James Patterson Interview
The Best Way to Turn Kids on to Reading? Turn Them on to Good Books!
James Patterson, Best-selling Author
James Patterson is the award-winning author of the popular Maximum Ride and Alex Cross series, which enjoy an almost cult-like following among kids and young adults.
In this exclusive interview with Scholastic Book Fairs, he talks about some of the best ways principals and parents can get kids excited about reading.
Q: As a best-selling author of adult books, why did you decide to write books for younger readers?
Patterson: There are many reasons. My 10-year-old son often tells me stories about friends in school and their lack of enthusiasm for books. His observations have made me want to do something to introduce more kids and young adults to the enjoyment of reading. This is what I believe is most important: getting good books into the hands of kids – books that will make them want to say, "Wow, that was great. Give me another one to read."
Q: As literacy leaders in their school, principals share some of the same goals as authors. Do you have any tips that will help principals get their students and families excited about reading?
Patterson: I think, in most instances, it’s as simple as making sure the school's summer reading list includes at least one book that everybody believes the kids are going to like. It’s also helpful if we get the message out to parents on a regular basis that "good parents give great books." Schools and parents can team up to find books that kids will really get excited about – that will make them say, "That was a great experience. Now I know why people get excited about reading."
Q: Did your family read together? If not, what made you such a voracious reader? Can you recall when you started to develop an interest in reading?
Patterson: Although I was a very good student (high school valedictorian), I had very little interest in reading for enjoyment – at least initially. I read because I was required to read. Later in college, when I took a night job at a local hospital to help my tuition, I had plenty of spare time, so I started reading a lot. That’s when I fell in love with books. I was reading because I wanted to, not because I had to. I believe we should spend less time worrying about the quantity of books children read and more time introducing them to quality books that will turn them on to the joy of reading and turn them into lifelong readers.
Q: Your book series, Maximum Ride, has earned plenty of accolades and awards and is immensely popular with young adult readers. What do they find most appealing about the books?
Patterson: The pages in the Maximum Ride books practically turn themselves. That is extremely important if you are trying to get kids excited about reading. In my books, the characters are very, very involving. The combination of narrative power and character development are the key ingredients that make kids and adults want to keep reading. I really believe my books can be enjoyed by all "kids" – from ages 10 to 110. My goal is to turn all of them on to reading – to get them to say, "I love that book . . . give me another!"
Q: How has this reaction from kids inspired you?
Patterson: It always disappointments me when I meet people, especially adults, who think reading is work or a chore. Reading can be such a joy in people’s lives, but many never experience that satisfaction. First I started the PageTurner Awards, which aimed to reach out to groups who spend most of their time spreading the joy of reading – librarians, teachers, and groups like First Book. Over three years I awarded a total of one million dollars to the people, companies, schools and other institutions that found original and effective ways to spread the excitement of books and reading. It was my token acknowledgement of the terrific work done by all those groups.
But I didn’t want to stop there. I’m so passionate about getting kids excited about reading that soon I launched a new web site called ReadKiddoRead.com – with the help of First Book and children’s literature expert Judy Freeman. It offers parents, teachers, principals, and librarians a list of books carefully chosen for their ability to make kids’ mouths water – books kids can really sink their teeth into. ReadKiddoRead.com is live now and I hope all educators out there will find it a useful tool – and help spread the word about the site.
Q: What would you say to a young person who views reading as a chore?
Patterson: I don’t believe in lecturing people. It’s much more effective to present reading as a fun, rewarding pastime. Every school’s summer reading list should include a selection of books – Diary of a Wimpy Kid, for example – that will whet the appetites of young readers and make them think, "That was great, now give me something else to read."
Reading in order to amass vast amounts of knowledge is not as important in this day and age. After all, we can pull up most information we need on a computer in a few seconds. What is important, though, is that we are exposed to and develop a love for different types of books, different genres, and different styles of writing. That is the best way to awaken a person’s hunger for reading and love of the written word.
Q: Do you have any other advice that you want to share with principals?
Patterson: Principals usually give me tips. But here is one morsel of advice: Reading for pleasure is up against some serious competition TV, movies, and the Internet. During the school year, try to give kids at least a book or two that you know they will want to devour. Recently, the administration at one Texas school decided to give all of its students a copy of Maximum Ride. The book’s enthusiastic reception caught teachers by surprise. Students clamored for teachers to "make the class go longer." Now that’s the level of enthusiasm teachers die for.