Getting Kids to Love Reading

Getting Kids Reading and Why It’s Critical

The path of a reader is not a runway but more a hack through a forest, with individual twists and turns, entanglements and moments of surprise. (Holden, 2004)

Research from the National Literacy Trust has boiled down decades of literacy research into two big takeaways for parents:

1) Importance of reading for pleasure for kids

When children read for pleasure, when they get “hooked on books”, they acquire, involuntarily and without conscious effort, nearly all of the so-called “language skills” many people are so concerned about: they will become adequate readers, acquire a large vocabulary, develop the ability to understand and use complex grammatical constructions, develop a good writing style, and become good (but not necessarily perfect) spellers. Although free voluntary reading alone will not ensure attainment of the highest levels of literacy, it will at least ensure an acceptable level. Without it, I suspect that children simply do not have a chance. (Krashen 1993, p. 85)

Although the cornerstone for lifelong reading is laid in the early years, we also know that it is never too late to start reading for pleasure. (Sheldrick-Ross, McKechnie & Rothbauer, 2005).

2) Parents are one of the most important literacy teachers

Research has repeatedly shown that motivation to read decreases with age, especially if pupils’ attitudes towards reading become less positive (McKenna, Ellsworth & Kear, 1995). Thus, if children do not enjoy reading when they are young, then they are unlikely to do so when they get older.

Can we use incentives to get our kids to read more? Unfortunately, no. Several studies have shown that incentives do not significantly affect motivation to read.

Yet, never has it been so crucial in this knowledge based world economy for kids to acquire a love of reading. Not only will jobs of the future require literacy more than at any point in history, but reading enjoyment is the single most important predictor of a child’s future sucesss.

Reading for pleasure is an activity that has real educational and social consequences

Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn. International Reading Association (Moore et al., 1999, p. 3)

Reading enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2002)

So, what does this mean for parents? We are singlehandedly the biggest influence on how our kids view reading. Remember hearing advice on modeling reading for our kids? Moms and dads both need to demonstrate that we read for pleasure? Well, the research backs this up.

Parents are one of the most important literacy teachers

You might have heard about how it’s so important to role model reading in front of your children. Not just moms, who often are the primary “bedtime story” reader, but dads also play an important role in demonstrating the value of reading for pleasure.

Parents and the home environment are essential to the early teaching of reading and the fostering of a love of reading. 84% of pupils in a survey for Reading Connects indicated that it had been their mother who had ‘taught them to read’. Parental involvement in their child’s literacy practices is a more powerful force than other family background variables, such as social class, family size and level of parental education (Flouri & Buchanan, 2004). Surveys repeatedly show that parents are aware how important it is to read to/with their children. However, the Reading Connects survey also showed that a fifth of pupils felt that their mother did not encourage them to read at all, while a third also felt that their father failed to encourage them to read.

Baumann and Duffy (1997, p. 22), highlighted the following five factors that help children become readers:

  1. A print-rich environment, where they are read to and given opportunities to read, where they see their caregivers read, have opportunities to engage in pretend play, are encouraged to interact with environmental print and visit the public library
  2. A language-rich environment, where they are encouraged to have discussions with their caregivers
  3. A knowledge-rich environment, where they learn about the world through such media as television and computers, and where they interact with the outside world by taking trips and talking with people about topics of interest to them
  4. A nurturing environment, where they interact with a variety of people who believe that one purpose of literacy is to entertain
  5. A home environment, where they make connections with their schools

But what happens if we are reading ourselves like crazy but our kids fail to follow our footsteps? How do we get our kids to love to read?

My Reluctant Reader Reading Challenge

I was in that same boat. As a child and an adult, I read voraciously but my oldest child was a reluctant reader.  It was combination of many factors. Her first grade teacher was chronically ill and there were literally subs for subs. She dislikes attention drawn to her and felt performance anxiety when forced to read out loud. Of course, reading aloud was the only way I could tell if she was decoding correctly.

In turning her around from a Reluctant Reader to a Voracious Reader, I sought the advice of teachers, mom friends who used to be teachers, and literacy specialists. I tried a LOT of ideas. Some ideas, like reading piles of carefully screened picture books one summer, required that I troll the library three times a week. A mom friend suggested setting up a book club for her.  A lecture on literacy I attended listed the benefits of rotating books around the house including the bathrooms. I tried them all.

From Reluctant Reader to Voracious Reader

It didn’t happen overnight. I’m not exactly sure what idea worked the best, or indeed, if it was just one idea that did the trick. All I know is that from first grade when my daughter was reading independently but reluctantly, we tried a lot of things to make reading Exciting. Fun. Interesting. A habit. And, by fourth grade, she was reading for pleasure on her own. By sixth grade, she was reading voraciously.

In fact, there isn’t just one magic bullet. Getting kids to love to read takes many attempts at bat.

I am convinced that every child has the potential to unlock a love of reading. It’s not the same path as my reluctant reader daughter, but I bet we would have passed each other on the zig zaggy path towards reading as an enjoyable past time. As a parent, I know you can do it too and I want to help by sharing ideas that I’ve tried with more ideas that I’ve found. Getting kids to love to read is my passion and the reason why I started my blog.

Reading Strategies to Get Kids Reading

It’s especially important to get boys reading. Research has shown that the decline in enjoyment over the last five years has been more pronounced among boys than girls.

There are few things we can focus on as parents to get our kids to develop a lifelong love of reading. The first is finding ways to motivate them, that unfortunately, do not include incentives. Another important factor in fostering lifelong readers is choice.

I want to share the ideas I’ve tried and the ideas I’ve collected to get kids excited about books and reading.

— Book Club for Kids

Setting up a book club for each of my kids has turned out to be their favorite activity in the world. A book club needn’t be boring or a lot of work. It doesn’t have to escalate into the complexity of a “mini-birthday party” either. I think of them as group play dates where the kids also learn valuable skills like group dynamics. Being a leader. And also, being a good follower.

My child doesn’t always read the book before the meeting. But something magical will happen at every book club. One of her friends will talk about the book. How much she loved it. Where the good part begins and why it’s worth it to read past “the boring part.” Sometimes the kids will pick characters and act out parts of the book ON THEIR OWN.

Yes, the book clubs still need a short structured activity based on the book. But reading the same book as friends will start to become a pleasure. And sharing beloved books will help turn on and encourage other kids to read. I have all my posts on our book clubs here including how to set up a book club for kids. 

I found that a peer book club for my children was one the most effective ways to get them reading more, and excited to share their favorite books with their friends. It was also a great way to learn about new books from their friends, and peer recommendations carry the most weight!

— Finding Books That Match Your Child’s Interests

I read books on dinosaurs for an entire year. The following year was all about Pokémon. For my daughters, we went through a fairy phase where the plots and vocabulary were so redundant that I was forced to make snarky comments. Matching books to your child’s interests is like mining for gold. Start with what they love to do and then work in concentric circles adding in different genres (non-fiction, fiction, graphic novel, historical fiction, biography etc.) around the same subject. Sports? Nature? Fairies? Skateboarding?

I think that there is no much thing as a “bad” book. If it’s frustrating that your child only reads “one kind of book,” branching out within that subject into other genres is a great way to slowly branch your child in new reading directions. For Reluctant Readers, I always start by asking them what they like to do and what they’d like to read about. Let them guide you with their interests and use their input to give them a lot of choices. Head to the library or the bookstore with this feedback and do a book “speed dating” session to find books that are appealing.

— High Interest Books for Kids Who Hate to Read (a.k.a. Diary of a Wimpy Kid)

I’m sure your child likes Diary of a Wimpy Kid because pretty much every kid on the planet does. But if that is the full extend of the books your child likes, fear not. There are Spawn of Dairy of a Wimpy Kid books! I’ve also collected books that appeal to reluctant readers.

High interest books are simply books that have great appeal to kids who are reluctant readers. Typically there are a lot of graphics or pictures and the font size might be bigger. High interest books will have a fast moving plot to get kids sucked in from the first sentence.

If you know What your child likes (and perhaps it’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series) but you’ve run through the series, the next best thing is to try to find more books that are similar. Luckily, the huge success of Diary of a Wimpy Kid books has spawned many imitators that are also very appealing.

Best Books for Boys, Reluctant or Otherwise

— Trying New Genres (Non-Fiction, Graphic Novels, Easy Chapter Books, Graphic Novel Hybrids, Magazines, Advanced Picture Books)

It’s easy to get caught in the chapter book trap. That’s the trap where kids think that the only books that count as READING are chapter books. They race from picture books into early chapter book series. While some are great, there are other genres to be mined if your child starts to lose interest in a chapter book series that starts to feel repetitive by book 4 or 5.

There are also many articles that stress the importance of reading non-fiction. Indeed, the world around us know requires a visual translation of knowledge. The idea here, though, is if your is tired of reading, he or she may just be tired of reading the same genre. Mix it up. Take a trip to the library, the magazine stand, the book store, the garage sale, or the bookshelf of your child’s friend, and explore new genres.

— Multicultural Books

Sometimes kids need to read books that reflect the world that they live in and characters that remind them of themselves. Other children might like to explore the world around them by seeing new cultures and points of view. Perhaps a book might help your child to understand a classmate better. Books are wonderful ambassadors for understanding our differences as well as validating who we are.

Top 50 Best Multicultural Children’s Books Every Kid Should Read

— Award Winning Books

While everyone may be familiar with well known awards like the Caldecott (for best pictures) or the Newbery, there are many other children’s book awards like The Children’s Choice Book Award  where KIDS choose the winners! I’ve collected lists of award winning books to help you find the perfect book lists for your child.

2011 Award Winning Books (Caldecott, Newbery, Prinz and More)


If you find the idea of getting your child to read more daunting, stressful, or downright aggravating, fear not. The fact that you care about this and are willing to try is more than half the battle. A love of reading doesn’t have to happen overnight. Think of it more as planting the seed and tending it carefully. The important thing is to keep trying new things until your child has discovered the pleasure of reading. It’s a gift to your child that keeps on giving.


reading strategies, reading, kids and reading, reluctant readersSome ideas for getting kids reading:

Top 10 Best Beginning  Chapter Book Series

Top 100 Young Adult Books (Fiction and Non-Fiction)

Best Chapter Book Series in the World Because They Are So Awesome from My 5th Grade Daughter

Best Chapter Books for 3rd Grade, 4th Grade and 5th Grade Recommended by Kid


  1. Stephanie, yes, I do assume that print books will eatuenvlly go away or become a specialty market. It won’t happen tomorrow, we are a long way from there which gives us time to think about all the implications. The price of e-readers has dropped significantly, the newest basic Kindle is $79. But even if it were $50, if a family can’t afford to pay the rent they certainly aren’t going to be buying an e-reader. Nor will they be able to afford the internet access necessary to download books even from the lilbrary. Digital provides more access to the haves and puts up all kinds of barriers for the have-nots. And even if there remains an abundance of books, libraries aren’t buying as many as they used to and are getting rid of older ones and canceling print magazine subscriptions in favor of digital.Jodie, you make some good points about the history of literacy and about access to media being consolidated into the hand of corporations. I was thinking this morning about how scary it is that Apple and Amazon control the gates to so much. Even in the library world, databases that used to be owned by lots of different companies are slowly being bought up so that access there as well is controlled by a few giant companies who get to set the rules. Cds and DVDs have not disappeared yet but I keep reading about their shrinking market so I think it is only a matter of time. And even if print books don’t completely disappear, which I hope they don’t, that market too will shrink and print books will probably become more expensive in the process putting up another barrier to access. Litlove, I am glad I am not the only one who worries about these things. That is good news from the publishers you’ve talked to. But cynical me can’t help but think that while it may be a duel existence for now, 50-100 years in the future it might not be. Asmore and more people become accustomed to e-books, there will be fewer and fewer who have a special attachment to print books especially now that enhanced e-books are showing up on the market.

  2. Greetings and salutations,

    I am the author of the new children’s book, Saving Up Smiles for a Rainy Day. I love your product and philosophy and would like to be featured by you. This is a hard cover with gorgeous illustrations. It is professionally printed on highest quality 100 pound gloss paper from Beavers Pond Press in Edina, Mn. It is a great Mother’s Day, new birth, or baby shower gift. It also holds a candle for cancer survivors or anyone experiencing a transition or undergoing a transformation. This is a beautiful book with the classic longevity of Good Night Moon.

    Saving Up Smiles for a Rainy Day is an inspiring, real-life story of transformation. Based on a mother and child’s pleasant memories that lighten the heavy hearted on a rainy day, a series of miraculous events sets mother and child on a lighter path. As mother and child journey through the four seasons of the heart, life circles back to the beginning, once again full of hope and promise.

    About the Author

    In Saving Up Smiles for a Rainy Day, Sheila Andreana Sewall combines the love of dance, creation, and the narrative of teaching with the desire to give back peace and blessings. Sewall believes all of us face challenges in our lifetime that require the need to rest in the joyful smiles within. Sewall has a BS in applied design and visual communications and a MEd of family education from the University of Minnesota.
    *Proceeds from the sales of this book will benefit The Family Partnership.

*Sheila Andreana is also the owner and designer of The Bibocks with Lapkins Company. Saving Up Smiles for a Rainy Day is also available at:

    The following is a book review:
    Hi Sheila,
    Thank you for your email. I have looked at your book and found it delightful in describing the act of remembering. HeartMath would call it creating coherence of the heart. I have written a review of it for our bi-weekly e-letter that goes out to Unity ministries and leaders. Here is what I wrote (unedited).
    Saving Up Smiles for a Rainy Day
    By Sheila Andreana Sewall and Illustrations by Hector Curriel
    ISBN: 978-1-59298-400-8
    Dear child, we can save up smiles for a rainy day to fill our hearts with love and joy when the sun has gone away. In this book the children are invited to remember the people who have brought love and joy into their lives; to remember moments of fun and wonder; to bring the memories of sunny days and nature’s delights into the moment. It is a lovely reminder that the very act of remembering moments of love and joy lightens the heart and changes our energy, bringing back feelings of hope and promise. The author suggests that this book makes a wonderful gift for cancer survivors, new baby or baby showers, or anyone going through a transition or life transformation. I would suggest that it could be used in children’s ministry for your quiet corner, to support the concept of creating heart coherence or for a lesson on looking for the good. Check it out.
    Thank you, Sheila, for the love and creativity you have seeded in this story. It is my hope that youth directors and bookstore managers will investigate and find it delightful also.
    Rev. Kathryn Kellogg
    Children’s and Family Ministry Coordinator

    Thank you for your consideration,

    Sheila Andreana Sewall MEd.

    The Bibocks with Lapkins Company

  3. Thank you Pragmatic Mom,

    Blessings and Peace to you Dear lady,

    Sheila Andreana Sewall
    Sheila Andreana recently posted…Plaid Apron, Pinafore, Red and Green Schoolgirl Apronafore Bibock by BibocksMy Profile

  4. I know how hard it is for many adults to manage being in a book club, so I have to admit that using that setting to encourage kids to read was a bit surprising. But I suppose that, based on how it was described in the article, that being surrounded by friends, even if you haven’t read the book, makes sense. With kids’ books I can see this working because a lot of these stories are action-based, so you can get just as caught up in the spirit and fantasy while your friends narrate the activity. Once the fun and excitement wear off, you probably won’t want to miss out again, so you may be inspired to pick up the next book on your own. It’s deceptively simple, really. Definitely a strategy to keep in mind.
    Chris Eastvedt recently posted…Yep, I’m Writing a Kids’ Book, Part IMy Profile

    • Hi Chris,
      I’ve run three book clubs for my kids and it’s been their favorite things. I have a post on how easy it is to set up here:

      We do a very low maintenance one and I’ve listed our books and activities if anyone wants ideas.

      I have noticed that peer recommendations are very powerful. When my daughter has given up on a book after one chapter, her friends at the book club will tell her, “You have to keep reading to get to the good part … about the last 1/4 of the book.” That will convince her in a way that I could not.

      We’ve also done advanced picture books (the decoding one for a Navajo Code Breakers scavenger hunt was especially popular with the little boys) and graphic novels to mix it up and keep it fun (and the reading not burdensome).

      It has been a great pleasure to watch all the kids at book club meetings. My kids say it’s their favorite activity and it been fun for me too. I have tried to document all the book club meetings here:
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Chapter Book to Build Vocabulary GIVEAWAYMy Profile

  5. Wow. That is a lot. I guess once you get into the flow of supplying books, snacks, craft supplies and activity ideas regularly it’s not as imposing, but when I first read all that went into these events (and events they are!) I was in serious overwhelm. How lucky you are to have found dedicated parents willing to share the hosting duties- I imagine that alone is a huge part of the equation.

    The more I talk to you, the more you remind me of the Michelle Pfeiffer mom in the movie, “One Fine Day”, who was so organized that no matter what calamity befell her throughout the day, all she had to do was reach into her purse and out came the solution. I am in awe of you madam. Keep up the fine, fine work.
    Chris Eastvedt recently posted…Yep, I’m Writing a Kids’ Book, Part IMy Profile

    • Hi Chris,
      It is helpful to have awesome moms to host the book clubs! That helps tremendously. It is a bit of work but having the ideas for the book and activity really helps and then it’s just like a big playdate. Thank you for your kind words! I really truly appreciate it! It keeps me going on my blog!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Chapter Book to Build Vocabulary GIVEAWAYMy Profile

  6. Such great information and ideas here. Especially love how you point out all the skills children acquire simply from being read to and then developing their own love for reading.
    Linda Jones recently posted…Peek Inside our Parent GuideMy Profile

  7. Thank you Pragmatic Mom! A newbie to reading posts here but have known of your blog through Pinterest sorts other bloggers etc. I am having thee worst time getting my reluctant reader into reading. She is SUPER GREAT at sounding out words, reading them, and remembering some if the word rules she’s been taught by me and kindergarten. She has speech and cognitive delays but, I work one on one constantly just giving her the little extra attention and sit time while learning through play, that public school teachers just can’t give (consistently, like she’d thrive from in my opinion). Without going in further detail, I just wanted to say thank you kindly for this post, ALL of the additional links you’ve included, I have learnt MUCH already, & it’s my first read here! I am now a subscriber and look forward into digging around here finding many more useful ideas I can use in trying to transform my reluctant into ‘enjoyment reader’! ;D
    Jeanine recently posted…Gingerbread Tree Ornament TutorialMy Profile

    • Hi Jeanine,
      Thanks so much for coming to my blog. And I wanted to add that books on tape, or using the read aloud version of book apps or reading to your daughter aloud yourself HAS THE SAME BENEFITS OF HER READING INDEPENDENTLY!! That might be a nice break for both of you and hopefully make reading less stressful for her. There are tons of books on tape at the public library too because they can get expensive to buy.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Read Remotely with Relatives: HomeTeam AppMy Profile

  8. Jane Allen

    I enjoyed this post. Especially the part where you said:

    “Getting kids to love to read takes many attempts at bat.”

    In essence, there is a way to get kids to read but you must discover the way that works for your child. What worked for a neighbor may not necessarily work for you. I guess I need to say this because mothers tend to compare and worry about a method a friend has successfully used but which is not working for them. We’re unique beings. Let’s continue searching until we find the template that works for us.
    Jane Allen recently posted…What is the Best Recliner for Newborn?My Profile

    • Hi Jane,
      And I am finding that it’s an ongoing thing. My 14 year old is very academic but barely reads. It’s a combination that she’s very picky about books, has a lot of activities, and likes to watch TV shows or YouTube videos to unwind. And social media too. I have to keep at it by taking her to book stores and bribing her to read. She needs a little nudge and if she finds a great series, she’ll dive right in. But … still looking for that next great series for her.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Can You Spot Him? A real life Halibut JacksonMy Profile

  9. My daughter didn’t need to be encouraged to read; she has been passionate about books ever since she could reach for one.

    For my son, I made it a routine to read him a storybook every evening before bed. I then slowly got him to read a sentence, then every other sentence, then every other paragraph, then every other page. This happens over many months. Eventually, he got into the routine of not just being read to but reading for himself too. It then became a habit. Now he loves to read, still not as passionate as my daughter, but he reads every day on his own accord.
    Leo Tat recently posted…Eating Meat Good or Bad for You? Health Benefits, Myths & WhyMy Profile

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