I can tell you the exact day that my son lost interest in reading. He came home one day, with Dairy of a Wimpy Kid in his bag and told me that it was too easy. That weekend we went book shopping. Books across a number of different genres sat in his room without being read. He thought they were “boring” or they made him feel dumb as the language was too difficult. He was eleven. I was not in a unique situation. Other parents, particularly those with boys, were going through the same thing.
This was also around the time that games and gaming content became readily available, so he started playing online games. Games were fun, easily accessed via phones, tablets, PCs, and consoles. He could choose from a variety of genres: fantasy, adventure, shooter, strategy, etc. His friends were from around the world. They had their own language. If he got bored, he simply changed games. When he was bored of games, he would watch his favourite streamers play games and interact with that community.
In an ideal world, books would be seen as an equal to games; they should co-exist, with the upper MG reader just as likely to pick up a book as they are to pick up a mouse. To do this we need to look at the gap between MG books and YA books and find a way to bridge it, make it relevant to the upper MG group. At the same time, we need to study gaming, understand its appeal and write stories that appeal to this group.
Below, are four factors that I believe are instrumental in getting the reluctant MG teen reader, reading.
If a game isn’t seen as fun then the audience will drop it in droves. Books need to be fun, to be relevant to what the kids are doing and their interests today.
Challenging storylines without the complex language. Many games involve complex game rules, strategies. Kids thrive on these challenges. They cope and they excel. Books need to reflect this. Our kids are far savvier then we give them credit.
Shorter is sweeter. The MG gets easily bored if there is not enough of a challenge for them to continue. Keep the books short, don’t give them an opportunity to get bored.
In games kids are able process a lot of information simultaneously. The more going on, the more they need to “master” / process, the more they try. And when they achieve what they set out to, there is enormous satisfaction. Page-turners keep the kids interested, and when they finish, they have a sense of accomplishment.
My son and I sat down and had a discussion about games and books: what he liked, didn’t like, what he wanted to see more of. At the time, I wrote a short story taking into consideration what I had learnt (the four rules, as I call them), and applied it to a story that I thought he would read. He finished it in one sitting and then took it to school and shared it with his friends. By the end of the week, all kids (30) in the class had read it. I wrote two others and had the same response.
This experience was the reason I started on a journey to becoming a writer.
Today's guest blogger is Sophie Hiotis, who has a Bachelor of Arts, with Majors in Psychology and Sociology, and has worked 30 years in IT, working in a variety of roles including training and development, organisational transformation, project management and as an analyst. A lover of coffee, travel, and dogs, she also has enjoyed 30+ years of gaming, with a particular interest in MMOs lore. If children are not reading, it's because they haven't found their book.
For some extra reading, check out this fantastic blog post: Leveraging the Lore of 'Dungeons & Dragons' to Motivate Students to Read and Write
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