I searched five years of digital photographs looking for photos of my kids reading and I only came up with the handful here. Why? It’s not easy getting kids reading, especially to love reading enough that they choose it over more exciting things like screens, playdates or sports!
I started my blog after my oldest had a bad year in first grade. She was a reluctant reader who hated the performance aspect of reading out loud. My second child who is academic preferred less “sitty” past times than reading. She never stops moving so it’s hard to pin her down to read. My son much prefers screens to anything else in life so it’s a challenge to get him to exchange a book for a screen.
Over the years, I have tried EVERYTHING to get my kids to love reading. And that might be the key to eventual success. There is no magic bullet but effort counts. And now, I’m happy to report that my oldest (Grasshopper and Sensei), now in 8th grade, is a voracious reader. By 3rd grade we had turned the corner enough so that she started posting on her favorite chapter books.
My middle daughter now a 6th grader, the rapscallion PickyKidPix, still needs to be reminded to read as often as she needs to be reminded to practice her flute (which is to say very often). She continues to enjoy carefully screened award winning chapter books and is very proud how well her 3rd Grade Book List does on Google searches.
My son, though a serious gamer, is the only one who insists to the point of tears of nightly reading. Still, he prefers me to read to him so he can fool around on a screen. I have followed his interests that have traversed from dinosaurs (age 3), to Pokémom (age 4), to trucks (age 5), to funny books of all stripes (age 6), to graphic novels (age 7), to Rick Riordan (age 8), and now to action adventure chapter books at age 9.
I thought I would share some of the ideas that worked for me that I tried with my kids over the past 12 years. I think they will work for anyone because it’s not so much the idea but the act of trying, trying and trying some more that gets them reading.
Get Kids Reading Strategies
1. Picture Books Work for Mixed Ages (Especially at Bedtime When Only One Parent is Available to Read)
Picture books, especially advanced picture books, work beautifully for read aloud bedtime stories especially when you have to keep three kids of different ages entertained at the same time.
I used Great Books for Boys and Great Books for Girls by Kathleen Odean to find wonderful picture books. It made searching for books at the library easy. I also used recommended reading lists from our town library and the Boston Public Library to find wonderful picture books.
Our favorite picture books from that era of reading 50 t0 60 picture books a week — I’d go to the library every two days or so — are on this list: Best Picture Books You’ve Never Heard Of.
If you need more picture book ideas (because a list does make the trip to the library more efficient), here are a few of our favorites:
2. Start a Book Club for Kids
My mom friend Jen suggested that I start a book club for my oldest when she was in first grade and a reluctant reader. I documented most of our book clubs — I ended up starting one for each child — here. All subsequent book club meetings are written up as posts here.
3. Graphic Novels Are My Secret Weapon
Graphic novels are my secret weapon for getting reluctant readers reading! The trick it to find the right ones. I am hopeful you find a graphic novel that will work for you from our year of reading graphic novels nearly exclusively. The books are listed below.
Graphic novels give the brain more of a workout per sentence than any other type of media, including conventional books. School Library Journal
Day 1: ABCs of Graphic Novels, A-E
Day 2: ABCs of Graphic Novels, F-J
Day 3: ABCs of Graphic Novels, K-O
Day 4: ABCs of Graphic Novels: P-T
Day 5: ABCs of Graphic Novels: U-Z
My son is reading on the car ride back from the library because he found a Ninjago graphic novel! Score!
4. Make Reading a Daily Habit For You and Your Kids
We reserved bedtime for daily reading and that works well though my kids teachers preferred reading time to be earlier when the kids are more awake. I’ve read many, many articles on the importance of modeling reading for your kids, so feel free to read your book too!
As for daily reading, try it in different formats: read aloud, shared reading, or books on tape. When reading was more of a chore, I would take the longer page with most of the text and give my child the page with the illustration or just a short paragraph.
Grasshopper and Sensei needed to be reminded to bring a book for her dentist appointment but it worked. She’s reading!
5. Meet Children’s Book Authors
Meeting children’s book authors makes kids want to read their books. If there are children’s book author events where you live, try attending an event! Author events are typically very entertaining and you can usually get your book signed for an added bonus.
I found that once my kids met an author and liked their presentation, they were more likely to read every book that person wrote.
To find events where I live, I subscribe to bookstore newsletters and google “author visit Boston”. I can usually find most of them this way.
6. Getting Your Child His or Her Own Library Card
If your child can write his or her name, he or she can get a library card, and at that age, it’s particularly special! Why not? It makes the trip to the library more special!
My son is getting his first library card. Here he is trying to make his name fit on the back of the card.
7. Visit the Library, Book Store or Tag Sales for a Steady Supply of New Books
Try visiting different libraries for a change of pace. When my kids were little, we used to go one town over to Watertown for their extensive DVD children’s movie library and their Scholastic easy readers that featured television shows that our local library did not carry. The Needham library which is one town over in a different direction had toys that my kids liked to play with.
8. eReaders and Book Apps Make Reading High Tech
Yes, it was my screen loving son who got me to read books to him on my iPhone while waiting in the car for his sister, or on an iPad in bed when I was too lazy to get his book in another room. But, I noticed that reading books on apps is a different experience; many apps make reading interactive with words that light up and float off the screen when touched. I think it helped my son learn to read!
PickyKidPix asked for a Kindle Paperwhite for her last birthday. Her teachers allow her to bring it to school when they had free reading time. The immediacy of downloading a desired book motivates her to start a new book. She’s a slow but careful reader so it might take her a month to read a chapter book (or more) so I found that I bought her more books than her siblings.
9. Book Trailers Lure Kids Into Chapter Books
Book trailers are becoming standard marketing for book launches just like film trailers are used for movies. I’m glad because a short peek into a book really works to lure kids in.
Kids and librarians make book trailers here.
Scholastic has book trailers here.
Random House Kids has book trailers on their YouTube channel
Slime Kids has book trailers.
10. Peer Recommendations are Powerful
The easiest way I get peer recommendations of kids is just to ask the kids I am driving around in my car what they are reading and what they think of it. My kids think this is weird but I get great recommendations this way.
When I read about a book tasting, I had a A HA moment! We just tried this as our first book club meeting and it worked beautifully.
Try holding a Book Tasting and/or Book Swap. It can be a play date, a book club for kids meeting, or something you volunteer to do at school in the classroom. Try suggesting it to your teacher!
11. Magazine Subscriptions Are a Monthly Surprise
The magazines don’t necessarily even have to be new. Consider splitting a subscription with a group of families and sharing or find old children’s magazine issues at garage sales. My kids liked the National Geographic Kids magazine and it worked for a wide age range. Sports Illustrated for Kids is also very popular with boys!
12. Mix It Up with Different Genres
I am guilty of sticking to one genre but try mixing it up!
For poetry, you can’t go wrong with Jack Prelutsky or Shel Silverstein. I found that all my kids love their poetry books so it’s a very easy sell.
Folk tales present themselves as picture books so why not spice things up? Find folk tales from a country or culture that you want to explore. What Do We Do All Day? has lots of wonderful book lists on folk tales by country.
Non Fiction is a great way to explore and deepen your child’s interest. To find the right book, follow their lead!
What ideas worked for you to get your kids reading? I’d love to add yours to this list! Thanks!
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.