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Humorous Books Can Appeal to Reluctant Readers

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on April 15, 2015

The continued success of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and other similar books has made us wonder if humorous books are the “go to” genre for librarians when confronted with reluctant readers. At the same time, we’ve reached the point in the school year when teachers and parents are becoming concerned about individual student’s reading progress. It breaks our hearts to see increased numbers of unhappy children being dragged to the library by concerned parents wanting to improve reading skills. We believe there is a genre of books that will help both parents and children find reading happiness.

Everyone has their own style of doing reader’s advisory for children. In our library, one of the first questions we ask children is:”What do you like to do for fun?” The second question is “What do you like to watch on television?” For young children, that usually leads us to the genre that is based on the television or movie characters. However, once you reach “chapter book level” there aren’t as many of those types of books. Now what do we do?

For middle and upper elementary school children, we now ask straight out, “Do you like funny books?” Sometimes a child will mention having read one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books or that a friend of theirs has read one. That connection is frequently the hook we use to direct them to the Humorous section of books.

If we’re lucky the child will leave the library with a pile of books by some combination of authors including but not limited to Jeff Kinney, Lincoln Peirce, Jon Scieszka, Dav Pilkey, and Tom Angleberger. We encourage our reluctant readers to take at least three books, but we prefer four or five. If at all possible the books are all by different authors.

This push for variety is for different reasons. For the children, we want them to know that it’s okay to not like a book and to try another one. For the parents, we want them to feel comfortable with the idea that something will work. They shouldn’t have to make a “five minutes before the library closes because we need a book for school tomorrow” run because the one book they chose at the library the last time didn’t work. Fortunately for both parents and children, many authors write series of humorous stories. Therefore, if there turns out to be a book that a child likes, there may be several more that are similarly enjoyable. That ray of hope always brightens both groups.

We have an extensive collection of books for a variety of different age levels in the Humorous genres. We have books for the youngest readers through middle school — all of whom enjoy a good laugh. For children just learning to read, Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie books are the mainstay of the section. In our chapter book area we have perennial favorites like Captain Underpants and the Time Warp Trio, along with a wide variety of authors all creating hilarious, enjoyable reads for our young patrons. Then we finish up with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and the many similar titles published since then for the middle and upper elementary school readers.

Share your humorous books for kids recommendations in the comments.

Melanie A. Lyttle is the Head of Public Services Madison Public Library. You can watch her YouTube channel, Crabby Librarian, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Rv5GLWsUowShawn D. Walsh is the Emerging Services and Technologies Librarian at Madison Public Library.

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