Is Reading Always Supposed to be Fun?

My garden is a great place to read … and write.

Happy July! Katy Lee here with a question for you. For the summer, we have assigned some classic books for our kids to read. They are books that I read as a child and loved.

But here’s the problem … my kids are complaining that they are boring and hard to get into. And they are “no fun.”

So, being the understanding parent that I am, I picked them up to see what they were talking about. I remember these books as being wonderful. How could they not like them?

And perhaps, after a few pages, I could kind of see what they were referring to.

For one, the beginnings are all back story with a third person omniscient POV feel. Third person omniscient is a method of storytelling in which the narrator knows the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters in the story, as opposed to third person limited, which adheres closely to one character’s perspective.

Being a writer and knowing how many recent released books don’t open with backstory anymore, but rather jump right into the action and reveal backstory a little at a time, I found myself skimming quite a bit. Which surprised me, because I still think they are great books!

I remember how they affected my life as a child … and are still a part of me today, and I want my kids to experience them, too, regardless of all the “telling” by the author.

Let’s face it, though. Literature has changed. We live in a fastpaced world where people expect instant gratification, and that includes quick reads. But at what expense will this be? What will be the outcome of this shift in writing? Will our love for the written word be trumped by our need for a fast read to keep up with our fastpaced lives to the point that the classics go away? If no one is reading them anymore, they just might.

So here is my question … Do I hand back the books to the kids and say read them? Or do I allow them to choose their summer reading? I’m sure many would say, “At least they are reading,” but if I give in, it could mean they never pick up the classics again. And in my opinion, they are missing out, even if the writing doesn’t follow the current trends.

So, what do you think? Is reading always supposed to be fun? Or will the work they have to put into the books give them more of an appreciation for the written word?


36 thoughts on “Is Reading Always Supposed to be Fun?”

  1. Tricky one, Katy. My #2 son never liked reading to begin with, (much to my eternal regret), but being forced to read classics in high school like Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby clinched the deal for him. He said he’d rather dig a ditch than have to read another “boring” book. I don’t think he’s picked up another book since. I think kids should have some choices. There are so many wonderful books out there that don’t happen to be classics, but are well written, tell a great story, and are also entertaining and educational. Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Fever 1793 is one such book. Check it out. I believe it is on some school reading lists already.

    1. Great! Thank you, PJ! I will look into it, And I get what you mean about not pushing them to read it if they really are against it. It could be destructive.

  2. I think these days younger generations do need to put the work in to learn to enjoy and appreciate the classics, but then this must be built on a pre-existing love of books on some level, so it’s probably a matter of finding a balance, letting them read some books of their own choosing, but squeezing in a classic here and there too. School reading lists are heading the same way – some classics are still on there, particularly classic anti-war books, and of course the ever-present Shakespeare, but then I just taught a class full of 15 yr olds The Hunger Games as a unit on the theme of survival in literature. It’s a tricky situation, but I don’t think that the classics will disappear (I hope), especially with many of them being remade into films in the near future.

    1. Your comment leads me to another question…will a movie make them want to read the book? Usually my rule is no movie until the book is read.

      I like your idea of taking the heavy topics of popular books and teaching the kids to dig deeper into them. Most kids reading the HG read it for the romance when there is so much more they are missing.

      Thanks for your input. Sad to see this is a struggle for teachers too.

      1. I think it depends, I think a movie can make them want to read the book. The HG series is a good example actually – all three books are out, but there’s 18 month waits between the films being released, so kids will want to know what happens next, and go out to read the other books. So it can make them want to read the books, but not always.
        I agree – that class of teenagers I mentioned was an all-girls class, so they were very caught up on the romance side of it, and I had to push them to reconsider the purpose and themes of the novel. But they were starting to see it, which is good!
        It is absolutely a struggle for teachers. Sadly most teenagers I come across just don’t read at all. It’s frightening!

  3. My mom was in the school of read whatver you want because at least I was reading. And I did NOT ever read a classic as a child but as I got older, an adult actually, I went back and read those classic kids books because I felt like I was missing something special. I think when you are older you learn to appreciate things more. I think if you force reading something on a kid they might dig their heels in and be determined not to like just because you want them to. (kids ate funny like that sometimes) Reading should be an experience , a place where you can lose yourself in another world for a few hours. I think everybody should lose themselves from time to time.
    Maybe a compromise is in order? A family read aloud of the book you loved as a kid and then they get to choose something a little more to their taste for fun.

  4. Hi! I agree with Jamie. Allow them to choose one book they want to read and then assign one. I believe it’s important you also read (or revisit) each book as well, to allow for discussions. Perhaps even more important, though, is that we model reading for our children.

    Another approach, one that I took when my children were in elementary school, was this: Have your child choose two topics (ie one country and one animal) to read about for the summer. Then, select books–both fiction and non-fiction–on those topics. Considering that most school curriculums are emphasizing non-fiction at an earlier age (in our state, 50% split by sixth grade), reading both types of books is important.

    1. I agree. Non-fiction is extremely important. Like your ideas about the topics. That could work and then the kids might feel like they had some say.

  5. Hi Katy, I do believe in reading the classics. I think in today’s versions of super tech movies with all of the special effects, kids don’t know how to create those images in their minds anymore from the written word. Our society is bombarded with images fed to them, instead of using their imaginations to create those images. While I admit there are some classics that are more difficult to get through, there are plenty of exciting choices at any grade level. The choice may not have to be technically a ‘classic’, but at least good literature. Reading the classics/literature is also critical to building a higher level vocabulary.

    1. All great points! In fact I told my daughter that the reason the authors write whole paragraphs of discription is for the reader to get an exact picture.They were written at a time where there were no tvs and movies to give a frame of reference for the reader.

  6. I am one who at the time in high school did not appreciate the classics. They were boring to me…at the time. I was more into Nancy Drew and such. Now as an adult I understand the content within the classics. I think it’s hard as a kid to grasp literature.

    1. Yes, that is true. I certainly understand the content better as an adult, but I reread the books that I read as a child because I remember them fondly. If I never read them I wouldn’t have that reference. And that’s the problem. 🙂

  7. Hi, Katy Classics are classics for a reason. It’s sad that changes styles and a reluctance to do something hard shuts people out. A librarian’s rule (from Susan) is read 100 pages minus your age. Then you can stop. Kids seem to be okay (mostly) with this. And few stop. They read enough and get engaged. (To this day, I am disoriented when I begin Shakespeare, but I forget I am reading an old version of English by the end of the first scene.)
    You might also consider giving them a choice of several very different classics. Having the choice can build commitment. If the books are available in audio versions, you might let them listen to the first pages. For some kids, this makes the book more accessible. Letting them see a movie can be considered as a desperation move. It got a lot of kids to read The Lord of the Rings. But they probably had the actors in their heads as they read.

  8. This is a tricky one, because if reading becomes a chore, kids won’t want to do it. They might do it when they have to, like cleaning the bathrooms or mowing the lawn, but it will get about the same amount of love from them as those other delightful tasks.

    As an adult, I read in rotation. Something that teaches me, followed by something I wouldn’t normally read, followed by something I know I’ll love. As a kid, I read fantasy novels, horror, and a little scifi over the summers, and the classics and assigned school reading during the year.

    Being able to discuss Shakespeare, Poe, Dickens, Fitzgerald, Frost, was reward enough for me. It made me feel smart that I was on an even playing field with anyone else who had read the same books, including teachers and other adults, because my interpretations and ideas about these books were just as valid as theirs.

    Reading the classics and non-fiction should provide a rewarding experience, where kids can show off what they think about it, what they learned, what they liked and didn’t like. If that’s not enough, turn them into professional writers early, and hire them to write a report on the book. “Pay” them based the grade their paper earns. An “A” gets a fun activity, a trip to the book store, a special dinner, etc., and scale it down from there. Once they are engaged in reading, they’ll find it rewarding on their own terms, too… we hope 🙂

    1. My husband likes your paying idea. 🙂 I like your motivation to be on a level playing field with other readers. That’s exactly what I want for them.

  9. Ohh, Katy, tough one. I can tell you from my own experience, the books I picked up and read on my own are the ones that stick with me today. As an English major in college, I got my fill of the classics, from Shakespear, to Bronte, to reading Chaucer in middle english form. All wonderful and rightly so. But the book I remember today are the ones I chose, not the ones chosen for me.

  10. I agree with Peter in that classics are classic for a reason. Here is my suggestion. Allow them to pick a book they like, but you also select a classic you have read. Have them read one chapter per day of the classic (or more when they really get into it) and then discuss it. If it’s a book you are very familiar with perhaps you can make it a game by creating a list of things for them to find in the story (like a scavenger hunt) and report back to you what chapter they found it in. Make it a game.

    1. LOVE the game idea. Will be doing this for sure. And also letting them read of their choosing at the same time. I told them they could read one of their choosings after one of mine, but I don’t see any reason to not let them start…unless they take advantage as we go along. We’ll see 🙂

  11. I taught a Junior High class to encourage reading. We had a classics unit, a modern unit, a drama unit, and in some cases the kids chose, in some cases I chose or gave them a list to choose from. Make it a mixture. Not all classic writers write the same way. Check out some less famous classics like RL Stevenson’s “The Suicide Club” stories, Louisa May Alcott’s Under the Lilacs, or even her “thrillers.” Didn’t know she had thrillers? Watching a Shakespeare play made into a movie brings it to life, especially Kenneth Brannaugh’s directorial efforts. Then read it and understand it better. 🙂

  12. I homeschool, so I have a bit of different view. We do read some classics, and when my son is in high school he will read many more, but I am very carefully at this point to not harp on them and force him to read things he doesn’t want to to the point where he will not want to read. I know a lot of people who do “read Tom Sawyer, and then you can pick out the next two books you want to read.” My son has actually enjoyed a lot of the classics we have read. We always try to keep things fun, and also try to relate real life to what he reads. We take field trips and things like that. It’s time consuming, but I think it is worth it. Especially if he will learn to enjoy reading!

    1. We are a homeschooling family too, which is why I sort of don’t want to back down. If I do there won’t be anyone else to instruct them to pick them back up and try again.

      But I will take your advice about the age consideration. 🙂 And I am big following up with a field trip too.

      1. The companion field trip idea is fabulous! Because we live in New England, we are within driving distance of a lot of classic authors’ homes that have been turned into museums: Alcott, Melville, Hawthorne, Dickinson, Twain, Thoreau, Wharton. What a perfect tie-in: read the author’s work, then visit his/her home. Brilliant! Let me know, Melanie or Katy, if you need a chaperone 🙂

  13. Hi Katy, I agree with Jamie and Casey. It’s good as long as they are reading. You could make suggestions and give them choices. Pick books that have enticing cover art and show them together, say, “you can pick one, or none.” Forcing and pushing never works. But it good to do anything to stimulate their interest in books. Visiting the author’s home is a great idea. This is all so fascinating. It’s tricky to know what will inspire someone to be a reader.

    1. Thanks, Gail. Forcing them is no fun for anyone. I just need to get creative in convincing them to give it a try. And the excuse that I loved them doesn’t cut it. 🙂

  14. After I became an avid reader I read the classics the same is true for my daughter. My brother however, didn’t show a lot of interest so, my mother forced him.
    He hated them.
    Twenty years later he has rediscovered reading with his own kids. He tells me he wishes he had been allowed to learn to love it before the “work” books were shoved down his throat because he missed so much. I personally love most of the classics and so does my daughter but I was the oldest. My mom hadn’t gotten her degree and begun teaching until I was older. My younger sibs caught hell and were forced to read the things they had no interest in and my sister still is on the fence about reading.

    1. I am so glad that your brother is rediscovering reading. I am sure there are many adults out there that don’t understand why people think reading is so amazing, and probably for the same reasons your brother has stated. I wonder if there are literacy programs to encourage adults to read. I know there are a ton for kids…hmmm.

      And interesting on how your mother’s awakening to reading hurt your siblings. I will consider that, for sure. 🙂 I can definitely see how that might happen. Whenever we discover something, we want everyone else to discover it too…even if they don’t want to. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by the Scribes, Amanda. So glad you did!!

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