZ Top wig and sunglasses and the perfect length: it is the shortest one on the MYRCA list. Rock on!
3. Refer books to Pop-culture. This is tricky; telling your tween that End of Days is just like the X-Files will work against you. I know it’s SHOCKING but no one remembers who Mulder and Scully are anymore. Comparing it to Men in Black 3D makes you seem cool and hip. Always be mindful that you, as the adult, should have no idea about what is actually cool, so be subtle.
4. Isn’t that a movie? Tweens automatically become interested in the book if it gets made into a movie. Casually mentioning that the producers of Twilight are making a movie of Ken Oppel’s This Dark Endeavor will lead them to the book. Saying it in front of tween girls, though, may get you more reaction than you cared for! Use earplugs.
5. Scarcity as motivator. Complain loudly that Blood Red Road is impossible to get. Get your techno tween to place a hold on it for you. Wonder aloud daily if it’s in yet. Scream when you find out it’s waiting for you and drag (read: plan to have) your tween with you when you go pick it up. With any luck, he’ll start reading it in the car, on the way home.
6. Plead ignorance. Pretend you can’t figure out how to download books on the iPod. Get your tween to do it for you. Conveniently use Box of Shocks as an example and voila! Your tween has a book right in his hands that he doesn’t even have to bother to remember to return.
7. You scratch my back, I’ll bake fudge. Promise to make any recipe he wants from The Case of the Missing Deed after he reads it. Chances are he’ll pick the Fudge recipe and everyone is happy when there is chocolate.
8. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Find books comparable to authors tweens already like. Fans of Roald Dahl will love Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes, just be sure to mention he’s a blind orphan pickpocket hero with a secret. Mention it while watching Oliver Twist during family movie night for best results.
9. Appeal to their rebellious nature. A little reverse psychology can work wonders. Wait until your tween gets upset and it clouds their judgment. A timely placed “Whatever you do, DO NOT read Timber Wolf” may be all you’ll ever need.
I tend to pick my battles and reading is usually, necessarily, one of them. My librarian side thinks ‘reading should be fun, reading should be its own reward.’ Truth is, reading is work for the reluctant reader and it really isn’t any fun until you become proficient. By using these tactics, you may find that his (read: your) summer reading will get a little easier one book at a time.