Jon Scieszka’s writing is born out of his previous years as a teacher: “I’m always looking to grab the kid in the back row who thought, 'This isn’t for me.' I try to come up with something compelling, like a man made of bad-smelling cheese, so they almost have to pay attention.”
For Scieszka, engaging reluctant readers is all about seeing each child as an individual. He thinks often of how to motivate kids to become readers. “You can’t lecture them,” he says. “It kills it for them. So you have to show them the thing that will make them want to read. That’s what makes a reader. That’s what puts me in the same boat as the booksellers.”
Scieszka is looking forward to Children’s Institute, not only to discuss the topic of how to reach reluctant readers—for which he’s become a de facto ambassador—but also to engage with booksellers. “I love those people. They’re on the frontlines; they’re the ideal audience to talk to. They try so hard to sell your books, it’s a great honor.” Scieszka says. He enjoys engaging with booksellers in part because of the “antisocial” nature of his work as a full-time writer. “I run into other writers [in my Brooklyn neighborhood], and we complain that we have to sit inside and write, it’s terrible! But we know other people would kill for this,” he says.
Lately, Scieszka spends his time tapping away at his keyboard as he adds to his Frank Einstein series. He’s also thinking up new ways to engage readers, in his own work, as well as in the Guys Read anthologies he continues to edit. Forthcoming this fall is the sixth in the series, Terrifying Tales, which includes a “whole range of authors,” including Dav Pilkey and R.L. Stine, among others. Scieszka is particularly looking forward to sharing a piece by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown in the collection. In the story, one character is murdered while working on a ship, another character takes his identity, and tattoos start to manifest on the killer’s body. “It’s just so spooky,” Scieszka says.
The anthologies are just one tactic in Scieszka’s arsenal to try to engage reluctant readers. He says that booksellers are able to suggest books for kids without assigning them, as if to say to kids, “Here’s the thing you shouldn’t be reading.” That’s how they empower kids to find books they might enjoy for themselves, which, Scieszka hopes, will light them up and keep them coming back for more.