January 04


But I Do Read: Lessons in Pop Culture from a Teenage Girl by Colleen Pennell

Sheepishly, I admit that my daughter was once a reluctant reader.  Anxiety ridden, I tried everything to foster motivation: incentive charts (yes, I know better), I Read – You Read strategies, library trips, you name it.  Heck, I even made sure to use growth mindset prompts that breed motivation (You should be so proud of yourself for reading those 10 minutes!) Shamefully, nothing stuck.  Here I was, a Reading Specialist, and I struggled to motivate my own daughter to independently read her nightly 20 minutes without a battle ensuing. Thankfully, an innocuous trip to the grocery store helped shift this trajectory.  Indeed, it was in aisle seven of the Pick N Save, where my eight-year old spied the makings of a lazy Sunday afternoon: magazines and candy.  Armed with a pack of Nerds and Pop Star! magazine, her self-empowered reading journey was officially launched.


Blog Image One


There are girls everywhere who, like my daughter, have been turned off to reading for one reason or another. Perhaps they encountered difficulty learning to read or maybe they associate independent reading with negative school practices like reader’s notebooks, reading logs, or worksheets. My guess is that many girl readers who are reluctant may not have been provided enough choice over what they read and/or have been fed a nonstop diet of leveled books since kindergarten. Moreover, little respect has been afforded to the multiple types of texts, both traditional and nontraditional, that girls consume. In this blog post, I reflect upon the reading lives of girls, especially those who are reluctant, and focus upon three avenues that can help all girls feel like a member of the literacy club.

Magazines: Print or Digital

The discovery of pop culture magazines was a domino for my daughter’s reading life.  Not only had she uncovered Daniel Pink’s three ingredients for motivation: autonomy, purpose, and mastery but she was now willingly on the reading treadmill.  Although magazines like Twist and Pop Star! contain plenty of visual candy interspersed with brief patches of text, my daughter eventually transitioned to magazines with substance.  Discovery Girls was one such magazine. Deemphasizing body image, Discover Girls provides content on social issues, real-life tween dilemmas, and lifestyle quizzes.  Much of the magazine is written by the readers themselves and the models are authentic, Discovery Girl readers.

There are also online magazines, such as Rookiemag that are working to buck the “be skinny and perfect” trend. Written for and by girls, Rookiemag includes topics ranging from music to style to sex and love.  The writers provide substantive exploration of ideas that tug at the awkwardness, self-doubt, and confusion that adolescence inflicts.  Undoubtedly, girls who may feel marginalized by academic literacies can join a reading community where they are immediately accepted.

Recently, I noticed that may daughter often enjoys reading blogs or feeds from her favorite online content.  Indeed, her home page is a personalized feed of online articles that she finds desirable: entertainment updates, human interest stories, and weird medical news.  I wonder how we can better envision those authentic reading practices transferring to a school setting where readers who are reluctant to read traditional text can personalize the online content that they find inherently interesting.

Fan Fiction

Although, Rookiemag is called a magazine, it also falls under the umbrella of participatory culture as girls participate, share, and consume one another’s writing.  Fan fiction is a similar entity where fans of basically anything (e.g. Star Wars, Hunger Games, Britney Spears) write stories or even parodies that include characters from their fandom.  For example, middle school fans of Britney Spears will write parodies of her songs while Harry Potter fans will write futuristic tales of Hogwarts. Did you know that Fifty Shades of Grey first originated in a fan fiction site? Although the texts in fan fiction are hit or miss, there is some decent writing and many students get hooked and will follow certain writers they enjoy.  My daughter spent a few months in seventh grade reading tales written by fans of Cameron Dallas, the Vine superstar with over a million (mostly teenage) followers.


Image Two Harry Potter



Okay, a few Nerdy Book Clubbers may grumble at even the mention of television in a Reading Lives post, but bear with me.  I witnessed my once reluctant child read the entire Pretty Little Liars series after watching a few episodes on T.V.  She’s now a bit older and crazy about Grey’s Anatomy.  So, what does she read? Books about medicine. Needless to say, trips to Barnes and Noble are spent in the health/medicine section where she sits and peruses books on anatomy, the heart, and the skeletal system.  Like magazines, television can be a bridge to longer texts or buried interests, and ultimately, a pathway to reading engagement.


Image Three Pretty Little Liars


Parenting a girl reader who was once reluctant has taught me about the importance of leveraging pop culture and viewing text in the broadest sense of the word.  No longer are we limited to books with binding.  Girls have the world literally at their fingertips as both consumers and producers of multiple forms of literacy.  So let’s open the floodgates and let all types of readers into the club.  Chances are, they will want to join.

Colleen Pennell is a former elementary Reading Specialist who now works as a professor of literacy education at Carroll University in Wisconsin.  Passionate about improving the lives of children who have been marginalized by reading difficulty, you can often find her musing about literacy instruction on her blog digitalreadingteacher.blogspot.com.  The parent of two children, ages 12 and 14, Colleen enjoys spying on their varied out of school literacy practices which often serve as entryways to books and pathways to engagement.