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What To Do When a Teen Tells You They Hate Reading

Lucas Maxwell


Lucas Maxwell has been working with youth in libraries for over fifteen years. Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, he's been a high school librarian in London, UK for over a decade. In 2017 he won the UK's School Librarian of the Year award and in 2022 he was named the UK Literacy Association's Reading For Pleasure Teacher Champion. He loves Dungeons & Dragons and is the author of Let's Roll: A Guide for Setting up Tabletop Roleplaying Games in Your School or Public Library. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

As a high school librarian, hearing “reading is too boring” or “I hate reading” from teens is part of the job. It’s not something we like to hear but it’s going to happen. It’s important to remember the frightening fact that sometimes, someone just might not enjoy reading at all. However, it’s our duty as librarians to try to find the one book that might hook them forever.

When I hear “I just hate reading,” my mind goes into many different places to try and figure out why, but most importantly to try and find a book that will change their mind. 

My first reaction, when on the spot, is to ask them about any films or TV shows that they enjoy. My goal is to figure out the genre that will hook them. It is guaranteed that they are unaware of at least some of the books in the library that exist within a genre that they are fascinated with in a different format. I once had a teen who only wanted to talk about about garage bands and music in general. This proved to be a difficult task but these books are out there, and when they got their hands on them they read them voraciously. We also did a musical book tasting event that they still talk about a few years later. 

a photo of a woman looking through library shelves
Photo Courtesy devran_topallar

Book Riot already has a list of 20 great books for teens who think they hate reading. I also have a few steps that I take to try and ensure I cover all of the bases when I hear those dreadful words.

Try a Different Medium

Sometimes, when a teen says they hate reading it means that they have only come across books that may feel intimidating to even start. I get this all the time myself, I am (thankfully) asked to read a lot of books for different authors or publishers and sometimes just the look of a huge tome sitting on my shelf gives me pause, not because I won’t love the book, it’s just a mental block I (and I assume many others) have.

I’ve written before about comics and their importance in school libraries. Often, teens forget about comics or don’t realise how amazing they are now. There is a multitude of amazing comics out there for teens no matter what their interests are. I am constantly promoting comic books to teens in order to make them aware of these great titles. Comics are also an amazing “way in”. I personally do not mind if they stick with comics for the rest of their lives; it’s still reading and it’s engaging their minds in different ways. Manga is another great portal to reading. I cannot keep manga on the shelves in my school library.

a table stacked with Batman and other comic bind ups
Photo courtesy tunechick83

Some students are often unsure of what it is or how to approach it since you traditionally read it in a different style than western books. This is typically not a problem with teens, because those who are manga savvy are usually more than willing to show other students which ones to read and how to engage with them. 

Read Aloud

“But reading aloud is for elementary school kids.” Never! I say. I read aloud to teens almost on a daily basis and I can definitely say it makes a big difference.  There is a lot of evidence to prove that reading aloud to teens has several benefits, for both the reader and the teen themselves.  

Reading aloud introduces new genres and authors to students, helps build their vocabulary and brings a book to life. Teens might act like they don’t like to have books read aloud to them, but in my experience they seem to really enjoy it. 

Build on the Genres They Love

How do I do this? Through clubs. We have a thriving film and manga club which brings in new teen faces to the library on a weekly basis. The films are all based on books and help generate discussion and a love of reading. I’ve run a manga club for over eight years now, with older teens helping to run it and to assist the younger teens with any of the crafts or games we run. It is a huge boost to the interest levels of teens in regards to reading to build a community around the things they are already interested in.

Case in point, our Dungeons and Dragons club started as a weekly game built around fantasy loving teens and has evolved in the past three years into a phenomenon I can’t quite explain, but in a good way. It has brought in a ton of new faces, not to mention teachers, who are fascinated by the game and its mechanics. In return, we have seen a huge increase in our D&D themed books and the discussion around these books in the library has also greatly increased. 

There are many ways you can react when you hear the dreaded “I hate reading” phrase, but I hope overall these have been a useful start in engaging teens in a positive way about their reading!