How James Patterson Got His Son Hooked on Books

Some kids need help falling in love with reading even the ones of best-selling authors! James Patterson shares the tricks that worked for him.
By Andrea Barbalich
May 14, 2013



May 14, 2013

"I hate reading!” Most of us have heard that dreaded phrase uttered from our kid’s mouth at one point or another. So has author James Patterson, a dad who’s spent his life writing chart-topping books. If a famous writer has trouble getting his kid to read, how are you supposed to do it? Easy. Steal the tough-love approach that transformed his son into a bookworm. 

Make reading non-optional 
“When my son Jack was 8, he wasn’t that turned on to books, so over the summer my wife and I said, ‘You’re going to read every day.’ He said, ‘Do I have to?’ and we said, ‘Yes, unless you want to sleep in the garage.’” Things like sitting down for dinner aren’t a choice for kids, they’re an obligation of family life. Present reading in the same way. That summer, Patterson went out and picked up books he thought Jack would enjoy. By the time school started, Jack had read a dozen of them, including seven or eight he really liked. Even better, his skills had skyrocketed.
Build it into the daily routine 
“Parents need to take a lot of the responsibility for inspiring a love of reading, as habits are built at home,” says Patterson. One simple way to do it: Borrow a school strategy. The Drop Everything and Read program is a great one. Kids and teachers alike spend a whole period each day reading for pleasure. We bet both you and the kids would grow to love even 15 minutes of quiet reading time after dinner each night! Schools in Washington, D.C., also have a cool reading program that requires kids to carry a book with them at all times. Stash a few in the car so you can break them out when you’re lounging at the park or waiting for an appointment. 
Remind them that everything takes practice 
“I’ll go into schools and ask, ‘Do you like soccer?’” Patterson recalls. “All the kids say ‘yes!’ Then I’ll ask them if they’re better now than they were three years ago. They’ll say yes, because they practiced. It’s the same thing with reading.” Remind kids that many things they love to do were hard at first, and then help create positive experiences. “They’ll need to read three or four books they connect with before their perceptions change from reading is difficult to reading is awesome.”
Select great stories
Look for books that jump right into the action. Kids can get frustrated if there’s a long windup. Read the first chapter yourself, and if you’re not wanting more, put it down. Also, don’t be afraid of pictures. “These are not dumbed-down books,” says Patterson. “They’re more accessible and they really move along. Kids are in a world that moves quickly, and that’s what they want.” Look for things that are popular and fun. (Check out the reading lists on for ideas.) The classics can wait until they’re hooked on books!
Top Picks for Middle Readers, Patterson’s website, offers an age-by-age guide to choosing books your child will love. A few of his favorites for ages 8 and up:
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
Real-world fiction
Chomp by Carl Hiaasen
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Raising Kids
Age 13
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