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From Underpants to Shakespeare: Reader’s Choice!

Yesterday, April 23, we celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday. My obsession with Shakespeare is no secret. I was the only kid in my school (possibly the only kid in America) who complained about not getting to read enough Shakespeare in class. To most kids, however, and especially to reluctant readers, Shakespeare probably ranks up there with cleaning your room and eating broccoli. So, how can we teach kids to not only love reading, but also love reading the classics? Our guest blogger, Bradley, has the answer.

So what are kids reading these days? A new report conducted by Renaissance Learning answers that question for us in the form of separate lists broken down by grade. We see a whole lot of familiar names, from the Wimpy Kid to Judy Blume. But the study also takes into account the differences between what boys are reading and what girls are reading. It may come as no surprise that fourth-grade boys love Captain Underpants and fourth-grade girls love the Dork Diaries. But by the time they reach eighth grade, girls will likely read an average of 119,703 more words per year than boys. So what gives?

Popular author Dan Gutman proposes a solution: “I think the answer to the question ‘What should kids be reading?’ is ‘Whatever they want.’” As he explains in his introduction to the study, reading shouldn’t be a chore; reading should be enjoyable. He writes for that elusive section of the grade-school population: the reluctant boy reader. How do you get boys to read in their early years and keep them interested in books well into high school? Will nine-year-old readers of Captain Underpants grow up to be 14-year-old readers of The Hunger Games? Or even further on, will these reluctant readers become 18-year-old lovers of (gasp!) Shakespeare?

If we take Dan Gutman’s word for it, we shouldn’t hold our breath. He makes a confession: “I don’t like Shakespeare. There, I said it.” This is indeed a brave confession for an adult author. But if you take my word for it, there is hope yet. As a nine-year-old boy, I didn’t want to read anything without a poisonous snake or a smattering of gore. Yet as I grew older, I learned to love reading the classics, but only under one condition: I needed to discover them myself.

So maybe there’s something to Dan Gutman’s wisdom after all. Of course it wouldn’t hurt to point out to your nine-year-old gore lover that Hamlet is really a frightening ghost story, Macbeth features a fart joke told by a witch, and Titus Andronicus finishes with a rather gruesome dinner scene. But then again, they’ll get it.

You can find Poetry for Young People: William Shakespeare in Club Shop.

Bradley Nelson is a Web producer for Scholastic Book Clubs Online.

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April 24, 2012