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From Reluctant Reader to Voracious Reader: What Worked for Me

Turning a Reluctant Readers into a Voracious Reader

(Article first published as From Reluctant Reader to Voracious Reader on Technorati and Imagination Soup.)

Can the elimination of book store chain affect middle school literacy? Sadly, yes. The closing of Borders, according to a recent report by media and publishing forecast firm Simba Information will stunt the children’s and young adult publishing market in the the industry adjusts to a smaller book retailing footprint. This is because, “On a whole, the children’s/YA market still depends on print books — and a complicated connection between the publisher and the increasingly hard-to-reach reader.

Adults buy the vast majority of juvenile books and give them to their children as gifts,” Norris said. “Where it gets tricky is a lot of kids, particularly as they become teenagers, are more likely to read if they can choose the books themselves. Since a lot of children only spend a few minutes a week, on average, reading for leisure, parents need to sell them on the activity of reading without choosing a book that their child won’t like. Anyone can make a child read, but getting a child to value reading is what’s crucial for the future of this industry.”

And that’s actually what I found to be true for my daughter. Turning her from a reluctant to voracious reader did require me to lead the way, both in screening the books and in expeditions to bookstores to find books to read.

My oldest child is now starting 6th grade which is Middle School where I live. She’s a voracious reader now but it wasn’t always so. I guess there are many, many reasons why kids don’t like to read and for her, it wasn’t the decoding or sitting still; it was the act of performing. She hates any kind of attention. A root canal is preferable to her over performing and reading out loud was a performance to her.

Unfortunately when children are young, they have to read aloud in order for we, the parents, to see if they are reading with fluency, decoding words correctly, and comprehending what they are reading (as noted by strange pauses, skipped/added words or unfamiliar words). We’re not mind readers after all!

There were other issues too. My daughter preferred books with a plot that were beyond her ability to decode. While many kids love the Bob books, she summarily rejected them so I had to find other phonics books that could hold her interest. This issue is very common her teacher assured me but it makes finding books that she could read confidently and enjoy challenging.

My daughter also found chapter books intimidating well into second grade. She preferred picture books so as her decoding skills improved, I needed to find advanced picture books. We found many great ones using the picture book section of Kathleen Odean’s Great Books for Girls. In fact, I am now a believer that advanced picture books have much better content and vocabulary than many easy chapter book series. And some of these books below also take readers back in time or inside of someone’s skin. Wonderful stuff!

Because she is my oldest, I was fearful of screwing up. She’s my trial-and-error kid. It didn’t help that she had a very bad first grade year (which spawned my blog PragmaticMom due to all the catch up we needed to do). I sought assistance on how to get her to love reading from everyone I knew: librarians (who suggested the popular but repetitive Rainbow Fairy series), ex-teacher mom friends (I started a book club for her based on one mom’s recommendation, and indexed my picture books according to level of difficulty thanks to another), teachers (Explode the Code workbooks were dutifully done during the summer), and went to lectures on literacy (put a basket of books in the bathroom and rotate them!).

I found that I wasn’t the best choice to read with my child. We fought over reading and it was torture. My husband ended up taking over for a summer. He was much better at coaxing her to read aloud. (Thanks honey!).

Bit by bit though, through trial and error, we, as a collective family unit, made progress in the reading department. I learned to relax to make reading enjoyable. This made my daughter want to read more. The more she read, the more comfortable she got. I give a lot of credit to the You Read to Me and I’ll Read to You series which I found in the overstock section of a local bookstore.

During the course of first grade through fourth grade, I tried lots of things (see below), and then one day … around the middle of third grade but definitely by the end of fourth grade, a magical thing happened:  She was a reader! The voracious kind that sneaks a flashlight under the covers to read way past her bedtime.

I think that trying lots of different strategies is the key to unlocking a love for reading in any child. I know that I presented a lot of ideas, but remember that we did these over the course of five years. The effort I made was well worth it; teaching your child to read is a gift that keeps on giving!

What has worked for you to get your child to love to read? Please leave a comment with your suggestions and book recommendations!

1) Trips to bookstores to buy books (maybe 4-5 times a year). We also have a color Nook and she enjoyed the novelty of ebooks for a few months but that didn’t last. Used book stores, garage sales, and library used book sales are also great places to acquire books.

2) Book recommendations from her friends. This works on two levels. Her friends’ recommendations carry more clout than mine, and you can borrow the books.

3) I started a book club for her and her friends after 1st grade. This was very rewarding and I think it helped to make reading fun! We had local authors Mitali Perkins and Karen Day visit our book club which was an amazing experience. I bet you have KidLit authors where you live. If not, many authors will Skype!

4) Trips to library to select books (maybe monthly)… I would buy the book if there was interest but we had trouble getting through it after 3 weeks (which is our normal checkout time for a book). We found that smaller branch libraries were less intimidating so we’d also change up the library and go to neighboring towns.

5) Personal library of  Just Right For Me books in her room as well as throughout the house. Don’t forget the bathrooms! And don’t forget to rotate the books!

6) I never did audio books but I would do that now plus i would do ebooks via ipod/iphone/and eReader.

7) Author visits at book stores.

8) I used picture books extensively especially advanced picture books when she was in 2nd and 3rd grade. I actually went though Great Books For Girls by Kathleen Odeon book by book at 2 libraries. These were great books and I was able to read to all 3 kids at the same time as she has two younger siblings. We would read 30-50 picture books a week. We all have very fond memories of this time and she still enjoys overhearing picture books that I read to her younger brother. I LOVE PICTURE BOOKS and they are for ALL AGES!!!

9) We also did shared reading. Which is simply to say that we took turns reading. At first, I’d read the more text dense pages and give her the lighter ones. Later, I’d take over if she misses five words or more per page.

10) Hooking her on a series. My favorite series though for 2nd grade is still the Cobble Street Cousins by Cynthia Rylant.

11) Graphic Novels. These were new to me at the time, but I think graphic novels are a great way to engage kids. She was into the Warriors series at the time but I’ve included some other very popular ones. I have a post on graphic novels here and here.

To view any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. SUsan

    Thanks for mentioning the public library! And I think it is great that you visited different ones…

    • To Susan,
      I wish we visited the public library more often, to be honest. But it is fun to visit different branches and go to different cities just to check out new ones with different books and displays.

  2. Gwen

    Hi Mia et al! I would love to share my tactics on getting my children to read!

    I check out books by the dozens (really I have about 50 out right now!) that I’ve found doing a search through our library’s website using keywords. One of my sons LOVES penguins, so I have about 20 books around penguin stories or penguin facts that I leave scattered all over the house. I have a landing for our staircase and I prop books up all over the cushions to remind them (and my husband and me) to pick up a new book to read to them.

    I have also found your pragmatic mom emails invaluable in seeking out “finds”. As soon as you publish a new list, such as your best books for boys 3-4th grade, or best 100 picture books ever, or whatever you’ve sent for the day, I go to my library’s website, log in, and start requesting. I can request 20 at a time and do the same under my husband’s library card. The library does all the work, sets them aside on the shelves and I just pick them up once or twice a week. It’s tough to keep track of them all, we put them all over the house for the kids to bump into (also in a basket in the car). I’m always paying fines to the library but it helps support it and given what I’m saving on buying 50 books a month, it’s worth it. If my child REALLY loves a book or a series, I go ahead and buy it. But that’s my system and it’s really working! The kids probably connect with and read only half the books, but if they weren’t around the house, I wouldn’t really know what floats their boats, so to speak. Seeing what they pick up, what titles and subjects interest them gives me better insight into what they’re most likely to read.

    Thought I’d share that. I feel so noble when the kids are reading and am CONSTANTLY watching your emails for new ideas on what to request. Have come across some great reads from you! Thanks! 🙂

    • To Gwen,
      I love how you are so good about reserving books. I am so totally inept at the library reservation system. I think I lost my password or something like that since I can never seem to get into the system. And you are not afraid of overdue fines. I wish I were more like that. You are right that paying them helps support the library. I love the idea of books everywhere and with a lot of rotation. No wonder your kids are such great readers!

      I guess the takeaway is that sometimes we parents have to work pretty hard to get our kids reading … at least up until a certain point. But it’s certainly a gift that keeps on giving so it’s well worth the effort. Like potty training, the effort is not forever, but the benefit will be! Thanks for sharing Gwen!! And thanks for reading my blog!!!

  3. Melissa

    Love your post! Thanks for the great ideas… My daughter is only 3, but what has really made her love books so far (in addition to some of the tips you mentioned) is displaying the books face out rather than with just the spine showing – and having an abundance of books to choose from.

    I’m also an Independent Consultant for Usborne Books & More and my daughter gets so excited every time a shipment of books arrives. Even though most of the books are for customers, she loves looking at them as we open the box together and deciding which ones she’d like for herself (like going to the bookstore, but at home).

    Her dad and I also read a lot – books, newspapers, online content. I think having good role models helps too.

    I credit these things to taking her from ho-hum interest in books (before I realized the importance of reading aloud every day) to “please, please, please read one more story”. I have no doubt she’ll love to read when the time comes! 🙂

    Thanks again for the ideas!

    • To Melissa,
      I couldn’t agree with you more that having role models — parents who read — is a huge motivator for kids to read! Good point! Thank you! ps I love the Usborne books! Great titles!!!

  4. Love this comprehensive list of tips! No wonder your daughter became a voracious reader.

    We had a hiccup at the beginning of 1st grade where our sons reading fell off. We would have him read a page and then we would read a page to get through books quicker and so he wouldn’t get frustrated.

    This year (2nd grade) he is into the “Captain Underpants” series. I was thrilled when he said he wanted to take them on the bus so he could read on the way to school 🙂

    Thanks again for all the great resources!

    • To ExpatdoctorMom,
      I am so glad that the list is helpful for you. I have a 3 part post on books for boy readers, reluctant or otherwise that might be helpful for you. It’s here I also happen to think that shared reading (you read a page, I read a page) is a great strategy to get kids reading so kudos to you for doing that!

  5. Thanks so much for the links I will visit the book store on Monday gods willing and get started right away.
    Renita Hanna recently posted…Non Fiction Picture Book of the Day GIVEWAYMy Profile

  6. Hi Renita,
    You might find Explode the Code at Lakeshore Learning but not at a regular bookstore. You can also order at Amazon (I have a link on the image). As for the books, you can find them at the library too!
    Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Non Fiction Picture Book of the Day GIVEWAYMy Profile

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