Spend a little time in the world of kid lit and you'll come across the phrase "reluctant reader" almost everywhere. I use it myself, and what I notice is that often when we say "reluctant reader", what we really mean is boys. Boys often are the ones we have to encourage, cajole, plead with to read something, anything. There's a lot of speculation about why it is -- social stigmas (reading is "girly", maybe?), lack of material that appeals to them, competition from other activities such as video games. I tend to think there are a lot of factors involved. Whatever the reason, many boys seem to hit a wall in their enjoyment of reading, where suddenly it is no longer a desirable activity.
Enter Tommy Greenwald's Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading, a book written ostensibly for kids who don't like to read and will do anything to avoid it. Charlie Joe has had a pretty sweet deal going, wherein he buys snacks for his friend Timmy McGibney and in return Timmy does all Charlie Joe's reading. But then Timmy calls the whole deal off and Charlie Joe is scrambling to figure out another option, one that won't result in him having to actually (gasp!) read his own books. Charlie Joe hatches a plan but there are some unintended consequences that even this crafty middle schooler didn't see coming, and pretty soon, as you might expect, it's all Charlie Joe can do to keep avoiding books.
This is a fast and funny read, narrated by Charlie Joe himself who is attempting to write a book that nonreaders will relate to. Charlie Joe is someone most boys will relate to -- he's pretty average, has plenty of friends and potential romances to boot. It's refreshing that Charlie Joe gets along well with his family, and even though some of his exploits land him in trouble at home, he still likes his parents and even his older sister. The sidebars that Charlie Joe includes (25 exclusive non-reading tips!) add plenty of humor to the plot, such as tip #16, "sports are just as educational as reading", and tip #3, "there are always ways to get out of reading". Illustrations by J.P. Coovert add to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid feel, and this is one that will appeal to Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries fans, for the artwork, the quick pace and the honestly funny narrative style.
Of course there's a lesson hidden within the plot, and most kids will know what it is before they crack the cover. But fortunately Greenwald never veers into schmaltz and avoids the obvious "now Charlie Joe is a reading fool" type of resolution. For that reason and many others, Charlie Joe is a narrator that will resonate with those reluctant readers, and even those who love books of all kinds. Plenty of promise here for more Charlie Joe outings, and I think he's a character readers can easily return to again.
Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald, published by Roaring Brook Press
Sample quote: "The librarian, Ms. Reedy, was an old friend of mine, even though she represented everything evil. Back in the old days, she was the librarian at my elementary school, and she used to try anything to get me to read. One time in first grade, she sat me down and had me listen to a song called 'Grab a Book and Go,', all about the joys of reading. One of the verses went 'Snuggle in your bed, the day is near its end. All alone, but you're not alone, a book can be a friend.' I've never quite forgiven her."