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Tips for Growing Bookworms: #3 Choose Books that Your Children Enjoy

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 23, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 3 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information where I have them.

Tip #3: Choose books that your children enjoy. Find books that satisfy their interests, and let them choose books that please them. When kids are reading (outside of assigned school reading), the important thing is that the reading is a pleasurable activity. The best way to make this true is to help them to find books that they are interested in. Not books that are good for them. Not books that teach them a particular lesson. Not books that are someone else's favorite (like the parent's favorite). Just books that the particular child eagerly wants to read.

BoyReading.jpgThis is especially important for women selecting books for boys, who may prefer reading in formats other than traditional fiction. Yes, it can be frustrating to have your child read nothing but comic books. But reading comic books IS reading. I'm not saying don't try to suggest other books for them, too. But keep in mind that the central goal is for kids to find reading a pleasurable activity, one that they wish to continue. Everything else follows from that (all the way to better test scores and dream colleges).

EagerReader.jpgA related point regarding book choice is the question of reading levels. Pam suggested in a post from earlier this fall that children benefit from reading a mix of books, some within and some outside of their comfort zone. She also said, strongly, that it's important for parents to avoid playing "The Reading Game". You know the one. Where parents speak loftily to one another about their children's advanced reading levels. Don't get sucked into this trap. The important thing isn't that your third grade daughter is reading a sixth grade book. The important thing is that your third grader is avidly reading ANY book. She'll get to the sixth grade level book eventually, if she enjoys reading. But if you pressure her to read harder and harder books all the time, you're likely to turn her off of reading altogether. And that is a tragedy.

For more on reading levels, see my earlier post about discussions in defense of escapist summer reading, which links to several articles in defense of letting kids read what they enjoy. I also had a two-part piece (part 1, part 2) early last summer about reading levels, and the defense of kids reading books that they enjoy, even if they are capable of reading more challenging books.

StackOfBooks.jpgIt's simply, really. If you want kids to learn to enjoy reading, you have to give them time to read things that they like, and that they choose. The choice itself is empowering, and leads to a positive association with reading. Your son could choose fiction or nonfiction, graphic novels or poetry, magazines or car manuals. He could read Goosebumps or Junie B. Jones or 100 different Magic Treehouse books. He could read the comic pages of your newspaper, all of the Harry Potter books, or the Guinness Book of World Records. What he's reading doesn't matter. What matters is that he is engaged in what he's reading, and wants to read more. Because that's what we're after here. As long as kids keep reading, something, anything, they'll become more proficient. And that's the way to make them readers for life.


Terry Doherty writes...

Sometimes I wonder if this tip is harder than read what your kids read. Paying attention to what kids want to read can be the slippery slope of trying to "help" them pick "good books." In our house, DH gets very upset about books like Junie B that don't use correct grammar. He'll ask "did you read THAT?" very worried about the influence on the new reader. It's a fine line.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I meant it as the opposite, Terry. More of a caution against "helping" kids pick the books that you think are good. But I know that it's hard sometimes. I have relatives who are strongly opposed to the June B books for the same reason. Or you know, the 100th Goosebumps books starts to feel a little ridiculous. But I think if you keep the focus on "what makes this fun", you won't go too far wrong.

Easter writes...

Thank you so much for this post! As a GATE specialist, I often speak to parents of gifted readers. My main point is always "respect the books your child chooses." I believe that kids become avid readers because of the strong emotional connections they make to books. Reading the books that allow them to forge those connections is just as important for them, in the long run, as reading books that challenge their developing reading skills. Even very bright kids are still kids, and frequently the books at their instructional level are far beyond their emotional level.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I'm so glad that the post helped, Easter. I think that this is a real challenge with gifted readers. And in general it's a challenge in our society, where parents feel pressure to raise kids who are gifted readers, if you know what I mean. It's so sad when a kid is pressured to skip over a book that they'll love, because it's not challenging enough. I agree with you - if you form an emotional connection to books, that's what will keep you reading. Then the reading skills will certainly follow - it's inevitable. Anyway, happy to have provided you with a little validation for this. Thanks for taking time to comment.

Boni writes...

Fabulous post, Jen. This can be very hard for a lot of parents, but it is really imperative in hooking some readers- esp in my own experience with my reluctant-reader son. Graphic novels are turning him around, finally (yay!!), but there is still a lot of prejudice against "those comic books" from other adults I talk to. And that's sad! There are a lot of creative, good quality graphic books being published these days. I blanched a bit at Captain Underpants in the beginning a few years ago, but watching him eye the Harry Potter books with anticipation, something I NEVER thought I'd ever see from him, made it all worthwhile :)

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for sharing your experience with this, Boni. I'm sure it is hard for parents - especially when they have teachers or other parents judging their kids' reading material. I'll continue to defend the right of kids to read books that capture their imagination, whether they are graphic novels or nonfiction or, yes, Captain Underpants. But you're allowed to rejoice when your son moves on to Harry Potter, that's for sure. ;-)

BookChook writes...

Totally agree, Jen. Once your kids love to read, sure, make suggestions based on their interests and their own current book choices. If you are desperate to introduce them to a favourite of yours, why not bring it out at a family read-aloud time?

I think the art of subtle parenting is just as important to cultivate as the art of subtle wifing!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Those are good suggestions, BookChook. Thanks! Of course there's nothing wrong with a suggestion here or there, as long as the overall focus is on what pleases the young reader, rather than what pleases the parent.

Subtle wifing - not a phrase I've heard before, but I like it!

babylovesbooks writes...

Very relevant post, especially given how much harder it is becoming for kids to choose reading over all the other forms of entertainment and stimulation that are so easy to consume. The important thing is to restore the joy in reading. And the first step is to let our kids take the lead. As long as a child picks up a book instead of the remote or a video's all good. Once they're hooked onto reading, they're going to want to experiment with different genres or difficulty levels anyway, at some point.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I agree with you 100%, babylovesbooks. And you raise an excellent point, about the competing forms of entertainment. 50 years ago, sure, parents could get away with pushing particular books on a rainy day, perhaps, because the kids didn't have a lot of other choices. But now, given the choice between a classic that doesn't fit the child's interests and an action-packed video game, well, it's a risky proposition. Thanks for the feedback!

Jennifer writes...

I agree with "babylovesbooks". With television, internet, and video games, children have lost the ability to cultivate their imaginations. I used to work in an elementary after school program, and we would have a special time where they had to create something with their imaginations. We had many things they could use, and a little girl about 8 years old simply said I don't need to imagine anything, I can see it online. I make sure that my children have several hours of just playing. And, we have over 200 books, several different reading levels, that they can choose to read. Including comic books and kids magazines. Often, my 7 year old will choose to read a book than play. It's really great, because both his dad and I are avid readers. And, our 2 year old loves it when we read to her.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for taking time to comment, Jennifer. I think that your kids are lucky that you encourage them to just play, and use their imaginations. I believe that between that and encouraging your kids to love books, you are giving them gifts that will last a lifetime. As for the poor little girl who doesn't need to imagine anything because she sees everything online, I can only feel sympathy for her.

Evelyn writes...

I am totally for supporting children in their desire to read books they themselves choose, whether it be fiction, poetry, even comics. A child reading is never a bad thing. However, I always cringe when at the book store my daughter - who has just turned five and does not read yet read on her own- picks out a barbie or disney film-to-fiction adaptation and begs me to buy it (which then entails me reading it to her over and over again). It is pure misery. Any suggestions or thoughts?

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Evelyn,

You have my sympathy. I guess one suggestion would be to try to get these books from the library, to which they have to be returned, which might limit the total number of re-reads. I've also heard of people having success with a "you pick one and I'll pick one" strategy. That way you support your daughter's ability to choose, but you get to mix in something that pleases you, too. You could also try reading chapter books aloud to her - find something about princesses that's a bit more to your taste, even if it's aimed at an older audience. Kids can listen at a higher level than they can read themselves, so read-alouds (especially as she gets a little older) are a good chance to mix in some higher quality material. And then that will help your daughter expand her preferences as she gets older. I hope!! Hang in there!

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