I’m going to offers up some definitions I created based on the work of literacy scholar Kylene Beers, who breaks readers into five distinct groups: Avid Readers, Dormant Readers, Uncommitted Readers, Unmotivated Readers and Unskilled Readers.
The Avid Reader—This is someone like myself and my older son Jonah. My husband has been known to pull the cereal boxes off the table to get us to eat. But that doesn’t stop Jonah and me. Oh no. We’ll happily read the back of any brand of orange juice carton. We are even known to flip over the napkin holder because it has interesting warnings in both Spanish and in English that it would be a bad idea to eat the napkin holder.
The Dormant Reader—This is a reader who might enjoy reading but doesn’t have time. In the case of a child, she or he might be overscheduled or it’s not the highest thing on their priority list of things-to-do. They’ve heard a certain book is good and think it’s cool and do want to get there. Eventually.
The Uncommitted Reader—This person feels ambivalent towards reading. They believe that someday they’ll read but that day isn’t quite today.
Unmotivated Reader—This reader never reads for pleasure and finds reading a big, fat ugly chore.
Unskilled Reader—This reader doesn’t yet have the skills to decode text.
These definitions have helped me to be understand reluctant readers and to climb out of my own experience.
I was one of those voracious readers, so I didn’t understand why everyone else was not like me.
Take my younger sister growing up. She really would be practicing her lacrosse goalie skills or watch TV or hanging with oodles of friends. But rarely ever reading.
I didn’t get her. And she didn’t get me.
I was that shy kid always playing pretend or reading books about girls from another century.
While I never bothered to try to coax my sister to pick up one of my thick novels, my mother never gave up on my sister as a reader. She bought her the Choose Your Own Adventure books, as well as read aloud to her quite a bit. When my sister got into music of the Doors, she bought a book on the band.
Today, my sister is a librarian and probably reads more than me. My mother understand that the unmotivated reader can become the uncommitted reader who then can become the avid reader.
So the lesson here is just because a kid is currently in one category, it doesn’t mean they will stay there. And it doesn’t mean that an avid reader will always stay there either. For example, I found that when my kids were babies my reading really dropped. I was lucky to have enough time to read the back of the cereal box. When it comes to reading status, things can be fluid. This can be true for authors in terms of their intended readers as well.
My recent middle grade novels, Apple Pie Promises and Pumpkin Spice Secrets, obviously target reluctant readers. However, the first titles in my new chapter book series, Ellie May on Presidents’ Day and Ellie May on April Fools’ Day are hybrids. I tried to write it for both the young avid reader and the uncommitted one. But I’m ever hopeful that the unmotivated reader will also be charmed by Ellie May’s personality and antics. Since I don’t write beginning readers, I can’t hope to hook an unskilled reader, except as a read aloud. And if it that were the case, I would be very happy indeed.
What sort of reader were you as a kid? Where are you now? Teachers, do you see a huge spread in your classrooms. And authors, whom do you write for?
Hillary Homzie is the author of the forthcoming Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, Dec 18, 2018), as well as Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, October 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, October 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.