It might be surprising to learn your child has trouble finding books they enjoy. More surprising: Research shows parents consistently underestimate this challenge.
According to the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report, four in 10 readers ages 6 to 17 say they have difficulty finding books they like. Infrequent readers say it more, with six in 10 children having difficulty finding the right books for them. But only 28 percent of parents (three in 10) recognize their children face this challenge — illustrating a real disconnect between how parents think the reading is going and what kids are actually experiencing.
Scholastic experts agree that when children express difficulty finding books that are just right for them, the problem is with book discovery and book access.
“The main thing we’re talking about is choice and access,” says Deimosa Webber-Bey, director of Information Services & Cultural Insight at Scholastic. “We want to put kids into places where they have choices and they have options.”
Here are tips for finding that just-right book for your young reader.
Let kids follow their interests.
We know it’s essential for parents to model strong reading behaviors when raising a reader. But it’s also important that kids be allowed to navigate the wide world of books on their own. Kids enjoy the books they choose most. So while you’re committed to guiding their reading habits, it’s best to let them pick their reads.
“If they're going to be hands-on, parents need to allow and accept what their child is into,” says Cassie Thomas, a teacher in Texas. “I’ve overheard parents in bookstores say they absolutely will not let their child get what books they're asking for, specifically graphic novels. The reality is, graphic novels are way harder to read than adults truly understand.”
Letting kids choose their own books is a must for testing out what sticks and what doesn’t as reader tastes develop.
“Parents have to understand the importance of choice, or else their ‘hands-on’ approach will steer their child away from reading, which is not what we want,” Thomas says.
If your child chooses a book you feel is above or below their reading level, that’s okay! You can offer to read it with them.
“Parents should allow their child to shop for books that look interesting to them, and let them try the book,” says Leana Malinowsky, a 2nd grade teacher in New Jersey. “When their child selects a harder text, parents can suggest they read it together, and find another book that is ‘just right’ for reading independently.”
Above all, you want to make sure you are providing steady access to books, as children will work out quickly what doesn’t appeal to them.
“Some of the things kids are looking for in books may differ from what’s being presented to them,” Webber-Bey says. “While parents are encouraged to share their love of reading and make recommendations, there’s still that element of choice and access where the child might not be finding what they need. It’s physically not present.”
Encourage a variety of genres and formats.
Novels are the standard many parents have in mind when they think of reading progress. If novels aren’t working for your child, don’t push it. There’s a whole universe of reading out there to explore before they find the book that’s just right for them — and finding a place to start can be intimidating.
“Some students are scared to try a book or genre they haven’t read before,” says Kimberly Bollinger, a 1st grade teacher in North Dakota. “This could be because they’ve been told what to read by others, so they don’t know how to select on their own.”
It’s important to remind your child that there are a variety of book genres and formats which might appeal to them.
“The more genres students are introduced to, the more likely they are to try new books and find something they like,” Bollinger says.
“You can find books related to their media interests,” Webber-Bey suggests. “Choose books that round out that world, and make it more three-dimensional.”
Series are another way to initiate and maintain reader interest. Children who find characters they like in the first volume are likely to stay on and see how these characters’ challenges unfold.
“Once you get yourself into a series and that world-building is there, and you’re invested in those characters, you don’t have to do it again,” Webber-Bey says.
What you want your child to experience with books is success — which, as Webber-Bey notes, is often qualified as finishing a book.
“Whichever books light them up, you want them to have that positive experience,” she says. “If your child is trying to get through something, and they do not experience success, then they’ll be hesitant to do it again. You can scaffold experiences for your child so they experience success with reading — not just joy.”
Once your child experiences success with a book, they’ll want to read more. That’s where series can be a powerful tool for propelling reading.
“Sometimes you’ll hear a kid say, ‘That’s the first book I ever finished,’” Webber-Bey says.
Check in with teachers to gauge current interests.
Teachers stress that communication with parents is key to tracking children’s developing interests. Checking in with your child’s teachers can help steer you toward books your child may enjoy — and prompt richer conversations about books at home.
“It’s a delicate balance between supporting your child and letting them choose, and families need additional support from their child’s teacher,” Malinowsky says. “Parents should communicate frequently with teachers about what their children are reading in school, their child’s current guided reading level, and what books they like to read in class.”
By honoring your interests and your child’s — and by grabbing a few extra titles for every one your child chooses when you’re picking out books — your child will reap the rewards of reading widely and frequently. They’ll also be sure to find something just right for them among the stacks.
“It’s truly a team effort to raise readers!” Malinowsky says.
Shop best-sellers across genres below to find that just-right book for your child. You can find more books and activities at The Scholastic Store.