The (Reluctant) Reader’s Bill of Rights

I love Daniel Pennac’s Reader’s Bill of Rights. In case you haven’t seen it in a while (as if you don’t already keep a copy in your back pocket at all times) here it is:

1. The right to not read

2. The right to skip pages

3. The right to not finish

4. The right to reread

5. The right to read anything

6. The right to escapism

7. The right to read anywhere

8. The right to browse

9. The right to read out loud

10. The right to not defend your tastes

In the course of writing a manual on reader’s advisory for children to be used by the adult services librarians in my branch, I began a section on reluctant readers. The idea is that when I am not around, I’d like the other librarians, even those who rarely work with children, to feel comfortable with reader’s advisory tools and have some basic background in making suggestions.

This is an incredibly hard feat when reluctant readers come into the equation. Generally, you have about 30 seconds to make your case (unless it’s a parent who is doing the picking, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms.) It’s a quick, scary, but exhilarating dance that could end with a happy child leaving with a book in hand, or with a sad, defeated child leaving with a book in hand.

It is the possibly of this last ending that I strive to avoid. There IS a book for every child. It’s just a matter of discovering it, finding the hook, and above all, respecting the choices of the child reader. For this reason, I think a revised Reader’s Bill of Rights is in order. A Reluctant Reader’s Bill of Rights.

I think the language should be child-friendly and emphasize the types of materials (graphic novels, audio books, magazines, etc.) other than straight fiction, that are okay to read. Here’s what I have so far:

The right to read at your own pace.

The right to choose whatever book you want.

The right to read graphic novels and manga.

The right to read magazines.

The right to read non-fiction.

The right to not like a book.

I think the last one is particularly important. Not everyone is a “reader.” Not everyone must read or enjoy the classics. It is important that kids who don’t like reading feel that their opinions count. I don’t want to give a child the impression that I am part of some Book Mafia, in conspiracy with their teachers and parents, trying to push a book into their hands because “it’s good for you!”

My attempt at a Reluctant Reader’s Bill of Rights is a work in progress. I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. I’ll compile revisions and additions in a future post.


15 thoughts on “The (Reluctant) Reader’s Bill of Rights

  1. I just found your blog via Fuse #8, and I love this post. I will certainly be linking to it. I would also add:

    The right to read books published for different age levels

    (or however you might word that to have it be as non-judgmental as possible.) I think that pressuring kids to read more advanced material, because of their age alone, is usually a mistake.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree. I’ll definitely adding that to the Reluctant Readers Bill of Rights. I’m a big fan of the “hi-lo” books and wish that my library ordered more.

  3. Pingback: Reluctant Reader Pick of the Week « Library Voice

  4. Pingback: ALSC Blog » Blog Archive » A (Reluctant) Reader’s Bill of Rights

  5. What about the right to just wait until the movie comes out? That seems to be the right reluctant readers invoke the most. What about the implied responsabilities that go along with rights?

    Where is the supreme court that decides on the limitations and extents of these rights. The right to not read? to never read? you have the right to be illiterate? How can I test for comprehension on pages you had the right to skip?

    These are rights one has as an individual in the ‘real world.’ Just as you check your rights at the door on your way into a school – search and seizure, free speech, right to assembly etc… you check some of these rights at the door on the way into English class.

    The life of a librarian seems easier than that of an English teacher. No curriculum, no tests, no lesson plans.

    Don’t get me wrong here. Librarians do a great job of keepin’ us all reading – rather – thinking! That may not be all that matters – but I think that it is the most important.


  6. Ben- I think you make some interesting points, but I’d like to clarify some things about my post.

    What happens in a classroom between a teacher and a student is very different than the interaction that occurs between that same child and a public librarian. When we are talking about assignments and curriculum, the student must, in essense, “check their rights at the door.” Most teachers would probably agree with you that students don’t have the right (in the classroom) to skip pages or not read the assigned book. At least, not without running the risk of a bad grade.

    When, as a librarian, I talk about reluctant readers, I am more concerned with igniting a love of reading as a lifelong habit. That is, not just reading when a teacher or a parent requires you to, but reading on your own for pleasure.

    Some English teachers can ignite this kind of passion in their students. They have that magic ability to make classics come alive. But many kids aren’t always lucky enough to meet one of these magic teachers. They may be required to read books they have trouble connecting with and as a result develop an attitude of “I hate reading” or “I’m not good at reading.”

    As a public librarian, it is my job to not only introduce kids to great books and materials, but to empower them to choose reading material on their own. To do this, they must have the RIGHT to choose whatever they want. I am not beholden to a curriculum, but that doesn’t make my job any easier than that of an English teacher- it’s just different.

    The idea behind this Reluctant Reader’s Bill of Rights was to inspire within children (particularly those who “hate” reading) a sense of empowerment. It is OK to read a graphic novel. That is still reading! It is OK to read a book not necessarily in your grade range. That is still reading! It is OK to read a magazine or article online. That is still reading!

    A reluctant reader may start out reading nothing but Captain Underpants and Goosebumps. But as they feel more confident in their comprehension, as they feel more confident understanding vocabulary, etc., they may pick up The Lightning Thief. They may go on to The House of the Scorpion. Eventually, they may be inspired to read H.G.Wells. The point is, we (as librarians) must give them the tools and the space in which to make these decisions.

    • I like that you are trying to revamp the bill of rights. I just really don’t like encouraging it to be a “reluctant” reader’s bill of rights personally. I teach 4th grade and also try to inspire all my students to be readers. We discuss that reading is what unlocks your world to many different ideas. I work in an impovershed area where the kids don’t get many books of their own and the parents don’t take them to the library. Therefore I have a large library of my own.

      I think it is important to get those reluctant readers hooked by whatever means we can, ie: audiobooks, books on tape, books related to a movie, graphic novels, etc. I don’t care if a reluctant reader reads Captain Underpants, Tales of a Wimpy Kid or whatever, just read.

      I do need to comment as a reading specialist, how important it is to direct kids towards books they can comprehend. They need to read at an independent level, so I’m impressing upon you to add to your statement, Read any book you want, that is at your level.” It is of little value to direct students to books that are above their level. It promotes word callers, someone who can sound out and read everyword, versus comprehending readers.

      I think I’m going to take a variety of the original list, your list, and Bertie Kingore’s Gifted Reader’s Bill of Rights and create a poster for my own classroom library. Students need to know what their rights are as readers.

      Thanks again for the interesting blog post.

  7. Pingback: Reluctant Reader’s Bill of Rights « YA today

  8. I love this.. especially since I am a mother of a child who reads D&D manuals and enjoys them so much more than the books he is given at school. Do you mind if I repost on our blog?


  9. Pingback: on reading « Snike Larten

  10. Pingback: The Reluctant Reader’s Bill of Rights: The Redux | Library

  11. The right, not only to read manga and graphic novels, but to read comic books.

    The right to read things published online.

    The right to read technical and how-to manuals. (Some of us want or need that practical application.)

    The right to ask for help with and passages words we don’t understand.

    The right to access reading material, regardless of the format.

    But, sometimes, it’s more about opportunity.

    The opportunity to be read to.

    The opportunity to read.

    The opportunity to borrow books.

    The opportunity to own books.

    The opportunity to learn at our own pace.

    The opportunity to help others learn to read.

    The opportunity to have teachers who love the subjects they teach, who are good at them, and who are good at sharing that love with students.

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