Help Your Child Find Appealing Books

Try these 10 ideas to promote reading and engage even a not-yet-passionate reader with books.

By Mary Sears




"There are no reluctant readers," proclaims Lisa Von Drasek, the effervescent children's librarian at Bank Street College of Education in New York, "just kids who haven't found their choice yet." Plug into her way of thinking, and you'll see your child's relationship to reading in a whole new light. She suggests these strategies for your not-yet-passionate reader:

  • Don't pressure him to read a certain something. Let him choose what he's going to read. Some kids will devour a World War II book, while others want The Sporting News or a teen magazine. "It's not the amount your child reads; high interest is what matters," says Von Drasek. "If your child likes to cook, get a pile of cookbooks from the library, become the chef's assistant, and let him make a meal once a week. Reading recipes is reading!"
  • Find out what others like. Perusing book reviews and book lists gives your child a chance to see what appeals to her. (Remember, to her, not to you.)
  • Book groups are great. Ask your child if he'd like to get together with some friends who like to read. Try a boy book group, a grandmother–grandchild book group, a book group at camp. Keep expectations low; meeting even once is fine! See what works.
  • Read everywhere, and read out loud! Have books, magazines, and newspapers on hand, and encourage your child to read the starting lineup, menus, maps, train schedules, tide tables, the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen, the list of flavors at the ice cream store, candy wrappers, street signs, weather warnings, nametags of waitresses, nutrition labels, billboards, music and movie reviews, CDs, the iTunes Web site, license plates, and signs at the city pool/ice rink/shopping mall — you get the idea.
  • Parents, make time to read. Don't expect your child to read if she never sees you reading. Be excited about books. "After you brush your teeth every night," says Von Drasek, "read for a while. It's as easy as that."
  • On vacation, brake for used-book sales, and check out the local independent bookseller. Talk to the salespeople. They probably have a different selection of books than you're used to, which may showcase a regional specialty or an interesting local author you may not know of.
    • In Shelburne, Vermont, children's author and illustrator Steve Kellogg lives nearby, so the Flying Pig Bookstore always has his latest books in stock, along with plenty about the Adirondacks, the Shelburne Museum (a block away), and Champ, the sea monster in Lake Champlain.
    • In Minnesota, discover books about Lake Minnetonka (after all, this is the "Land of 10,000 Lakes") and Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose Little House in the Big Woods is set on Lake Pepin between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
    • Bookpeople in Austin, Texas, will wow you with literary day camps, This Is Texas board books, "Keep Austin Weird" T-shirts (promoting local independent businesses), Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers, and Is This Forever or What?, an anthology of poems and paintings from Texas.
  • Listening is reading. Consider audio books, especially for kids who have trouble decoding the written word. The spoken word is as fascinating as theater, and may spark an interest in looking at the book. If you have children under 8, listen as a family. (Some kids learn to read by following the words in a book while listening to the story.) Teens and tweens may prefer to listen privately, with earphones (and that can be a very good thing!). For them, Von Drasek recommends The New Policeman by Irish author Kate Thompson and the futuristic Feed by M. T. Anderson. Many audiobooks can be downloaded right from the Web onto your child's iPod.
  • Recite poetry! On line at the amusement park? Riding in the car? In the waiting room at the dentist? Recite short snippets of poetry, especially nonsense poems, or story poems like "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." Von Drasek recommends Here's a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry gathered by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, Talking Like the RainA Read-to-Me Book of Poems by X. J. Kennedy (especially the Just for Fun section with classics like "How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck"), Douglas Florian's quirky animal poetry in Mammalabilia or Beast Feast, and, for a poetic look at sea creatures, Commotion in the Ocean by Giles Andreae and David Wojtowycz.
  • Be prepared for surprises. Von Drasek encountered a 7th grader "who'd been tested tested tested. There was nothing wrong with him; he just hadn't found anything he wanted to read. One day he spotted After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson on a shelf in my office. 'Are they allowed to write about this?'" he asked in wonder, taking it down and glancing through it. (It's the story of three Queens girls who bond over their shared love of Tupac Shakur's music.) After a quick inspection, he decided to check it out. Hooray!
  • Enjoy, then donate. Decide you're going to invest a certain amount in some fun reading, and then donate popular books to your child's school or public library for other kids to enjoy. "I only had to buy one of the last Harry Potter titles for the library," recalls Von Drasek. "The rest were all donations."
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