“I glanced over my shoulder to make sure that no one followed me into the library, then took
a deep breath and opened the glowing book.…”
What happens next depends on whom you ask. At Scholastic, we posed this writing prompt to some of our favorite authors and asked each of them to write a short story for the 2015 Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge (find the stories, and more, at scholastic.com/summer). Over the course of the challenge, kids will “unlock” these original adventures as they log their reading minutes and hit major milestones. The goal: to inspire kids to fall in love with reading.
In support of that mission, 11 of the participating authors share how they get kids excited about reading. The authors dug into their own experiences as teachers, parents, writers, and once-upon-a-time kids to create this collection of classroom-ready lesson ideas, personal anecdotes, and so much more.
Blue Balliett says: Make It a Mystery
Author of: Pieces and Players, Chasing Vermeer
Tried-and-True Tip: As a class-room teacher and now as an author, I love recommending books that make kids want to bring the story alive within their own world and in their own way. I find that mysteries are extra powerful because reading a mystery is partnering with the writer—joining in a hunt or a search or a puzzle.
For instance, I once read Treasure Island to one of my classes and everyone made detailed neighborhood maps, argued about what valuables might be hidden where, whether stolen goods could ever be kept once found, and so on. I love fiction that makes the real world sparkle and deepen once the book is closed. Curiosity opens so many doors and turns so many pages!
R. L. Stine Says: Let Kids Lead
Author of: Goosebumps and Fear Street series
Tried-and-True Tip: Let students read what they choose to read. My son read only Garfield comics his whole childhood. My wife and I wished he would read a bigger variety of books. But he read only Garfield. Then he went to college and was an English major! He loved to read.
Gordon Korman Says: Host a Quote Contest
Author of: Ungifted, Pop
Tried-and-True Tip: One great trick for getting kids excited about reading is a literary quotes contest. Students choose their favorite quotes from books and hang posters “advertising” them. Inevitably, kids are drawn to some of the quotes [and wonder]: What did the author mean by that? Why would the character say such a thing? Pretty soon, there’s a run on the books that the most popular quotes come from and a genuine competition to come up with the next “hot” one. End the contest with a school-wide vote to choose a winner and runners-up. If the winning quote comes from one of my books, that means major bragging rights.
Wendy Wan-Long Shang Says: Go With the Flow
Author of: The Way Home Looks Now, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
Tried-and-True Tip: As a school library volunteer, I love seeing students share their favorite titles with one another. Why not encourage students to share favorites in the form of a flow chart? Kids can start with a popular title and then use decision points—such as type of protagonist, author, setting, or genre—to expand into other books. We Need Diverse Books created one of my favorite flow-chart book selectors (bit.ly/diverse_books).
Roland Smith Says: Find the Perfect Pairing
Author of: I, Q and Cryptid Hunters series
Tried-and-True Tip: When I write a book, I am trying to create a reader. It takes only one book to create a reader, but it has to be the right book, the perfect pairing. For me, this book was The Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden. I told my third-grade teacher that I wasn’t interested in books about bugs. I was wrong. If she hadn’t taken the time to get to know me, to guess at what I might like, I might not have become a reader or a writer.
Patrik Henry Bass says: Work Together
Author of: The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, Like a Mighty Stream
Tried-and-True Tip: I recall my own childhood. I equated reading with eating vegetables, which I knew were good for me, but because adults said so, I resisted.
I always have to remind myself reading is a solitary experience, so how does one make it communal? Having kids take the plot and turn it into a mini-play always works. Also, ask kids to draw their favorite character or situation and explain why. Activities like this bring everyone together, and the drawings are fantastic!
Jude Watson Says: Play Detective
Author of: Loot, Jedi Apprentice series
Tried-and-True Tip: Invite kids to be story detectives. All books start with a problem. Young readers often don’t articulate what that problem is, but they know it intuitively. I’ll name the problem and see if the kids can identify the book. Then we talk about the problem underneath the problem—the one you have to figure out like a detective. Hint: It always involves an emotion.
For example, in Loot, March’s problem is that he has to steal seven magic moonstones. The problem underneath the problem is that he needs a new family. Then, we brainstorm different problems—a surface problem (the crazier, the better) and an underneath problem—and everyone writes a scene. By the end of the exercise, students will have insight into what makes a story work: action and emotion.
Michael Northrop Says: Explore the Possibilities
Author of: Plunked, TombQuest series
Tried-and-True Tip: I talk about how stories are built using two keywords: would and could. I explain how most scenes in a book answer a basic question: “What would probably happen next?” But the story turns on a few key points that answer a slightly different question: “What could possibly happen next?”
First, I’ll say: “Seven kids are trapped in their school during a blizzard. What would probably happen next?” (It would probably stop snowing after a day or so). I’ll follow with: “But what could possibly happen?” (It could snow all week.)
This gives kids something to look for when they’re reading: those pivotal moments that make a story special.
Varian Johnson Says: Start a Dialogue
Author of: The Great Greene Heist, Saving Maddie
Tried-and-True Tip: I use other kids to generate excitement about reading. When I’m speaking at a school event, I ask students what they’re reading. Usually, a few will talk about a book that I’ve read, and if so, we both discuss what we liked about it, which in turn excites the other kids. At the end of the presentation, one or two of the quieter kids come up to me and say, “I didn’t want to ask earlier, but what was the title of that book you were talking about?”
Tui Sutherland Says: Imagine Dragons
Author of: Wings of Fire and Menagerie series
Tried-and-True Tip: One of the things I love about Wings of Fire readers is how imaginative and enthusiastic they are. To inspire that kind of enthusiasm, invite students to invent their own dragons. Kids can choose a tribe, imagine a name, and give their dragon a power or an interesting family connection. Then, ask them to create original art related to the stories. I’ve seen incredible dragon drawings and fantastic fan fiction, too. My hope is that this fantasy world of dragons can be a fun place for readers to let their own imaginations fly…which, with luck, will make them more excited about reading!
Lauren Tarshis Says: Consider Craft
Author of: I Survived and Emma- Jean Lazarus series
Tried-and-True Tip: At Storyworks, where I’m the editor, we provide detailed lesson plans for every piece of content in the magazine. So as I was writing my story for the Summer Reading Challenge, I was naturally thinking, How could I teach with this? One idea would be to discuss genre. Ask students, “What is the genre of this story [fantasy], and what evidence can you find to support that claim [e.g., magic]?” Then, lead into a discussion of craft. I chose to write a fantasy story using the first line provided for the challenge. What other kinds of stories could be written using that same first line?
Photos: Bill Klein (Balliett); Dan Nelken (Stine); Owen Kassimir (Korman); Paul LLewellyn (Watson); Kenneth B. Gall (Johnson); Charles Eshelman (Sutherland); Maria Pschigoda (Shang); Francine Daveta (Northrop); © David Dreyfuss (Tarshis); Marie Smith (Smith); Sean Burrowes (Bass)