[Here’s Greg Hunter back to blogging about his job. Enjoy!]
Before starting my job at Lerner, I was only so familiar with the term reluctant reader. I was aware of the concerns that the term intimates, sure, but I rarely if ever thought about reluctant readers as a demographic. As a child, I wasn’t reluctant to read myself. Like many people who have made writing or editing a large part of their lives, you could even say I was book-ish. But it was easy to be that way; my elementary school library was well stocked, and my parents were all too happy to encourage my reading habits.
These days, reluctant reader jumps out at me whenever I see the term outside the office. So it was when I skimmed through James Parker’s “Revenge of the Wimps,” a celebration of Amulet Books’ Diary of a Wimpy Kid from the May 2010 issue of the Atlantic. Parker notes that,
The Diary’s handwritten font and the deadpan eloquence of the drawings . . . have also made it, in the words of the School Library Journal, “a big hit with reluctant readers.” An enviable constituency for an author to have won, the reluctant readers.
He also positions the book as an extension of dirty realism (Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, et al.), a gesture I suspect is intended to help justify Parker’s writing the article in the first place. Parker’s mention of reluctant readers becomes important later in the article, as he describes the Wimpy Kid series as, among other things, a “counter-reaction, a market correction, to the Harry Potter/Percy Jackson axis of piffle.”
Are these books piffle? Maybe. I was in my early teen years when Pottermania really took hold, and by that time I was preoccupied with pretending to understand Camus. But I think that anyone genuinely concerned about keeping kids reading can’t afford to dismiss genre fiction. In ignoring what the books he mentions have in common, Parker also overlooks why any of them matter: they attract a large and diverse body of young readers.
Some of the sci-fi titles I read as a child were lousy. Some of the kid-friendly realism I read was lousy too. In any case, the variety of books to which I had access kept me active and content as a reader. (When you’re a kid, an enriching imaginative journey can begin with the most piffling of piffle, anyway.)
In my first year at Lerner, I’ve had the opportunity to work on titles from the Alien Agent series, a sci-fi franchise that’s part of Lerner’s Darby Creek imprint. This means that part of my job is to assess concept sketches of tree creatures and alien centaurs, which gets me up in the morning, but it’s also exciting to work on books that have something to offer readers, both reluctant and non-. Not only are these books not piffle, they’re quite good, full of spirited conversations and outer space intrigue, courtesy of author Pamela Service, as well as Mike Gorman’s boisterous illustrations. The Alien Agent series and others like it, that invite fantasizing and suspension of disbelief, are an important part of a young reader’s literary diet, regardless of the size of his or her appetite.