Part of our mission at the Frisco Public Library is to connect you and your children with books you’ll love. As an adult reader, finding the right book can be quite an undertaking. What should it be about? Which authors write in your favorite style? Do you need light reading right now, or something philosophical and dense? The list of criteria goes on, and as a parent, you know that list is even longer for your children.
Children are developing readers, and the pace of their development plays a huge role in their success in school and beyond. On top of that, it’s often difficult to get your kids to say what kinds of books they’d like to read. “I haven’t found the right author/subject/style/voice/format” often translates as “I hate reading,” “Reading is boring,” and so on.
So how do you jumpstart a child’s love of reading? What can you do to help your kid find The Perfect Book? Below we’ve put together some quick tips for doing just that. Feel free to leave us a comment if you’ve ever had a reading breakthrough with your kid, or if you have a thought about our list!
(I should note that these tips assume your child is somewhere around elementary or middle school. For early readers, check out the “early literacy” tag on the right side of the blog.)
1. Don’t focus too much on how “hard” or “easy” the book will be.
This is a tough one for a lot of us. You don’t want your kid to stagnate by reading only books that are way beneath him. On the other hand, you don’t want your kid to wind up with a book that’s so complex and dense that he gets frustrated and quits. On top of that, you’ve probably heard a LOT about reading levels, graded reading skills, Advanced Reading, the TAAKS, the PreSAT, SAT … well, you catch my drift. You know how important it is for your child’s success to be an accomplished reader. And being a good parent who wants the best for your kid, you worry about making sure he progresses properly.
With all of that on your mind, it’s easy to forget that the more your child hears about “easy” and “hard”, the more reading begins to sound like work instead of fun. And when reading is just another task to be finished, the reader draws less from the experience (and as a result, develops more slowly). Our advice is to focus on reading as an avenue to an interesting and enjoyable experience first, and to worry about skill levels second. After all, the more your child enjoys reading, the more likely she’ll be to want to tackle something harder on her own.
How to make that happen:
- Ask your kid what she likes to read!
If she’s reading a book that she likes, ask her what she likes about it. If she hates it, ask her what’s so bad about it. Explore her tastes without trying to convince her to change her mind about those tastes.
- If your child is interested in a book that might be beyond him, let him give it a shot!
Be supportive as he works through the book, and don’t worry if some of it is over his head. He might come back to it later. And anyway, he might surprise you – maybe this is just what he needs! Sometimes, just being able to say that he got through a big book is enough to make him feel that he is a Real Live Reader.
- Try to let your kid pull books off the shelf for herself, rather than finding books for her.
If she can take ownership of her reading choices, she’ll be more motivated to dive in.
2. Don’t worry about the “type” of books your child wants to read.
Fiction books don’t necessarily have more literary merit than nonfiction books, and sometimes fiction books have more to teach than non-fiction books. There are graphic novels that are just as challenging and philosophically rich as any other novel. My point is that the world of viable literature is much wider than you might think – and your reader might be missing out on something wonderful! After all, studies show that boys (who are much more likely to be reluctant readers) tend to prefer non-fiction, magazine articles, and comic books over material that we have classically categorized as “acceptable literature”.
How to make that happen:
Block off some time to come to the library with no real agenda. Wander up and down the aisles, see what’s in the Teen Room, even try the Adult Collections on the 4th floor! I know this just sounds like a plug for libraries (and could you blame me if it was? Libraries are awesome!), but this really is a great way to explore new avenues, if the chapter books you’ve been trying aren’t working.
- Come home with a variety of styles and types of books.
Maybe your kid thinks lizards are way cool. You could grab some non-fiction books about Komodo dragons in the wild, some books on pet lizards, some Magic School Bus books (Mrs. Frizzle’s pet and sidekick is a lizard), and a copy of How to Train Your Dragon from the fantasy collection. Let your kid flip through them all and see if anything strikes her, no pressure.
- Remember that “The Classics” are not the end-all-be-all of appropriate literature.
I personally think that every human on the planet should read The Once and Future King, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t more current novels about the complexities of trying to be good in a world of moral ambiguity that might speak to a modern teen in a modern world. The classics are great! There is good reason we keep reading them – but sometimes they can be a bit inaccessible to reluctant readers, and that’s okay!
3. Be seen reading, and discuss what you read!
The thing that’s interesting/fun/life changing about reading books isn’t in assignments or tests. It’s that somehow, coded in twenty-six letters and some punctuation, are the thoughts, adventures, emotions, heartbreaks, discoveries, and imaginative landscapes of all humankind – and that in the quiet moments of turning the pages of a book, a reader becomes part of that huge whispering gust of human experience.
So share that excitement with your child! Have you read anything lately that made you stop and think? Have you found something out? Say so! Can you remember reading something during your own youth that affected who you are now? Have you read something hilarious, heartbreaking, confusing? Share that with your child, and show that reading is about much more than finishing books, answering comprehension questions, getting through pages and chapters, or adding names and titles to a mental list of books she’s read.
How to make that happen:
- Read books!
Listen to audiobooks on the way to work, download the OverDrive app for your iPad or iPhone (or other device), and read on the go. Read what’s fun, and read what interests you!
- Talk about what you read, and ask about what your kids are reading.
Listen for conflict and the characters that arrest your child’s attention. You’ll probably find that you have a lot in common! When I was growing up, my mom read mysteries every night before bed. I’ve never liked reading mysteries, and maybe never will, but some of my favorite memories are listening to my mom tell me why she was just laughing at something in a Poirot book. Those interactions have definitely informed my feelings about reading, investigating, and exploring ideas today.
Don’t forget to leave us a comment if you’ve got anything to share – we’d love to hear from you!