by Beth Bacon
|Editor Tracey Keevan|
Two out of three fourth graders in the United States failed to read with proficiency, according to a 2015 Kids Count survey.
The fundamental skill of reading is not an easy one to master.
In the second installment of my series about reluctant readers, I ask: What does it take to create a book that appeals to emerging and reluctant readers?
And who better to ask than the editor of some of the most beloved books—among reluctant readers as well as kids who enjoy books.
Tracey herself is an Emmy-nominated writer whose children’s fiction has been featured on Nickelodeon as well as in books and magazines. Tracy’s perspective offers powerful insights into the art of reaching out and appealing to reluctant readers.
Tracey Keevan: Reading a book has always felt a lot like running a race to me. Nervous anxiety hits my gut at the starting line. So far to go. So alone.
So many people who will finish faster, easier, stronger than me.
The first chapter, the first mile, sets that pace. I’m either in the zone, confident and charged, or I’m way out of the zone—struggling through each page, each tenth of a mile, wondering if I can make it to the end.
As an editor of books for kids and teens, I hunt for those “quit moments.” They need to be stomped all over.
Those are the places that make or break a book for reluctant and emerging readers. It’s where the writer—that invisible voice on the sideline—needs to step up and cheer her head off: Go! Go! Go!
Beth Bacon: When creating books for kids who struggle with reading, one can’t assume your audience is going to be an eager one. Humor is one strategy. Every kid loves to laugh.
What writing techniques do you look for?
Tracey Keevan: There is no magic formula, of course. Humor helps. Word choice helps.
So do an active voice, authentic dialogue, relatable characters, and relevant themes.
- It’s choosing clarity over cleverness.
- It’s about trusting and inviting the reader to share in the storytelling.
- It’s about letting the reader know you’re in it together.
Tracey Keevan: Success with all readers, to me, is a feeling of inclusion. When a reader is connected to the experience, she’ll power up the hills, sprint to finish, and carry that finisher’s medal with her for the next time.
Beth Bacon: What was your experience with reading as a child?
Tracey Keevan: Reading can be terrifying. I know. I was not a “book kid” in grade school or middle school.
Beth Bacon: Fear is something authors don’t like being associated with books! But the truth is, struggling readers certainly feel fear. I address that fear by talking directly to the reader.
|Encourages readers to relax & enjoy reading.|
Tracey Keevan: I remind myself of that fear often. What would have helped me? Well, not having to read aloud for one. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option.
[Scaffolding is a strategy used by reading instructors to address issues blocking the path to literacy by building scaffolds of support like monitoring comprehension and employing pre-reading and post reading activities.]
Beth Bacon: Sharing the fun—that’s one way authors can help emerging readers get through their required reading sessions.
As with anything, reading takes practice. So our books need to keep these kids turning the pages. No one knows that better than Tracey Keevan, who has worked in children’s media for over 20 years as an editor, writer, and producer. She also acquires and edits picture books, early readers, chapter books, graphic novels, middle grade and young adult fiction.
Thanks, Tracey, for your insights!
Beth Bacon is the author of books for reluctant readers including I Hate Reading (Pixel Titles, 2008, 2017) and The Book No One Wants To Read, illustrated by Jason Grube and Corianton Hale (Pixel Titles, 2017).
Beth has won the VCFA Candlewick Award for Picture Book Writing, the Marion Dane Bauer Award for Middle Grade Writing, and is a PSAMA PULSE Award Finalist for marketing.