You Are My Little Cupcake: Amy E. Sklansky
The Summer I Learned to Fly: Dana Reinhardt

Tips for Growing Bookworms: Guest Tip from Denise Hamilton

Paperbackphoto Last week I wrapped up my Tips for Growing Bookworms series, saying that I would add future tips if anything that anyone suggested inspired me. Crime novelist Denise Hamilton (who tells me she "will definitely NOT be reading her upcoming book Damage Control to her 13 year old son") was kind enough to send in a guest tip. I have not yet read Damage Control, but I have enjoyed Denise's mystery/thriller series about LA Times reporter Eve Diamond. Denise also works for the LA Times, and this lends authenticity to the series. She's written articles for the Times about reluctant boy readers and Beverly Cleary, and has been a subscriber to my Growing Bookworms newsletter for several years now. As makes sense coming from a crime novelist, Denise's guest tip for growing bookworms is about using cliffhangers to draw in young readers.

Tips for Growing Bookworms #11: Use the Power of Cliffhangers to Spur Independent Reading, by Denise Hamilton

When Mom is an author,  kids grow up with a natural love of books, right?

Not necessarily.

When they were younger, my children assumed that all parents read to their kids for a half-hour before bedtime. For my younger son, that ended at age 11, when he pried Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere from my hands, announced I was reading too slowly, and trotted off to read to himself.

My younger son is a more reluctant reader.

Sometimes he’ll pick up books when he’s bored and I won’t let him play video games.

But the bulk of his reading happens at night.

He’s 13, and I still read to him before bed.

It’s a ritual that we cherish. He clambers into bed with the cats and I prop up my feet and read aloud. Standouts: The Hunger Games Trilogy, Stephen King The Stand, The Shining and Firestarter, Justin Cronin’s The Passage, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, Philip Reeve’s Hungry Cities Chronicles, anything by Rick Riordan, the entire Redwall series, Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, John Connolly’s The Gates, and many others.

Often, I’ll bring home several books and he’ll peruse the dust jackets, study the cover art, thumb through them and decide which to read next. Having a choice is very important at his age, when so many things in life, such as Algebra, Health Science and P.E., offer very little in that department.

But as much as I love our time together, I want Alex to read on his own too.

So I’ve come up with a way to whet his interest.

At night, I’ll often read until I hit a big fat cliffhanger. I size these up like a military general, waiting until he’s rapt and on the edge of his seat. Then announce I need to go feed the dog or lock up the car. I hand him the book.

He wants to wait until I get back.

But he needs to find out What Happens Next.

Guess which side usually wins?

As he reads, my one chore will often mushroom into five and 20 engrossed minutes will pass without him calling for me. Several times I’ve even sat back down, careful not to disturb him, and picked up my own book.

When the action lulls and he looks up and realizes I’m back, he’ll hand me the book and I’ll read him another chapter. Then another errand might call – but only when something very suspenseful is about to happen.

Is it manipulative?

A bit.

Does it work?

Try it yourself and see.

Thanks, Denise, for sharing such a clever tip. I especially like the bit about sizing up cliffhangers "like a military general". I have every expectation of trying this tip out on my own bookworm as soon as she's reading on her own, and old enough to care about What Happens Next. Alex is a lucky kid. Enjoy your reading time together!

Readers, have any of you used this technique? Do you have other ways that you encourage your kids to read on their own? I'd love to hear about them. Links to the other entries in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series are here.

This post © 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.