[The other] Four ‘Must Obey’ rules for getting reluctant and struggling readers to read

There are nine ‘Must Obey’ rules for getting reluctant and struggling readers to read. Five of those rules I discussed here. Let me wait here awhile for you to catch up …


OK. Let’s assume that the first five rules have started to kick in. We have begun to turn the tables so that demotivation is becoming genuine motivation.

What happens next?

Well, the problem with reading is that you need stuff to read. Books, magazines, shop signs, whatever … And that’s where the critical ‘Must Obey’ rules Six to Nine take over. As follows.

Rule Six. Anything a child reads must to age-appropriate.  

Your average twelve year-old is interested in stuff that average twelve year-olds are interested in. Your average fifteen year old is … blah blah blah. In this area of ‘special needs’ publishing, we call this the child’s interest age. Of course a slightly immature twelve year old might have an interest age of ten, and a precocious eight year old might have an interest age of say eleven. But you get the idea.

The appeal of the book or magazine – whatever it is – that the child is going to read has to be to that child’s interest age. We describe such books as being ‘age-appropriate’. If children are given books that are too young for them, the books come across as patronizing and insulting. A definite switch-off. To bring Harry Potter in for a moment, age-inappropriate resources are the Dementors of literacy.

And don’t underestimate the harm in getting this wrong. Children these days are visually very literate, and they are discriminating consumers of sophisticated media (especially TV) designed just for them. They will know straight away if the illustration style, for example, is too young.

Additionally, fashions come and go. As children move from one year to the next as they progress through school, they become very sensitized to how a particular topic or craze was ‘last year’s thing’. ‘That’s for little kids. I’m in a higher class now – that’s too babyish for me.’

Note that being age-appropriate in this way has nothing – but nothing – to do with reading levels.


Rule Seven: Anything a child reads must be accessible.

‘Accessible’ is a posh way of simply saying that the child can read it. Broadly speaking, any child’s reading ability can be tested and described in terms of their reading age. An average seven year old has a reading age of seven. A good nine year old might have a reading age of say eleven.

Equally, any book published by any half-decent educational publisher will have the text carefully leveled to a particular reading age. So a child with a reading age of seven should be reading books with a reading age of seven.

No point giving them stuff they can’t read. That’s an instant demotivator too.


Now, if you put rules six and seven together, you’ll spot immediately that if a book is going to succeed with a struggling reader – a reader where there is a significant disparity between their reading age and their interest age – that book will need to appeal to that child’s interest age and to their reading age. And most books out there don’t do that. They’ll be either too hard to read or too babyish in their appeal.

(That is why you need Ransom Publishing. We publish high interest age, low reading age books – and that is pretty much all we do. You’d be a fool not to take a look.)


Rule Eight: Anything a child reads must interest them.

It’s obvious, but we can easily forget this. Five or six year-olds learning to read are pretty undiscriminating. They’ll read anything. But as kids get older, they develop personalities. They acquire interests. And often these interests become obsessions.

Find the obsession and you’ve found a way in. You can unlock motivation. All you need to do now is find an age-appropriate, accessible book on theat obsession. (Ransom’s Trailblazers series offers combined fiction and non-fiction books on 36 core obsessions.)


Rule Nine: Anything a child reads must be cool.

Kids will never enjoy reading if they continue to regard it as a chore, as something difficult and boring that they only do at school and that they only do because they have to.

It is therefore the central obligation of any high interest age, low reading age book to position itself successfully as a viable alternative to The Simpsons. If the child thinks ‘Shall I read this book or shall I watch The Simpsons on TV’ and if the child gives this question more that a nanosecond’s thought, then the book must have a reasonable change of winning out. The book has to look cool enough to do that.

Ergo, any book whose every page screams ‘Boring! Education!’ falls at the first hurdle.



So there you go. Nine rules to get reluctant and struggling readers reading. Obey the rules – and you stand a pretty good chance of succeeding. Break the rules and you’re back swimming with sharks.

Stephen Rickard is Creative Director of Ransom Publishing Ltd. He regularly writes and presents on issues surrounding literacy and reluctant/struggling readers.