The Reluctant Reader

The Reluctant Reader

by Dan Rice

image of a boy learning to read

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My first grader is a reluctant reader. At times, he is even violently opposed to reading. He enjoys being read to, but ask him to read and watch out––cue long and dramatic temper tantrum.

Part of his reluctance stems from the fear of making mistakes. One of his earliest and favorite phrases is I don’t know. He often pulls out variations on this when asked to read or sound out a difficult word. We tell him that it’s okay to make mistakes, but he remains not entirely convinced.

Although he knows all his phonics, he struggles to put sounds together. This, coupled with his desire to avoid making mistakes, quickly leads to frustration and giving up altogether. Insisting he persevere often leads to a meltdown.

The Bob Books

At the recommendation of his teacher, we purchased him the Bob Books: 104-Book Deluxe Reader Collection by Lynn Maslen Kertell. At the time of purchase, it struck me as a little bit pricey, but knowing what I know now, I’d pay far more for these books.

At the beginning of first grade, my son seemed practically preliterate. I don’t know if it was indeed the lack of ability to read or just his violent opposition to it that made him so. Nevertheless, he reluctantly began to read by starting with the easiest of the Bob Books, which are straightforward stories with three-word sentences.

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. He still whined and cried about reading, but he could get through an entire book with some help. He still reads the Bob Books. Some are advanced enough to inspire temper tantrums, but now at the midway point of first grade, he’s on the verge of meeting grade-level requirements in reading. He still has other struggles, mostly with writing, but the recommendation by his teacher to try out the Bob Books was fortuitous.

Sparking Interest

My son has always enjoyed reading time, but holding his interest is a struggle. I think he enjoys the closeness of reading together as much and often more than he does the stories. The first time I recall him being enthralled by a story was when we read the Glitter Dragons Series by Maddy Mara. He saw the novel in a book fair catalog and insisted he wanted to read it. It looked far too advanced for him, but we purchased it.

The book was too advanced for him to read on his own, but it turns out it was perfect for being read to him. He loved the story of the girls traveling to the magic forest and discovering they could turn into dragons. Magic, friendship, and adventure––what’s not to love? I ended up reading the entire series to him, and he enjoyed each book. After completing the trilogy, I struggled to find more books to engage him. The same author has more dragon books, but those didn’t interest him.

Purely by chance, we stumbled upon The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey, a comedic series of graphic novels featuring predatory animals trying to be good. We’ve already devoured two of the books in the series, and he is still ravenous for more. Fortunately, there are 15 books in this series. I’m eager to discover how many we’ll finish before he tires of the tales.

You Never Know What Might Inspire a Lifelong Love of Reading

Aside from his fear of making mistakes, the reasons for my first grader’s reluctance to read remain largely a mystery. My wife and I have always been diligent about reading to him. He’s aware that his older brother reads by himself every day and that I do too. He even expresses the desire to read at a fifth-grade level so he can play Pokémon with his friends.

Screens have something to do with it, certainly, as they’re untaxing portals into fantastical worlds. Spending most of kindergarten doing remote school didn’t help, but I suspect he’d still have some problems, maybe not quite as pronounced, even if he did in-person school that first year.

Despite the challenges, and following his own timeline, my son is beginning to discover the magic of reading. As with many things in life, persistence, patience, and kindness are vital in encouraging reading. That and always being on the hunt for stories that will ignite the imagination, and hopefully, inspire a lifelong love for reading.

About Dan Rice

Headshot of Dan Rice, author of the young adult urban fantasy series The Allison Lee Chronicles

Dan Rice pens the young adult urban fantasy series The Allison Lee Chronicles in the wee hours of the morning. The series kicks off with his award-winning debut, Dragons Walk Among Us, which Kirkus Review calls, “An inspirational and socially relevant fantasy.”

While not pulling down the 9 to 5 or chauffeuring his soccer fanatic sons to practices and games, Dan enjoys photography and hiking through the wilderness.

To discover more about Dan’s writing and keep tabs on his upcoming releases, visit his website: and join his newsletter.

Six Tips to Make Your Young Adult Story Sparkle

Six Tips to Make Your Young Adult Story Sparkle
by Eliza Brooks


Did you know there are on average more than 30k young adult or teen fiction books published annually? This category is supposed to cater to 12 to 18 years of age. But despite its labeling, 55% are purchased by adults or those over 18 years of age. Even though this genre saw an increase of up to 120 percent between 2002 and 2012, successful teen fiction book authors claim that writing for this category is the same as writing for anything else. It all boils down to how good the writing and story are.

When was the last time you read a book you couldn’t put down? They say you can tell if you’ve read a good book when you get absorbed in the story. It’s when you get to see yourself in one of the characters and be carried away with the surge of emotions the main character gets exposed to as the story unfolds.

It is every author’s dream to create an experience like this for their readers. The greatest compliment a writer can get is to be appreciated for the way they write and tell a story. It takes skill and knowledge of writing techniques to write a great story that makes a mark on its readers. If you aim to reach your young readers in this way, here are six tips that can help you make your young adult story sparkle:

1. Stay True to Your Character’s Perspective

This seems simple, but in reality, could be quite challenging. The characters’ perspectives should remain in their young adult years. So regardless of how old you are at the time of writing, you need to make sure it doesn’t influence your characters. They are not supposed to display any wisdom of an adult. It requires extreme concentration and focus to make sure you don’t slip. It’s also a good idea to specifically look for problems with the perspective when you reach the stage where you’re self-editing your writing.

2. Be Sure Your Descriptive Language Focuses on the Right Elements

Young adult books often have illustrations in them. So instead of describing how the characters look, write about their emotions or actions. Describe what they see, what they feel, or how they move throughout the plot. How they react is an apt way of introducing a character’s personality or purpose in the story. Make sure that you invest time and effort in describing them through your character’s eyes or perspective.

3. Write “Genuine” Emotions

You want the reader to relate to what the main characters are going through. Make sure they can see themselves in one of these characters. According to John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, he gets several emails a day from readers who claim that they are like the female protagonist in the story. What makes teen fiction books entertaining to read is that they do a great job of detailing teenage or pre-teen experience. By effectively doing so, one gets to genuinely relate to these feelings, which makes the story palpable.

4. Let the Story Flow

As cliché as this sounds, it holds true – let it go. When you allow the characters to decide how to reveal themselves, writing the story can be a magical process. Authors will often tell you that each story has a way of unfolding on its own. Don’t attempt to control it. Let the story flow.

5. End Your Story on a Hopeful Note

Give the readers something to look forward to. Teen fiction books often end the same way. The main character may not have become victorious beating the challenges in the end, but he/she has evolved in a way that made him/her better. It offers the reader a chance to realize that no matter what happens, even when all seems lost, there is something bound to happen that will give meaning and drive change, despite how nominal, in one’s life.

6. Follow the Rules Regarding Word Count

Be mindful of the word count that’s typical for your genre, especially when you are just starting out. Remember, industry standards are often formed because trial and error has taught the experts what works and what doesn’t. Plus, you’ll have a better chance of being published when you follow the rules. After editing and cutting through unnecessary words or phrases, your story will come out stronger.

About Eliza Brooks: 


Eliza Brooks is a passionate blogger who loves to write about travel, books, personality development, lifestyle, productivity, and more. She is currently working with CreedGriffon, which is an incredible book for tween and teen girls and boys. She spends her spare time hiking, camping and reading adventure, fantasy, mystery stories, and teen fiction books. Everything she talks about ends in books!

Checking Our Biases When We Check Out Books

Checking Our Biases When We Check Out Books

by Laura Koennecke
The other night I was telling my son about a book I wanted to read to him called Little House in the Big Woods; it was one of my favorites as a child. He really likes non-fiction, so I told him that it’s autobiographical, explaining that meant it was based on a real person’s life. I thought that might stoke his interest. I’ve been itching to get him interested in a good story, but aside from Frog and Toad books, which are amazing by the way, and a few Dr. Seuss books, we mainly read facts.

I also told him that I especially liked that I share my name with the main character, Laura. He thought that was pretty cool.

As I was telling him about the book, a weird sense of doubt surfaced. I wondered if Little House was a girl’s book. I wondered if that mattered. After all, little girls read books with male characters all the time. My Side of the Mountain was about a boy, and I loved that book. I had no trouble identifying with Sam.

But there were other books that I read and identified as being girls’ books, like Misty of Chincoteague, even though it has both a boy and girl for main characters. That one I chalk up to the fact that most of the girls my age at the time were obsessed with their Breyer collections and all things horse-related.

So if I identify certain books as being girls’ books based on my own childhood reading, does that mean I shouldn’t read them to my son? Of course not, but how much do we unwittingly withhold from our sons this way. It really bothered me that I considered not reading him a great story based on a little voice that said it was for girls.

When my daughter was younger, I was always happy to see a strong female lead character. She latched right on to Tamora Pierce’s books when they were introduced to her by a grade-school friend. And as parents more actively look for female protagonists, they have a great resource for girl-empowered books in, which provides characters from many different cultures that young girls can identify with.

This is great, but what if we also started reading stories to our sons with girl protagonists – asking them to see through another person’s perspective?

As the 48-year-old mother of a 6-year-old son (advanced maternal age I’m considered), I sometimes think there’s a cultural divide between myself and younger parents in their 30s. I worry that I’ll become the old person who says the awkward things at the soccer field, you know, uses the words that expose my outdated, uninformed biases like the drunk uncle at a family gathering that everyone rolls their eyes at.

After all, my childhood was firmly in the 1970s. And the fruits of second wave feminism were just starting show themselves. For my older sister to change into jeans after leaving the house was an act of rebellion and a strike against gender norms. Now everyone wears jeans and nobody thinks twice of it. She also wanted to be an auto mechanic and go across country with our cousin Karen who wanted to drive an 18-wheeler. This raised some eyebrows at the time, but now women are excelling in what used to be traditionally male job markets. And the idea that they wouldn’t is simply foreign to many women born in the 1980s.

It’s quite possible that younger parents don’t think twice about gender when they pick out a book, that deep into third wave feminism people don’t project gender norms onto their kids. They say to each other “Let’s get David this biography of Danica Patrick – he loves race cars.”

But we all know that for the most part that’s not true. Just look at the uproar Target caused by removing gender-based signs from their toy sections. Side note: For a fun response to that check out Renegade Mothering (unless you are satire-averse and don’t like salty language, then don’t).

Anyway, as the mother of a son, I’d like to see feminism work for him too. I don’t want him cut off from strong female role models, and I don’t want him walled off from the empathy that comes from reading about people who are not like him. Empathy can only help us all. So dear parents, young and old, maybe we can turn down the little voices that tell us what’s meant for boys or meant for girls, and use books to break down barriers instead of reinforcing them. Let’s loosen the reins and see what happens.

About Laura Koennecke
Laura Koennecke has been writing and editing for about 15 years. She first started contributing to Aunt Sheryl’s Book Nook in November of 2015 with her essay titled, Another Christmas Story. One of her biggest joys is reading to her kids.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.

Untold Stories

Untold Stories
by Laura Koennecke
10924747_10203407812172599_3398855842908337277_nWhen I was eleven, we lost my brother Kurt and almost every material thing in a house fire. It was a terrible time for my family that was softened by the kindness and generosity of the people who came together to help us. It was an overwhelming and foggy time, to say the least, but there are a few memories that stick out.

There was all the food being delivered daily. That was the year we had lasagna for Thanksgiving. There was Christmas at my aunt and uncle’s and the special gifts they picked out for us – including the stuffed bear for Sheryl that needed an x-ray at my uncle’s vet office for some reason.

And there were the socks. A boy from my bus route, a year or two older than me, showed up at my Grandpa’s doorway with a huge department store bag filled with socks. Brand new, never-been-worn socks in all sizes and colors. To this day, the thoughtfulness of this gift stays with me.

A few years later, this same boy’s father ended his own life. I cried for him, and I wanted to somehow return the kindness that he had shown my family. So I baked him some chocolate chip cookies. I put them on a plate, wrapped them in aluminum foil and set them on the table in the front hall. All that was left was for me to knock on his door and hand them to him.

They sat on that table for at least a week. I’m not sure what even happened to them. But I know I didn’t bring them to him. I didn’t know how to face that much pain, and I didn’t know if he wanted anyone to know what had happened.

I don’t know what led up to his father’s decision, but I do know that people didn’t talk about mental health much thirty years ago, at least not in front of kids. Thankfully that is changing, but there is still a dearth of information about it.

So why talk about this on a children’s literature site? Because books are powerful. Because they have the power to help heal, to start a dialogue, to let a child know that he or she is not alone, to provide an escape.

Because teachers and librarians can include books that deal with mental health on their shelves.

If you look for books addressing issues such as depression, suicide and addiction, there are plenty for teens. The School Library Journal has an excellent article by Erin E. Moulton about bibliotherapy and an extensive list of books by subject area. 

But according to the Educational Research Newsletter, “School personnel need to be aware that many learning disabled children appear to experience depression during the elementary years.” 

Obviously, this is important for parents to know too.

So where are the books for younger kids? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m curious. And I’m not talking about “how to” books; I’m talking about books with nuanced characters that young readers and listeners can relate to.

And, are we as parents, teachers and counselors misreading the signs of mental health issues? According to the Journal of Learning Disabilities, “The presence of depression in school-age children may not be adequately recognized by teachers. Teachers may be misdiagnosing depressed children as having a specific learning problem.” 

Saying that teachers are misdiagnosing is a bit misleading as they aren’t doctors, but they are often the first people to see signs that a child is struggling.

The Educational Research Newsletter also notes that “Researchers do not agree on which is the primary condition; does being learning disabled lead to depression or are learning problems a symptom of depression?”  

There is so much to learn and so much more research that will be done, but ultimately we need to be aware that mental illness can affect anyone, even young children – either as someone suffering from it personally or someone trying to understand what a parent or sibling is experiencing.

So where do we go from here? I guess we keep talking about it, sharing our stories and reading about it. We talk to our children’s doctors. And we stop being afraid to knock on the door and deliver the cookies.

Do you know of a children’s book that addresses mental illness? Let us know in the comments.

About Laura Koennecke
Laura Koennecke has been writing and editing for about 15 years. She first started contributing to Aunt Sheryl’s Book Nook in November of 2015 with her essay titled, Another Christmas Story. One of her biggest joys is reading to her kids.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.

Another Christmas Story

Another Christmas Story
by Laura Koennecke
snow globesBright red mittens and peppermint candy. The bracket Pa made Ma for her china, with its hand-carved curlicues and crescent moons. This is Christmas, I like to think.

As we approach the holiday season, the picture of the Christmas I feel I need to create is shaped in large part by books: Little House in the Big Woods, Little Women, and the lesser known Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.

My heart broke a little when I realized my daughter, Anna, didn’t share my love of these kinds of books. She loves a good hero quest, the more broken and conflicted the protagonist, the better. A map at the front of a book is always a good sign, and dragons are a bonus.

It made me wonder why I loved my poor little families. It became clear that their appeal wasn’t in their poverty, but in what they did for each other. In a nutshell, it was their Christmas stories. They fought the scarcity and darkness of winter with warmth and light and community.

The authors, through the families they shared with us, created what I imagine to be hygge, the comradery and coziness cherished in Danish homes and amongst friends. As readers, we can wrap ourselves in the warm embrace of a quilt that was carefully sewn by Laura and Mary at a quilting bee.

When the March girls of Little Women brought their Christmas breakfast to the hungry German immigrant family, they lit a fire and brought warmth and friendship to the home.

Polly and Ben Pepper created a Christmas for their younger siblings by bringing in a tree from outside and decorating it with popcorn and nuts wrapped in bits of bright paper. And they convinced their mother to give them leftover nubs of candles to brighten it. They have memories of better times and want to share those with the little ones.

Sometimes, in adult life, I find moments of soul warmth – the smell of wood burning in fireplaces that evokes images of warm hearths drawing families together, or the way headlights and holiday lights reflect on wet streets in winter. In these moments, decades wash away.

When I was a child, malls were being built everywhere. The closest one to us – in Fayetteville, New York – had a store that’s marquee was a wall of golden-hued lights. At night, Sibley’s glowed like a harvest moon but in a season of snow and short days.

Just before Christmas in those years, Dad would finish up chores in the barn a little early; we’d have a quick dinner, then head out to shop for Mom’s gift. We would climb into the station wagon – as many of us kids who were home and could fit – to go to the mall for Dad’s one and only shopping trip each year. The space between the back seat and the rear-facing third seat was my prime real estate. We’d drive to Fayetteville Mall with its beckoning wall of light.

There was something magical about going out at night in the winter, against the inclination to stay inside, to approach the light and energy of bustling shoppers. There was something magical about going on this adventure with my Dad.

I’m less inclined to go to the mall now. I more look forward to places like Jay Street – a fellowship of independent businesses, coffee shops, antiques and arts, with its brick pedestrian walkway and cobbled paths for skipping. It’s Schenectady’s Diagon Alley – the magical street in Harry Potter’s world – with its quirky store fronts and buildings of a certain age.

Now Harry Potter, this was a series that Anna and I read and loved together. Underneath all the epic battles and mythical creatures, J. K. Rowling created warmth and community and gave Harry a family. The big, loud, crazy Weasley family, with its misshapen hand-knit Christmas sweaters and no money, meant more to Harry than his piles of gold at Gringotts.

And Christmas always comes back to family – the ones we started with or the ones we pulled near to us – and the memories we create together.

I wonder what my 5-year-old will remember – maybe the cobbled street or the brightly lit window displays that reveal themselves as dusk settles or the warmth of hot chocolate chasing away the chill. Alas, it probably won’t be last year’s homemade snow globe that leaked all over the mantel and was quietly thrown away. (Thanks, Pinterest.)

Maybe he’ll remember going with his Dad to pick out my gift, and the way they conspired to sneak it back in the house without me knowing. Or maybe it will be the time that he and Anna, separated in age by 14 years, sat together painting green icing on sugar cookie trees way past his bedtime.

A few years ago, when my parents were downsizing, they had a garage sale. Drawers, closets and shelves were emptied onto tables, jarring memories loose from the deep storage of our minds. My sister Kris and I saw the Ziploc bag full of cookie cutters. Neither of us was going to let those get sold. So many of our memories are caught up in the preparation and in the anticipation that what we are doing will bring happiness to someone we love and in the moments that allow us to step outside the mundane.

It’s as likely as not that presents will end up on a garage sale table someday, but memories of shopping with my Dad and rolling out hundreds of leaping reindeer and lopsided angel cookies with my sisters and Mom, who didn’t even flinch when I tripled the already tripled recipe, will remain. The warm glow of the time we spent together will remain, and the glow is what matters.

Although that doesn’t mean I’m above dropping some heavy hints about the handmade bag in the bookstore on Jay Street.

About Laura Koennecke
Laura Koennecke has been writing and editing for about 15 years, though never under her own name. Her writing has been recognized through a recent Yelp “Review of the Day” and several well liked Facebook status updates. Another Christmas Story is her first attempt at “someday I’m going to write about this.” One of her biggest joys is reading to her kids.

Links to books mentioned in this post:

Little House in the Big Woods

Little Women

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.