Tarreau Simpson, 11, says he likes to read action and adventure stories, poems and haikus and sports stories. But don't try to dictate what he reads.
“I like to have my own opinion,” says Tarreau of the North Side as he enjoys a reading group for youths at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Allegheny branch.
Lavontae Sanders, 12, agrees. If pushed to read a book, “I wouldn't really read it,” the North Side resident says.
Many children and adults agree with the results of Scholastic Corp.'s Kids & Family Reading Report, which suggests that students in middle and high school who have time to read books they choose themselves are more likely to read frequently for pleasure. In the survey, 91 percent of kids ages 6 to 17 say they're more likely to read a book if they pick it out.
“As adults, we choose the books we want to read,” says Maggie McGuire, vice president of eScholastic Kids and Parents Channels. “Blessing a wide variety of reading material and letting kids choose is so important to developing a love of reading.”
To clarify, nobody is suggesting that kids should have the option of declining books that are part of the classroom curriculum, say substituting “Twilight” for “A Wrinkle in Time” for classroom studies and homework. But in their free time, whether at school or at home, kids should get a choice of reading material, McGuire says. She says one-third of kids ages 6 to 18 attend a school where a class period is designated as a reading time during the school day.
Designating this time evidently can be helpful. In the survey, 78 percent of students who read frequently for fun — at least five days a week — said they had time to read a book during the school day. By contrast, 24 percent of infrequent readers, who read for fun less than one day a week, said they had no time during the school day.
The study gives a “holistic view of what makes a reader … what turns kids on, what indicators predict and potential to become a very frequent reader. That can be in any environment,” McGuire says.
Donna Stephenson of Pine says she encourages her sons — Evan, 17, Troy, 14, and Kyle, 12, — to read for leisure. She wants them to have a choice, because that will encourage them to enjoy reading more than a reading assignment will.
“The whole point is the reading and that they're becoming good readers,” Stephenson, 49, says. “I think that's the key to success. … I think you just want to develop strong readers because it matters in the academic areas.
“I was not a strong reader as a child,” she says. “It took me longer to get through my academic work as a high school and college student.”
Troy, an eighth-grader at Pine Richland Middle School, says he is not a big reader, but if he chooses the book, he is more likely to want to read.
“It's not really fun to read a required book,” he says.
Not that kids should be able to read anything they choose. Parents should ensure the material is age-appropriate, experts say. But, as much as is possible, letting kids choose what they want to read is going to create a habit that equates reading with pleasure, and they're going to want to do it more, McGuire says.
In the 12 to 14 age group, 70 percent of kids in the survey said they are looking for books that make them laugh, and 46 percent said they wanted books that have strong and brave characters. That may explain the popularity of “The Hunger Games.”
Kelly Rottmund, teen services coordinator for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, agrees with the findings of the Scholastic study.
“We've seen those results over and over again in various surveys,” she says. “Providing teens a choice in their reading materials really increases the chances of them … engaging and continuing to read for pleasure.”
The librarians work together to create a suggested reading list, like for the summer reading program — including the popular “The 5th Wave” by Rick Yancey — but the kids make the choice. Rottmund recalls one girl who selected “Divergent” by Veronica Roth, finished the book in two days, and came back to the library to ask for more.
“For us, that was seeing the power of choice in action,” Rottmund says.
Jaimere Washington, 15, of the North Side says both a parent-chosen and kid-chosen book can work. If he is open to reading something his parents encourage, he just might like it, and then he can get more books like it.
“I feel like both can be beneficial,” Jaimere says. He and his peers were discussing “Through the Woods,” a graphic novel by Emily Carroll, at their library book group.
Michele Brooks, a language-arts teacher at Norwin Middle School, supports providing a choice for reading material. In Brooks' classes, she forms small groups called literature circles with the students, and each group chooses from six novels to read outside of class and then discuss the book with classmates.
“The benefit of that is, when they present that to the class, other kids in the class are hearing about novels from their classmates,” she says. “So they are more likely to read them because their classmates are recommending them.”
When parents come in for open house, many of them tell Brooks their child doesn't really like to read. She tries to help those students find a genre they like. Sports fans, for instance, should enjoy reading sports books and magazines. Even if it's something simple like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” reading is reading, and all kids should be able to find something that appeals to them, she says.
“I really feel like almost every person … there was that novel than when your read it, you thought, ‘Wow, that's it,' and you really start to love literature,” says Brooks, who cites “The Outsiders” as the book that did it for her in her youth.
“For some, it might be magazines,” Brooks says. “If that's where it starts, they're at least reading.”