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Apr 11 / Katrina Braet

Reluctant Reader? Turn to Nonfiction!

Kelly Wilson

Not every child loves reading works of fiction. As we know, whether as parents, teachers, or librarians, each child is unique and many find it hard to relate to, or enjoy, fictional stories about castles and galaxies far, far away. Often, these children are lost in school when assigned to read fiction and may become reluctant readers.  One possible way to appeal to reluctant readers is by using nonfiction materials. By identifying what constitutes a reluctant reader and discussing why nonfiction may appeal to them, this blog entry offers useful tips for adults looking for a way to interest reluctant readers to pick up a book.

In their work, authors Mary Dayton-Sakari and Ronald Jobe examine different types of reluctant readers in “Reluctant readers choose nonfiction: Just give me the facts!”  The authors place reluctant readers into two different categories: those who are just not interested in reading and those who actually struggle in the act of reading.  The authors argue that both types of reluctant readers are often “information-oriented rather than fiction oriented,” and “are totally focused on getting information about the real world,” and tend to prefer “hands-on activities, and often focus on specific topics such as dinosaurs, sports, cars, etc.,” (Dayton-Sakara & Jobe, 2003, p. 22). The authors suggest finding topics that appeal to the student.  For example, Dayton-Sakari and Jobe argue that many reluctant readers are boys and tend to enjoy action-oriented nonfiction works such as those about sports and how-to-make things books (Dayton-Sakari & Jobe, 2003, p. 23).

Susan B. Neuman discusses how to encourage reading habits in her article, “Enticing a Restless Reader” (Neuman, n.d.).  Neuman, a director of the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement at the University of Michigan School of Business, has some advice for engaging children in the reading process. Neuman advocates motivating “your child so he wants to listen,” by “finding something that interests them,” (Neuman, n.d.).  She continues to suggest that some children prefer nonfiction over fiction because they enjoy learning how things work. By building upon their preferences through nonfiction works, reluctant readers can become readers with a rich vocabulary in their areas of interest.

Jamie Watson and Jennifer Stencel, members on the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers Committee, discuss the success they’ve had using nonfiction with reluctant teen readers in their article, “Reaching Reluctant Readers with Nonfiction.” Both agree that whether in public libraries, schools, or at after-school events, teens who are reluctant readers tend to choose nonfiction books when they read. The authors explain that, “Time and again, it is the nonfiction books that teens select first from our boxes of books; it is nonfiction that gets passed around and returned much worse for the wear; and it is nonfiction that engages a group enough to talk about issues inside the book,” (Watson & Stencel, 2005, p.8).

Why do reluctant readers choose nonfiction? According to Watson and Stencel, reading for reluctant readers makes them think of school, which in turn, makes them think of the assigned works of fiction they are required to read that seldom has any interest for them. Teachers aren’t assigning works on subjects like rappers or cars which the authors compare to escapism for readers of fiction. The authors continue to suggest that nonfiction is appealing to reluctant readers because of the formatting, which includes a lot of pictures, easy-to-follow sections and chapters, and they also appreciate that the book doesn’t necessarily have to be read in chronological order like a work of fiction, (Watson & Stencel, 2005, p. 8). Watson and Stencel continue to discuss the popularity of nonfiction works for males and stress the importance of constantly weeding nonfiction titles that, without proper care, could date the library’s collection, (Watson & Stencel, 2005, pg. 8).

To figure out which nonfiction titles are popular at the moment, Watson and Stencel have some unusual tips. They admit that many traditional library journals tend not to review nonfiction titles and suggest asking teens themselves, even outside of the library in places such as Urban Outfitters or by browsing popular magazines to check on what’s popular and adding them to your collection.

Reluctant readers need to be exposed to a variety of genres, but knowing that nonfiction titles tend to draw their interest should encourage those of us engaged in expanding children’s reading habits to consider adding nonfiction titles to our collections and in our classes or programs. By actively finding out what it is that? children and teens are interested in, we can match their interests to books that will appeal to them and hopefully encourage a new love of reading in an often overlooked genre.

Has anyone else had success using nonfiction titles in their classrooms or library programs? Are there any titles that you think might appeal to today’s youth?


Dayton-Sakari, M. and Jobe, R. (2003, Feb.). Reluctant readers choose nonfiction: Just give me the facts! Bookbird 41 (1), 21-27.

Neuman, S.  (n.d.).  Enticing a restless reader. Retrieved from

Watson, J. & Stencel, J.  (2005, Fall). Reaching reluctant readers with nonfiction.  Young Adult Library Services, 4 (1), 8-11.

Feb 11 / Katrina Braet

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