I grew up in a family of readers. I have always read. And for 20 years now I have been a teen (youth) services librarian. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t always understand reluctant readers. How can someone NOT like to read? It is a concept that I just couldn’t get my mind around.
And then I became a mom. I did everything they say to do, everything I tell my parents in the library to do. I read to my children every single day. My house is full of books for all age levels, from board books to Shakespeare. There is not a room that doesn’t have at least 50 books in it in this house. My kids obviously see me read every single day. I let my kids choose a book from every single Scholastic Book order that comes home. Do you know how many of those books my Tween has actually read – from cover to cover? Very few. My tween is a sometimes reluctant reader.
I had always imagined myself the mother of a girl like me, someone who read every book and would have to be bribed to put the book down at the dinner table and actually make eye contact. My biggest worry while pregnant with my first child was, “What if she doesn’t like science fiction?” It never occurred to me to worry that she wouldn’t love to read, that seemed like a given. To be fair, when she starts a book she loves she will sometimes finish it and tell me how much she loved it. But I am pretty sure she has started more books than she has finished.
This has all been a great lesson for me as a librarian, and forced me to really evaluate the strategies that I have always shared with those concerned parents at the Reference Desk. I have to grin and bear it as she reads a Wimpy Kid book for the 1,000th time when I know she has a super fabulous book that I just checked out and brought home from the library. I have upped the emphasis on letting her pick out the books, no matter what I know (or think I know) about the other books on that book order form. I’m not going to lie, I cringe when she reads a Puppy Place or Rainbow Fairy book. I worry that they aren’t challenging her and that she is missing out on all this good stuff, but I don’t want to push her and make reading an issue.
We have been reading the various MG titles that I get to review together at night, and she does really enjoy that. So chalk one up to reading aloud together, that does seem to be a good strategy. We have also started listening to audio books in the car, which she also loves (though I have to be careful because right now I am listening to Scowler by Daniel Kraus and I have to make sure to turn that one off, definitely not tween friendly – though awesome). Click here for a list of our top fave MG titles from last year.
So here’s what I’ve learned:
You can do everything right, everything they tell you to do, and your kid may still be a reluctant reader – but keep trying.
It is true what they say, the right book can make all the difference. When she likes a book, she really seems to be more into reading.
Choice matters. Her reaction to the books she chooses is completely different to the ones that she is required to read for AR points at school or the ones that I suggest.
Audio books can be a really fantastic tool. Visit your library, check some out, and try them with your reluctant readers.
I remember reading that you should never send your child to bed as a punishment because that adds a negative connotation to bedtime. I feel the same way about reading: It shouldn’t be a punishment, it shouldn’t be a source of discomfort, it shouldn’t be a source of tension between parent and child. And yes, that is not always easy. Find ways to build it into your daily routine without having to fight or get angry about it. This is something that has come up in discussion with The Mr. and I as I remind him not to criticize the books she chooses to read – or to make a negative comment when she is reading Wimpy Kid again (it makes him cranky) – and to just let her read and enjoy the experience.
Take your child to the library and bookstore – often. For one, this helps give them the choice in picking out their reading materials. It also helps build reading into their life as it becomes a part of their established routine and identity.
If you can, get them a magazine subscription. Everyone loves getting mail, and magazines can be short and sweet to read through. Write your child letters and send them through the mail, have family and friends participate as well.
Get your child a journal and have them practice writing as well. Writing and reading are tied together in many ways, and having your child practice writing will also help them think about reading and vice versa.
As a librarian, these are some of the things that I talk to parents about when they stand before me at the reference desk, stressed out because their children don’t like to read. I recently spoke with a parent of a 7 year old girl who only wanted her child to read classics like Little Women, etc. She said she wanted her child to be challenged and learn vocabulary words. In the end, I was able to remind her that at the end of the day, all reading is good reading. Learn big vocabulary words is not the only goal of reading, it also helps us to develop critical thinking skills as we evaluate the situations are characters are and think about what we would do. Reading helps us develop empathy and compassion while encouraging critical thinking, problem solving, and predictive reading skills. As we sit and read and ask ourselves what might happen next, we must remember that those skills are some of the skills necessary in innovation and creativity.
Take it from this librarian and mom, the right book really does make all the difference. So keep searching and don’t give up.