While a name author can be a big draw, debut authors need to work harder to get a crowd. A plain vanilla signing or reading aloud from a book is not likely to draw a crowd, but promising a fun activity connected to the book can get kids and parents interested. Debut author Kristen Kittscher set up a photo booth with funny wigs and oversize glasses at her book launch for THE WIG IN THE WINDOW, and kids were lined up to get their pics taken.
No, because middle grade readers are forced to read for pleasure. Our local school district requires 20 minutes a day of free reading, assigns eight book reports a year, and pits students against each other to rack up the most Accelerated Reader books in their class. And local parents reinforce the message of reading for fun by buying reading timers for their kids. Despite all this, middle graders can turn into passionate, excited readers who will count the hours until the next Rick Riordan or Wimpy Kid comes out.
What really matters is to engage with the reader on a personal level. Young readers want to get to know the authors and to have a little fun with them. They love answering live quizzes and competing for prizes. They love being able to ask questions or act out scenes. They want to know how authors wrote their books and got published, because they might want to write a book, too.
This is the sixth year that I have led the Advance Readers Club. I have 25 kids who meet once a month and choose from the advance copies of books that publishers send me to review. These kids are amazing, enthusiastic and very opinionated readers. They read the books, write brief reviews and report back to me. I take their recommendations very seriously, because they will point me to books that become my bestsellers. And I pass their recommendations on to local librarians and teachers. I also invite authors to visit about twice a year. While the club is supposed to be for 5th and 6th graders, I’ve had kids who have insisted on staying with the group for four years.
I remind parents not to push kids who can read way above grade level into books whose content they aren’t ready for. Let the third grader read the Bunny Detectives! It’s OK. And a young reader doesn’t need to read only classics or Newbery books to become a great reader.
Who wouldn’t love Polly Horvath, especially when she writes about husband and wife rabbit detectives. It’s a short leap– make that a hop, skip and jump to Everything On A Waffle!
The right book for the right reader! What could be better? Readers have independent bookstores helped engage your middle-grade readers? What events do you know of that really work?
Tami Lewis Brown is a bookstore groupie and she isn’t embarrassed to be the only grownup with no kids in tow at a good middle-grade author appearance.