Saturday, January 15, 2011

What Does It Take to Get a Young Reader's Attention?

My daughter and I went to a bookstore today, and we had it in our heads walking in that we were going to buy a book (or three, as it turned out). We had some disagreement, though, over what we should buy. I found Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson, and since I've been wanting to read one of Ibbotson's books, and since it would count as Lily's historical fiction requirement for this quarter at school, I decided it was my choice. Her choice? A copy of one of the books in the Warriors series by Erin Hunter.

Now, I don't have anything against the Warriors books (although I tried to read one once and couldn't keep up with all the different cat characters). The reason I didn't want her to get it was because she's read it multiple times. As I told her, variety helps your mind grow, just like variety in food helps your body grow.

In the end, I got the book for her (it was a bargain book) and I made a deal with her - she should read the first two pages of Ibbotson's book and see if it caught her curiosity. She read it aloud to me in the car. I thought it sounded pretty interesting - a young girl attends a boarding school, but her life is about to change, since her guardian pulled up in a car outside the school.

As soon as she had hit the end of the second page, though, Lily quit. I said, "Didn't it make you curious about how her life is going to change?" She said that it sorta did, which I guess means it sorta didn't. So I asked what would have made it more interesting to her.

The book starts off with a couple of paragraphs that establish the setting and background of the school the girl attends. I didn't think it lasted all that long. Lily, however, said it would have been more interesting to skip that part and start when the car drove up with her guardian. In other words, Lily wants to start right at a point of action.

I've read other articles that advocate the same thing. Start in the middle of the action, they say. Immerse the character in some sort of conflict from the first paragraph. I guess what Lily says confirms that advice.

I wonder why. Is it because kids are so immersed in a "vivid" culture? Video games and cartoons don't spend an extended time on world-building. I guess you sort of have to slip it in on young readers the way you have to hide a pill in a biscuit before a dog will take it. There has to be something - conflict, drama, characters - that appeals to them immediately, or they are going to dismiss the book as "boring" before they finish the first chapter.

I told Lily I have a three-chapter rule, that I promise myself to read three chapters of a book before deciding if it's worth finishing. She seemed to think that was a little extreme. I'm afraid we're raising a generation of impatient readers who want to get to the point. I know my own reading preferences have changed to be sort of impatient with books that take a circuitous route to get anywhere. But how much is Lily going to miss out on if she's not willing to invest some attention if the "good part" doesn't show up in the first words?

1 comment:

Ephemera said...

Your post kind of hits home, especially in light of the articles I've asked you to read for me...I want them to have a point, and I want the point to be made quickly, because they are designed for the web, where people skim pages rather than really read.