Kids and Reading

on May 10, 2007

This afternoon I’m speaking to high school Journalism and English classes about being an author, writing in general, and how publishing a book works. I’m a little nervous simply because these are teenagers and they bite . . .

Okay, seriously, I love talking (surprise) and I particularly like talking about books with kids. My two oldest daughters said I was a “geek” when I was a kid (I had to explain to them that in the 70s and early 80s, “geek” wasn’t really around, I would have been a “nerd,” but I digress . . . )

They think I was geeky because I read a lot. A LOT. I used to walk to school reading a book because I had to find out what happened in the story. At lunch I would read because I had to finish the book, or I wouldn’t be able to concentrate in class. I remember when I was thirteen and I read THE STAND, an 800+ page book, over three days during Christmas break. You know when you’re really, really, really into a story and you spend hours devouring it, taking breaks only to pee (because you CAN read at the dinner table, my mom and I both did it), and when you’re done you feel high? Your head is weightless but your eyes are heavy and when you finally go to sleep, you relive the entire book, or scenes in the book. You might be the character, or you might be an observer. And sometimes, you rewrite the book in your dreams because you didn’t really like something the author did . . .

Yeah, I was a nerd.

My biggest problem with kids and books today is the schools. The books assigned are BORING. Sure, they might be classics and yeah, I can see how reading some of those boring, historical classics might be beneficial to the kid in the long term, but if we want to instill a love of reading in kids, we need to give them books they can get into. That they don’t want to put down. That they’ll stay up until three a.m. with a flashlight under their blankets because they HAVE to find out what happens.

My kids know me, and they know they can postpone bedtime with one simple question, “Can I just finish this chapter?”

My oldest daughter in in seventh grade and her teacher has assigned some boring books. I told her that I had to read the EXACT SAME books in school and I just learned to read fast. Pulling out the key elements that a teacher is going to test you on is an art, but I did it very well 🙂 . This teacher also requires book reports monthly and the student gets to pick the book!

So I have been spending a lot of time at Borders browsing the YA section (which is now huge–they moved it away from the kids section because the books are more “adult” than “young” and that’s a whole ‘nother blog topic.) My oldest daughter is not a big reader. She has to be grabbed instantly and you can’t slack off or she puts the book down.

Last weekend I gave her DON’T SCREAM by Joan Lowery Nixon, a four-time Edgar award winner. Brennan #1 could not put the book down. I actually saw her READING during one of her favorite television shows. I actually heard her tell a friend that she was going to have to CALL HER BACK. (This is the same daughter who, in her big elective report when asked about her most life-changing experience wrote about getting her cell phone.)

Bing bing bing! A winner! She wrote her book report and got it in on time, I think that was a first.

Anyway, this brings me back to kids and reading. With Brennan #1 it’s like pulling teeth finding the right book for her. She likes “chick lit”, teen girl books, and suspense. Brennan #2 will read anything, but she prefers historical fiction, fantasy and scary books. I got her this RL Stine edited antho with 13 teenage “thrillers” guaranteed to scare. It’s 300+ pages and she’s been reading a story a night.

I’ve spent a lot of time at the bookstore accosting, er, talking to the young people who are browsing the section. I ask them what they like to read and they LOVE to talk about their favorite books. The other day, in preparation for my speech today, I asked two kids–they were 12 and 13–why they’d picked the books they had in the arms. They proceeded to tell me all about the CHARACTERS. The boy was reading this Alex Rider series and I asked him which was the first book, and he found it for me and I bought it.

I don’t think the problem is that kids don’t like to read. I think the problem is that we don’t know what they want to read (outside of Harry Potter.) Maybe it just takes asking–and letting them read what excites them and get credit for it at the same time.

What do the kids in your life like to read?

Now for something completely different . . . My prison break trilogy now has titles! Yeah! (drum roll please . . . )


There is a teeny-tiny chance that one or more of them may change once they work themselves through the process, but it’s slim. The publication date for KILLING FEAR is firm, the other two are tentative.

Now, I just have to finish the book . . . next week starts crunch time. I’m writing well, but not as many pages a day as I would like, and I made a few commitments this month before I had my deadline, so I’ll be burning the midnight oil a few nights in addition to my six hours a day. But I really like this story, and my hero and heroine are a little different than what I usually write. (Of course, I’ll stress about reader expectations later . . . ) For example, my hero is rock solid. (Will Hooper, who was in SPEAK NO EVIL and SEE NO EVIL.) But he’s a bit of a playboy. He doesn’t kiss and tell, but he kisses a lot. Of course the heroine is ultimately the only woman in the world for him. He has issues about commitment, but he doesn’t want to end up like his former partner–old, drinking, and lonely because the job was the only thing he had going for him. And his best friend is in a coma, and his current partner (Carina Kincaid) is getting married. All this, and turning 40, is weighing on him. But he hurt the heroine and right now (at this point where I am in the story) I don’t know how she’s going to forgive him. I can’t wait to find out what happens . . .

Okay, more than you wanted to know . . . back off to the story.