Today is World Book Day, a time to celebrate books and get books into the hands of children and teens. But what if your child, or a child you care about, isn’t a reader? How do you encourage them to pick up a book?
I have five children, the youngest turning 16 this year. They are all readers, but it didn’t come naturally to any of them. So how did they become readers? Let’s face it, forcing kids to read doesn’t make them love it. Often it will have the opposite effect, especially if they equate reading with work, such as reading for school. How do you help a child discover that reading is a wonderful journey, an escape that will take their imagination to amazing places, and help them learn more about themselves, other people, and the world around them? How do you get them to the point that they can come out of a great movie, sigh, and say, “But the book was better”?
I believe there are three very important factors. One, start keeping books in the house for kids far earlier than you think they would ever be interested in them. Read stories to them even when they’re too young to understand. Leave the books where they can touch them, hold them, and look through the pictures.
Two, find that one book that opens it all up for the child, the one special book that grabs them and pulls them into the lives and worlds of characters so well that they suddenly understand why people enjoy reading.
That one book, the key book, was different for each of my children. For my oldest, who hated reading, it was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. JK Rowling’s world pulled him in and I will be forever grateful. Son #2 refused to touch fiction until he read a novel based on a video game he liked, and that hooked him. Son #3’s key was the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket. Son #4 waited anxiously for each of the Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi to come out, quit reading again for a while, then graduated to the Ranger’s Apprentice books by John Flanagan and hasn’t stopped reading since. The Princess read sporadically until she discovered Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. It was the first book to give her an emotional reaction: it made her cry. She was hooked. Now she devours books, most recently by Neal Shusterman, Scott Westerfeld, and John Green. So…to start, recognize your child’s interests, what they pretend to be when they play, what sort of experiences entertain them, and find books that fit those criteria. Then it’s trial and error until they connect.
The third most important thing? Let them see you reading and enjoying it. A lady in my neighborhood once complained that her children refused to read and she couldn’t figure out how to get them interested in books. I asked if they saw her enjoying books, and I’ll never the dismissive way she said: “Are you kidding? I don’t have time to waste on reading.” She very actively sent a message to her children that reading had no value, at the same time as she prodded them to read. I’m sure they got the stronger of the two messages there. Teach by example, and let them see you enjoying books, whether hardcover, paperback, or on your e-reader. It really does matter.
What book triggered your child to read? And what are you reading today?