What does the term “reluctant readers” mean?

Posted on October 24, 2007

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I am trying to find a publisher for my young adult novel. Several publishers say in their submission guidelines that they are looking for books for “reluctant readers”. I’ve never heard of the term “reluctant readers” before. Can you define it for me?

According to the experts there are several different types of reluctant readers. They can be intelligent children or teens who are interested in reading, but lack good reading skills, such as speed and comprehension. Some kids simply have no interest in reading and are at risk of falling behind. Other kids have specific learning problems that impede their ability and desire to read. The most challenging kid is one with excellent skills but has no interest in books or reading. There are no vocabulary lists or restrictions when writing for reluctant readers.

YA fiction geared for reluctant readers is usually fast-paced, action driven, and about 220 pages or less. Reluctant readers are always attracted to adventure, fantasy, teen romance, and diaries and letters. Currently popular with teen reluctant readers are nonfiction books about celebrities, sports, or are reality-based, such as true stories of the weird or supernatural. Publishers also entice reluctant readers with graphic novels and comic books.

Hi/Lo books – high interest/low reading level – are geared toward teen readers with learning disabilities, so they are much shorter from 400 to 1,200 words. According to Eugie Foster in her article Hi/Lo Books: Writing for Reluctant Readers: “Demographically, reluctant readers are three times more likely to be boys than girls. They also tend to have a narrower reading focus, subject matter-wise.”

Understanding the reluctant male reader: implications for the teacher librarian and the school library, by teacher librarian Lyn Pritchard is an in depth look at boys’ reading habits and how to stimulate their interest in books.

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), publishes an annual list of Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. According to YALSA, the Quick Picks committee “seeks books that teens, ages 12-18, will pick up on their own and read for pleasure. The list is geared to the teenager who, for whatever reason, does not like to read. Teen input is a vital aspect in the final decision of the committee. The visual appearance of a book and the standard considerations in the quality of content is equally important when selecting books for reluctant young readers.”

You can find the complete list of YALSA recommended books for reluctant readers at their web site.

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