Operation Young Reader: a Psy Ops Mission
  Up Late    March 19, 2017     Eric Larkin


Some kids read with no need of persuasion. Others read only under coercion.

Coercion has little long term value; when the boot is lifted, they will revert.

Your psy ops (psychological operations) mission makes use of a set of tactics and strategies to recruit young people to the ranks of willing and voracious readers

Assemble your squad, and execute relevant aspects of the following, depending on your theater of action:



We will induce and support in our young people a love of reading using a variety of overt and covert psychological actions.



Problematic terrain:

Video games – You will not remove these potential obstacles, nor should you. Reading exercises the brain more, but many games have developed genuine potential for storytelling and problem-solving. They are not going away anytime soon. However, you can and should moderate their use.

Screens of all types – Ditto the above. Pay particular attention to phone addiction; start with yourself. [see Standing Orders, below]

Reading difficulty – If the kid struggles with the ability to read, emotional pressure and over-emphasis will have a negative effect on mission success. Meet them where they’re at. The tactics below may counterbalance the young reader’s frustrations, but there is no substitute for the Operator’s patience. This means you.


Preparation of Battlefield

Create an environment where books are not a far away, school-only phenomena. These indirect maneuvers affect the long game.



– If animals are present, name them after literary figures. Examples: Virginia Woolf the dog, Amelia Bedelia the cat, Artful Dodger the iguana, Kafka the horned beetle. Etc. for effect.


– Naming is also effective for inanimate objects and places. If you have a white minivan, name it Moby Dick. If you have a den or family room, call it Bag End. Etc. for effect.


– Use decor and home furnishings with a literary bent. Examples: A framed Maya Angelou quote, Cthulhu bath towels, paint the bricks on the walkway yellow. Etc. for effect.


– Instead of “snack time”, have “Elevensies” (from Lord of the Rings). Instead of “crackers”, tell them it’s “hardtack”, which is a terrible, cracker-like food eaten by everyone from Civil War soldiers to pirates. Make “butter beer”. Etc. for effect. Providing glimpses of other worlds in otherwise ordinary moments of everyday life can be very effective, in particular if you appeal to more than one of the five senses. Of course, the relevant reading material should be available.

Snack time is “Pirate grub”: blood oranges “to prevent scurvy”, crackers/cookies “hardtack – watch for weevils”, dried fruit “so it don’t go bad on the ship!” and juice with cinnamon/nutmeg sprinkles “pirate grog” – served in a rugged pie tin “pirate plate” and a rough or broken “pirate cup”.  Fun.



A variety of specific actions are available. You will choose those matching your local situation.


– Upon occasion of a birthday or other party-type event, utilize a literary theme. Here are some ideas for Halloween parties. Consider “afternoon tea”, from the Brontës or other British or Victorian era works. What about a pirate birthday party that has as much Treasure Island as Johnny Depp? Or a Hunger Games party, with actual non-lethal Hunger Games? Sherlock Holmes? Alice in Wonderland? If a comprehensive theme is not feasible, consider “costumes from favorite books”. Make books or book-relevant items the prizes for the games. Utilize creativity more than Party City. 


– Build appealing bookshelves. Here are four possibilities you can consider or use as springboards to your own ideas. Is your kid stirred by the visuals in The Last Bookstore? You are authorized to copy us at home.


– Construct special reading areas (outside, when appropriate): fort, tree house, ship or spaceship, Dr. Suess-style structure, etc.. Examples: build a “playhouse” close to the tree-ish part of your yard with a wardrobe inside that leads out into the trees, like in the C.S. Lewis books; create a Hogwart’s study room, with “magic” special effects, like motion-sensor lighting or secret compartments. For the kid with an interest in science and/or science fiction, you might find useful this space capsule (as tree house). Note the improvised household materials used in construction. With whatever kind of structure you build, make room for a relevant book collection.

From Wooden Wonders, these high quality, high end “Hobbit Hole” kits are available. You could sell your car for one of these, or just let them inspire you, and do something more affordable.


– If you see a movie together that is based on a book, get the book. This is especially effective if the kid liked the movie.


–  It’s not reading per se,  but if you spend an extended amount of time in the car with your young person, rather than listening to the radio, start a book series on audio. Whether it’s on CD (if your vehicle is so-equipped) or a service like audible.com, this is extremely cost effective. 


– Start a Little Free Library in your neighborhood. Let your kid help build it and choose the starting books. (See previous post on this topic.)


Mission Development


– If initial mission success is achieved, you may begin encouraging more challenging reading. Monitor and adjust as needed.


– Reading the same book as the young person will provide an opportunity for discussion. This is a confidence multiplier.


If necessary, review relevant Standing Orders, below.

Standing Orders

Lead by example – As the field Operator, your every move will be under close observation by your target. Read in front of them, often.

Avoid snobbery and idealism – If the kid chooses what you believe to be less than ideal reading material (about vampires or dystopias, for example), do not discourage them. This still falls within mission success parameters. Take the ground offered, and allow room for growth. Ditto interest in ebooks.

Collect Intelligence Always (“CIA”) – Pay keen and non-dismissive attention to the interests of the kid. Themes, subjects, genres, and even specific books will seem to appear out of nowhere to a heightened and relaxed sense of awareness. Use this knowledge to anticipate and exploit avenues of reading promotion.


Mission success is never assured, but this is a solid plan, and we have confidence in you and your unit. Remember, it’s the long game, and patience is the essential element. Good luck.


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