(He won’t read it. He hates everything.) #1
Sometimes, as I ponder tactics for encouraging the “reluctant readers” in my life (typically late-elementary through middle-school boys), I cast my mind back to an earlier generation’s paragon of averseness, Mikey [Life cereal commercial]. Only instead of confronting Mikey with healthy breakfast cereal, in my imagination, I confront him with fiction.
Try it along with me:
“What’s this thing?”
“Some book. S’posed to be good for you.”
“Did you try it?”
“I’m not gonna try it. You try it.”
“I’m not gonna try it.”
“Let’s get Mikey.”
“He won’t read it. He hates everything.”
Pugnosed brothers shove the book at Mikey. Mikey digs in.
“He likes it! Hey Mikey!”
“When you bring a book home, don’t tell the kids it’s one of those nutritional things printed on paper you’ve been trying to get them to read. You’re the only one who has to know.”
The more I think about it, the more I feel like this brief but brilliant piece of dramatic art offers everything a well-meaning mom, dad, grand-parent, teacher, librarian, author, or other concerned literacy advocate could ask for. Conflict, suspense, and the power of creative omission to outwit the refusenik. When it comes to fiction for Mikey, might as well keep the Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Thiamin and Riboflavin content to yourself. And leave really appetizing stories lying around on the breakfast table.
Now, my cereal metaphor is only going to stretch so far. Therefore, to the point. Here are some titles old and new that I find delectable and predict will appeal to the appetites of particular Mikeys out there:
A few books for Mikeys who believe that sports matter, REALLY matter, and by that I don’t mean “will Mikey win the big game” but instead: will Mikey change his life, the lives of his friends, the history of his country . . . and, possibly, in so doing, also win the big game, or race, or whatever:
Crash, by Jerry Spinelli.
Jackie and Me, by Dan Gutman (or any of his “Baseball Card Adventures”)
Whales on Stilts, by M. T. Anderson
Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Louis Sachar (or any of the Sideways School series)
A Whole Nother Story, by Dr. Cuthbert Soup
A few books for Mikeys who want be whisked away from their current school to a training facility that goes light on fractions and heavy on things that will enable them to become mighty, mythical, colossal, and endow them with powers enabling them to save the world if not the entire cosmos:
The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan (and then the rest of the series)
H.I.V.E.: The Higher Institute of Villainous Education, by Mark Walden (and then the rest of the series)
A book for Mikeys who don’t mind reading a story with a girl for the main character, as long as she is really, really cool, knows a time-traveler, and is herself a huge fan of A Wrinkle in Time:
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead
A few books for Mikeys who, down deep, are really thoughtful guys and are starting to contemplate growing up into admirable men:
Onion John, by Joseph Krumgold
M. C. Higgins the Great, by Virginia Hamilton
A stone-cold knockout brilliant beautiful book for Mikeys who are not reluctant, but hungry for something more sophisticated than what people usually recommend to middle-grade Mikeys, plus, it’s impossible to believe the same guy who wrote Whales on Stilts also wrote this (confronts issues of slavery, cruelty, and hypocrisy in the Revolutionary-era US):
Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume I, the Pox Party, by M. T. Anderson
Coming next month …
More suggestions in these categories, plus a few additional categories including “Books for Dads to finagle into the hands of their Mikeys, and possibly read at the same time and discuss later,” “Books Mikeys won’t be suspicious of just because their moms recommended them,” and other topics and titles suggested by readers of this blog, if any of you feel so moved. Let me know your ideas and books: firstname.lastname@example.org
David Teague is the author of Franklin’s Big Dreams (Disney/Hyperion). He’s currently at work on his next picture book, Billy Hightower, forthcoming in 2013, and is collaborating with his wife, the novelist Marisa de los Santos, on a young adult novel, Margaret O’Malley. For more about David and his books, visit http://www.davidteague.net/ or http://www.facebook.com/FranklinDreams.