I work tirelessly, it seems, to keep my sons immersed in books; to encourage them, when bored, to pick up a book; to foster their love of reading. It’s important that my boys love reading; books, I believe are important for teaching kids as well as connecting them to the world around them. Reading well—measure by literacy rates—has the potential to lift children from the generational cycle of poverty.
I know. I was one of them.
But one of my sons has historically been a “reluctant” reader. He loves graphic novels, so I keep him well stocked with them. He enjoys lots of white space, and as I began to notice this about him, I had what I believe was a brilliant idea: in addition to pointing him toward graphic novels, point him toward novels in verse.
I put some on hold. He opened them. He read. He started getting more excited about reading.
One summer, I chose only novels in verse for his summer reading list. At the beginning of every summer, I ask my sons how many books they want to read during their vacation (the minimum is ten), and they get to pick half the books while I pick the other half. This “reluctant” reader flew through his list and beat all his brothers.
Novels in verse are the perfect stories for “reluctant” readers, because they have an abundance of white space in them, which means reluctant readers don’t feel overwhelmed by the wall of text they would see when opening a lengthy book written in prose. Readers flip through pages quickly, so they feel like they’re making actual progress—that they might be good at reading, even. And novels in verse are written sparsely, with no extra, unnecessary words, so readers are reading only what they need to know and are imagining the rest.
Readers become “reluctant” for many reasons. Sometimes they don’t yet have the confidence in their reading abilities to tackle a book that looks too long; it’s intimidating. Sometimes they don’t have the attention span (yet—it comes with practice) to read a lot of words on a page. Sometimes they’re tired.
My son comes third in a line of competent, voracious readers. My main concern was building in him the confidence he needed to become a proficient reader and, in the process, cultivate a love for reading.
The building block of literacy is the confidence readers have in their own reading abilities. Novels in verse foster that confidence: the white space on the page gives readers a place to breathe, pages through which to fly, and the time to look at their progress and believe they are fast, proficient readers.
The other day, my son was sitting in the wing chair where I write in my journal every morning. I was reading on my bed. He was reading Forget Me Not, by Ellie Terry, which was on his summer reading list this year. After a few minutes of silent reading, he said, “Mama! I’m almost done with this book!”
“That’s awesome!” I said, before I glanced up from my book and noticed that he had read only about a quarter of it and was not, in fact, almost done.
But the important thing was: he thought so.
Rachel Toalson is an author, essayist, and poet who regularly contributes to adult and children’s print and online publications around the world. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and six boys. The Colors of the Rain is her first traditionally published novel. You can visit her online at www.rltoalson.com.