Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflectons: True Confessions of a NON Reluctant Reader (tips from a librarian parenting a reluctant reader)

Beginning tomorrow, April 15th, we are celebrating and discussing Reluctant Readers this week with Orca Books.  Tomorrow you can also begin entering a giveaway for a mini collection of books from Orca Books.

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.


  1. What I always tell the students, “It's not that you don't like to read, it's that you haven't found the right book yet.” My best days as a librarian are the ones when a student comes to tell me they thought they didn't like to read until I showed them X book.

  2. I wasn't a reluctant reader by any means; I read constantly. But I read tons of trash, Baby Sitter's Club and Sweet Valley High (I literally read SVH until I was 20 and only stopped because they stopped publishing them). I would go to the library and reread the same books over and over (Some of those were higher quality – Gordon Korman, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor – but not all were).

    I credit those books as what made me become an English major and a librarian – not the Shakespeare or Dickens or other fancy authors that I did enjoy when I got to them.

    My daughter is less than a year old and I don't read to her nearly enough because she bursts into HYSTERICAL crying at the end of every book and it makes me too upset to do it every single day or multiple times a day. So I don't have much experience with getting my own child to read.

    But I did have an old coworker who had a 12 year old son and he wouldn't read anything she brought home for him. But if she brought something home and said, Keri thought you'd like this, he'd devour it. Sometimes recommendations from Mom don't go as well as recommendations from another librarian.

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  5. I'm lucky for right now. My kid is going to the middle school that I do most of my book talks. He's been led to stretch outside his comfort zone because the other kids are excited about the books we talk about.

    He still reads mostly Erin Hunter. Which is fine. Really. I mean it. (He also joins the three year old and I for bedtime stories. I don't think we can ever grow out of the Pigeon books.)

  6. I love that moment when they find THE book 🙂

  7. My 4 year old won't sit still for a book. But we lay together as a family at night and read the MG books to her sister. I have noticed she has a big vocabulary, but she isn't very good at alphabet recognition. Oops. But we're working on it. Thanks for your comment, interesting concept about saying someone else recommended the book.

  8. Who doesn't love the Pigeon!!!!! The Erin Hunter books are popular at my library.

  9. Thanks for the helpful tips. I have boys and it's sometimes difficult to get them to settle down and read, but we do it every night. Some nights go better than others. 🙂

  10. Great post. Having raised a reluctant reader I understand the shock you experienced when you first discovered the dilemma. We too used audio books with our son. Not only did it demonstrate good reading, but it allowed the family to share the story together. An experience I really enjoyed. It adds a different dimension to a book to have a family discuss a character's choices as they make them, etc.

    BTW, my reluctant reader is now in the U.S. navy and enjoys reading for fun. I think I raised a heartthrob 😉

  11. Anonymous says:

    I am the proud mother of a beautiful 35 year old woman who was not a great reader until she became older. She reads constantly and all the things I did to entice her to take up books was lost on her as a child. She loves the classics and is open to all sorts of books. So what I am saying is that all those things we do to bring them to books will eventually bring them to books lol. Don't give up !!

  12. This could've been written by me! I married a reluctant reader and I have one who is 15 right now. I have a 13 year old who will read, but is not a READER. It's so frustrating, but it also has lead to some wonderful times together. None of them are against stories, so we have listened to A LOT of audiobooks. When we drove to California a few years ago, a long, long ways away, the best, most quiet times were when we listened to books. There have been a few books my most reluctant of readers has been interested in (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and I have celebrated every page read. It's tough. However, he is 15 and still likes me to read aloud to him!

  13. Great post! I have had almost the same experience. Good to hear about another family that also isn't frustrated enough to give up.

  14. Ditto! Mom of two girls who are NOT readers here. I even read to them in the womb. When they were younger, I could “force” them to read, by not offering any other entertainment sources. It's harder now that they are teens. Sigh. I always blamed myself. I thought-maybe because I'm a librarian they don't “do” books because it's mom's “thing”. Glad someone else is saying it, and I too feel like a hypocrite when I'm talking to parents of not readers.

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  16. Great story.
    I was a reluctant reader, to0. My father was the author of over 70 books during his lifetime and I didn't read any of them growing up. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries for readers 8 – 13, hoping to snag some of those struggling, reluctant readers today.
    Amazon Author Page http://www.amazon.com/Max-Elliot-Anderson/e/B002BLP3EE

  17. We had two reluctant readers. One would rather play any sport than sit still and the other had learning issues and I was not prepared to parent either. Having grown up as an avid reader s my husband and I just assumed that our children would be too.
    The athlete connected not so much with sport stories but with non-fiction and the other found Brian Jacques on a plane trip where he listened to an audio version of Redwall.When we returned home he wanted to get the print version and then read his way through the rest of the Redwall books.
    Looking back, I'm glad I didn't push too hard and relieved everything turned out ok.

  18. brenna says:

    My mom and I have always been avid readers, but never my younger sister (who is now almost 22). We always thought it was just because she didn't really like reading in general (although there have been books she has absolutely loved and has re-read). We found out when she started college that reading was hard for her because her eyes didn't know how to work together and therefore reading actually hurt and gave her a headache. She ended up going to vision therapy (I didn't even know that was a thing!) and with her eyes doing better now she is reading more! We never even thought about thinking medically when it came to her reluctant reading.

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