How to Turn Kids into Readers

Josie Leavitt -- January 5th, 2015

As the first week of the new retail year begins today, I had some thoughts/wishes for the year. There are always conversations that occur at the bookstore that make me realize helping children become readers is hard work. Not just teaching kids how to read, but creating patterns where books are vital to their lives. I realized that there is a lot of shame with reading and our job as booksellers is to mitigate that shame with joy.

– Let kids read “younger” books, sometimes.. There is a struggle between parents who want their kids KidsReadingto thrive and often that means reading far above grade level, and the kids who sometimes want to read something just for fun. I say, allow kids to read a full mix of books, just like their parents do. There is a lot of depth to picture books and chapter books. And, just because a child can read or is starting to read doesn’t mean it’s time to throw away the picture books. Reading levels can be a real trigger for some families. I’ve had customers say almost sheepishly, “Well, she’s just reading on grade level.” No, she’s reading exactly where she’s supposed to. When did it become almost shameful for a third grader to be reading at the third grade level?

– Allow – in fact, encourage – rereading if a child seems into it. As someone who never reread anything as a kid, I’ve not quite understood the whole rereading concept, but many children are comforted by spending time with their favorite characters again, so let them. We repeat patterns in our lives to master them, so there is a reason a child is drawn to the world of Harry Potter (or Redwall, or whatever) over and over. Obviously, if no new books are being read in the mix, that could be a problem, but a little rereading is a healthy thing.

– Let children talk directly to the booksellers. We are all good at talking to kids. Sometimes, kids are shy and need more time to get to know a bookseller before they’re comfortable. Give us the space to talk with your child. Look at other books in the same section, or browse for yourself while we try to find your kid the right book. Obviously, if the kid is struggling at conversation, by all means leap in, but helping a child talk about his or her needs as a reader is a vital part of becoming a lifelong reader.

– It’s okay to not like a book. I was a picky reader as a kid and my mom allowed me to just put down some books (not school books, though – I always had to finish those!) as long as I replaced the discarded for something else. I’ve always felt that finishing a book “no matter what” can be a real turn-off to reading enjoyment. I was taught to give every book at least 75 pages, and then put it down for a week, then pick it up again and see if I felt differently.

– Make reading fun. Too often reading has become a chore because it’s schoolwork. Kids often associate reading with needing to do a report/essay/project. Creating work for every book finished at school (I was certainly never a fan of the trip-fold poster about my latest book) tends to make some kids shy away from reading. We need to find a way to let kids know pleasure-reading is a good thing and hopefully the high schoolers still have time in their very busy days for it.

Here’s the thing that is resonating with me about kids and reading: it’s all about joy. As adults in kids’ lives, our role, I think, isn’t about advancing reading levels but sharing the absolute delight in reading. The best way for kids to become readers is to be surrounded by readers who are passionate about books. Encourage discussion about all books. Ask kids why a picture book seems more appealing, or why they want to reread a series. Talk about your struggles with your current book. We all needed guidance to become readers and talk about books.

I hope 2015 is filled with great books for you and your family.

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