INTERVIEW: James Patterson encourages children to read

Sep 17, 2013 at 3:00 p.m. ET

We all know James Patterson as a prolific writer of thriller novels. For the last decade, however, Patterson has added a new passion to his slate: encouraging children to read. In the following interview, SheKnows talks with Patterson about his inspiration behind this new endeavor.

James Patterson

SheKnows: As the mother of a reluctant reader myself, I'm fascinated with your ReadKiddoRead project. Tell us more about your son Jack and how he inspired you to create ReadKiddoRead.

James Patterson: There was an article in People magazine a few years back that said "James Patterson's son is a reluctant reader," and Jack brought it over to me and said, "Dad, hey, what's the deal?" Jack is very well-read. He didn't love reading the way I knew he would back when he was 8, 9 years old. My wife and I made a very concentrated effort to reverse that: we took him out and picked out books with him. And the third time around, he had drawn up his own list of what he wanted to read. We knew it was working. It's a step that every family has to consciously take.

ReadKiddoRead is a tool that makes it easy for parents to get their kids reading for fun. We've picked out the very best books that will work to keep kids engaged. But the first step as a parent is absolutely the most important. The first step is make a firm resolution: It's my job to get my kids reading.

SK: Why was it important for you for Jack to be a reader?

JP: I want him to know the joys of getting lost in a great story, or debating the points in the latest New York Times op-ed with his friends. I want him to be smart and successful, just like any parent wants for their kid. Raising a reader means raising a model future citizen. We all want our children to be readers — the trick is, how do we coax them into it, how do we guide them into the habit?

SK: Other than the books you personally have written, what are some of Jack's favorite books?

JP: Some of the books that got him hooked: A Wrinkle in Time, Hugo Cabret, The Warriors, Percy Jackson, the Alex Rider series. He's older now and reading all over the map. He really liked Unbroken, the Laura Hillenbrand World War II book.

SK: What were some of your favorite books at his age? Were you always an avid reader?

JP: I really liked those old Scrooge McDuck comics. And I regret getting into the game so late, but it really wasn't until college when I started really reading. So I'm a little backwards: I was reading absurdist playwrights for fun first, and it took years until I could appreciate Charlie Bucket or Maniac Magee.

SK: What advice do you have for parents of reluctant readers?

JP: Spend time with your kids developing the habit. Go with them to the bookstore or library and pick out books that match their interests. One thing we did with Jack was say, OK, you don't have to mow the lawn if you read for 20 minutes. You've never seen a kid pick up a book so fast.

And try to be a little looser with what you might traditionally consider reading. They don't all have to sit down and immediately be engrossed in Silas Marner (yuck). Kids need to have the freedom to choose, and that could include comics, manga, books on facts/world records. Don't say no to something if it gets a kid excited about reading. The simple fact is, if kids don't like what they're reading, they won't read.

SK: What's it like to be the parent of a teenage son? What does he think of having a best-selling author as a father?

JP: Jack keeps me on my toes. He has good business acumen already. He says I need to be tweeting a lot more often. I should listen to him.

SK: Tell me more about your latest endeavor, "Who Will Save Our Books, Bookstores and Libraries?" What inspired this?

JP: Think about this: Each year, more and more bookstores are closing for good. School libraries are getting chopped. I'm arguing that our world will be much worse off if we don't do something to save our bookstores, libraries and the publishing industry as a whole.

How will we shape the future of reading in this country? I'm pulling together ideas from everyone. This fall we're going to make a concrete plan out of the best ones, actually put them into action. If you leave one great, actionable idea below, I promise to consider it.

SK: In addition to your work promoting reading for all ages, you're well-known for your thrillers. What are you working on now? Anything new on the horizon that you can share?

The book I have out right now, Mistress, is getting some good reads. It's set in D.C. A reporter, Ben Casper, finds his dream girl dead of an apparent suicide. Ben's a different sort of character from my usual heroes — you'll see. And he gets in a little over his head. OK, way over his head.

My first adventure-comedy for middle graders is out now, called Treasure Hunters. The Kidd siblings have grown up traveling the world, scuba diving through the coolest, most mysterious shipwrecks of all time, but suddenly lose both their parents. I'm really excited about this new series and what I'm going to be able to do with these characters.

I also have the new Michael Bennett, Gone, coming in two weeks, and the newest Alex Cross, Cross My Heart, in November. Those should keep you busy.

Photo credit: WENN

More about James Patterson

James Patterson supports the troops with literature
E L James, James Patterson top Forbes' latest list
Whose birthday is it? Authors born in March (a roundup)