Heidi Schulz, Author of Hook’s Revenge, Recommends Great Books and Strategies for Reluctant Readers

Hooks Revenge

Heidi Schulz’s wickedly funny debut novel, Hook’s Revenge, tells the story of twelve-year-old Jocelyn, daughter of the infamous pirate Captain Hook. Readers will relish Jocelyn’s daring adventures, both on land and at sea, as she attempts to follow in Hook’s formidable footsteps, resisting her grandfather’s efforts to turn her into a fine society lady. Best of all, the long-anticipated swashbuckling sequel, Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code, is coming out in September 2015! Heidi was kind enough to share some of her favorite books to encourage reluctant readers.

My mom taught me to read when I was four, using a set of photocopied Dick and Jane books given to her by a teacher friend. The letters made words and the words made sentences and the sentences made a story that expanded my whole world. I simply couldn’t get enough. My love for reading came as naturally to me as breathing, and at many points in my life, was just as essential. Reading took me to all the places I both wanted and desperately needed to go.

When I began to look forward to parenting my own child, sharing that journey was one of the most thrilling aspects. However, as the narrator in my book Hook’s Revenge is fond of pointing out, things rarely turn out as we expect.

I laid a good foundation, reading to my daughter nearly from the moment we brought her home from the hospital. By the time she was six, our imaginary passport had been stamped everywhere from Neverland to Narnia, the forest of Mirkwood to good old Klickitat Street. She loved our nightly read-alouds, but when it came to reading on her own, my daughter was the very definition of reluctant.

With trial and error, and love and patience, we found our way to the other side. It took some time, but I was eventually able to see her set out on her own reading adventures.

Here are a few things that helped:

Reading Together Often
Every night, without fail, either my husband or I read great stories aloud. We also always had an audiobook going in the car, often encouraging us to take the long way. Even when our daughter wasn’t reading much on her own, the love of story was still being cultivated.

When it came to her own reading, sometimes, if the mood was right, we would “buddy read.” I’d buy or borrow two copies of the same book and we would take turns following along while the other read aloud. Keeping these sessions short and light was key.

And then there was the I’ll-read-you-the-first-chapter-of-this-book-then-get-interrupted-and-leave-it-on-the-coffeetable trick. Sneaky, but effective.

Provide Lots of Reading Material
Comics, graphic novels, newspaper articles, and personal magazine subscriptions (what kid doesn’t love getting mail?) all added to our daughter’s enjoyment of reading and were often less daunting than tackling a whole book by herself.

Celebrate Reading
In our family, we give books as birthday gifts, celebrate the beginning of school breaks with trips to the library and bookstore, and have a whole Christmas Eve tradition involving new books, new pajamas, and a cozy fire in the fireplace. It’s hard to resist something that comes wrapped with a bow.

Remove the Pressure
This one is difficult, but so important. I tried really hard to “act casual,” when I saw my daughter with a book in her hands. Nothing killed her enthusiasm faster than the idea that her reading was a Really Big Deal.

Finding the Right Books
Oftentimes, a reluctance to read is rooted in anxiety. Finding books with loads of humor, a fast paced and action-filled plot, short chapters, abundant white space on the page, and/or illustrations can help make young readers feel more comfortable.

Laughter both captures interest and lowers anxiety. Funny books are a great way to hook readers.

Try: The Only Thing Worse than Witches by Lauren Magaziner, The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, the Magic Marks the Spot series by Caroline Carlson

Fast Paced and Action Packed
These are the kinds of stories that get readers begging to stay up and finish just one more chapter.

Try: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Rules for Ghosting by Ammi-Joan Paquette

Short Chapters
This helps to build confidence. Reading five chapters in twenty-five pages can feel like a far greater accomplishment than reading one or two chapters over the same page count. (Bonus: Short chapters are also wonderful for reading aloud.)

Try: Parched by Melanie Crowder, the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger, the Ranger in Time series by Kate Messner

Abundant White Space
Books with wide margins and/or a lot of white space built around the text are less intimidating. (Tip: Books in verse are great for this.)

Try: Pickle by Kim Baker, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Similar to white space, illustrations can help to break up page after page of text and give the eye a place to rest. They can also help with comprehension and, let’s face it, are a whole lot of fun.

Try: The True Meaning of Smeckday (the book behind the new movie, Home) and Smek for President by Adam Rex, the Ellie McDoodle series by Ruth McNally Barshaw

Illustrations in novels are great, but don’t stop there. Graphic novels are particularly good for reluctant readers.

Try: El Deafo by Cece Bell, the Babymouse and Squish series by Jennifer and Matthew Holm.

Most of the books I’ve listed above can fit in multiple categories (as can, ahem, my own books) and all are wonderful.

One last bit of advice: If you are worried, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Check in with your child’s teacher or doctor to rule out any underlying issues that may be hampering his or her ability and enjoyment. These professionals can help with support and resources.

Now, pull out your own imaginary passports and start filling them with stamps. Happy travels!

Heidi’s newest novel, Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code, will be in stores in September 2015. 

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