Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A New Generation of Readers: Building A Reading BridgeThat Will Last A Lifetime

By Mark Young
“Dad, why do you want Katniss to marry Gale? I want her to choose Peeta.” My 12-year-old daughter is querying me on one of the hottest Young Adult (YA) trilogies—The Hunger Games by author Susanne Collins. These novels and the subsequent movies have captivated her imagination.

[Skip the next paragraph if you already know who Katniss Everdeen, Gale Hawthorn, and Peeta Mellark are. If you’re uncertain, please continue:]

In this dystopian thriller, these young people are trying to survive in the ruins of the nation of Panem (once known as North America) against a brutally repressive regime operated from the ruling Capital. Residents living in the twelve outlying districts must offer up two teenagers—one boy, one girl—each year to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. This tribute to those in power is so that all will remember the cost of rebellion that was squashed by the ruling government. This story focus around the main character—Katniss Everdeen, a teenager—who is emotionally drawn to two young males in her life as she struggles to stay alive. 

These two males are what my daughter is giving me the third degree about—Gale Hawthorn, Katness’s best friend and hunting partner; and Peeta Mellark, a baker’s son with a crush on the girl and who becomes her partner in the Hunger Game after they were reaped from District Twelve.

My daughter thinks that Peeta is Katniss’ best choice to become more than friends with—um, you know, that yucky love stuff. I disagree with her (because I am a trouble maker) and this difference of opinion has sparked a running dialogue for several months.

What has all this to do with building a reading bridge with the young? Everything! We must use whatever catches the younger person’s interest to help fan that literary flame in their lives.

This discussion between my daughter and I is just the tip of the literary iceberg. From here, we’ve launched into discussions about all of the characters: their strengths and weaknesses; conflict between protagonists and antagonist; and so forth. We moved on to talk about plot development; scenes of thematic importance; conflict resolution; and backstory. She may not use these specific terms to discuss the novel, but she has grown to understand the concepts, and throws around terms like backstory, demonstrating that she understands the rules of the writing game.

As a parent and author, this is sooo cool!

When she was a little girl, we would read stories to her—as we did to our older daughters—for bedtime and any other excuse we could come up with to read. She has progressed beyond this phase, slowly developing her own reading interests. As parent know, persuading children to read is not always easy. School work—with all its required reading—can put a damper on a child’s desire to read during free time. And then we must compete with the temptations of TV and technology—smart phones, tablets, video games, and other digital distractions. Reading a novel—whether print or eBook—can slip down on the list of things a young person chooses to do.

We found movies to be one way of developing a young person’s desire to read. I purchased a copy of The Hunger Games some time ago and tried to encourage my daughter to check it out. I could not get her interested. Then the movie was released. Our daughter enthusiastically agreed to see this PG-13 movie since she heard from others that it was a good movie (peer pressure was a positive thing in this instance). Once she saw the movie, she wanted to read the book. After reading the first novel she wanted to read the entire trilogy, saying the books are better than the movie.

Yes! She came to the realization—on her own—that a novel can take the reader deeply into many layers of a character which a movie just cannot reach.

Now, we want to continue to encourage her interest in
reading by searching out other YA novels that might strike her fancy. I just finished reading author Veronica Roth’s first novel, Divergent—first novel of another trilogy— which comes out as a movie in a couple of months. Great read! I am starting the second in the series, Insurgent, so that I’m positioned to discuss these novels with my daughter in case she becomes interested in reading them. After all, I don’t want to look like a dweeb (Urban dictionary: A dorky or nerdy person).

I am crossing my fingers. She does not want to finish Collin’s last novel, Mockingjay, because she does not want the story to end. She is already figuring out how to write a sequel series to The Hunger Games which clearly indicates to me that she is an author-in-training. (That’s a Super Bowl championship ‘Go Seattle’ yes!).

What could be better than having another author in the house?

Will this ploy—movies first, leading to the novel—work a second time? I hope so. If not, my wife and I will need to put our heads together and see what other strategies we can come up with. All this finagling is worth it if we can instill in her the desire to read for the rest of her life. What a gift that would be—to her and us.

This is what is working for us right now. Parents—what strategies have you successfully used in the past? Please share in case we need to come up with another game plan real quick.