Imagine this scenario:
Your first child is a precocious kid. She asks you to read aloud books like The Secret Garden or House at Pooh Corner when she’s barely four years old. She’s a bit of a slow learner when it comes to reading (which you happily blame on the school system in Mississippi), but by the end of first grade, she’s reading books like Junie B. Jones and The Magic Treehouse series to herself. She seriously takes off in second grade, and by third grade she’s devouring Harry Potter (all of them that were printed by that date, anyway) and anything else she can get her hands on. She progresses increasingly as she gets older; nothing is too difficult, to obscure, or too big for her.
Then along comes your second child. She’s not as precocious; she’s happy to have you read picture books aloud to her well into kindergarten. Eventually, she asks you to read Wizard of Oz aloud, but that’s pretty much all. She dabbles in Narnia and with Harry Potter, but is not enthusiastic about them. She learns to read faster than her older sister (different school system), and is also able to read Junie B. Jones and The Magic Treehouse books (as well as Clementine) by the end of first grade. And then… she stalls. Second grade, third grade go by and she really shows no sign of being interested in longer books. That’s not exactly accurate: she has discovered that she loves having longer books read aloud to her: Matilda, the Ranger’s Apprentice, Sisters Grimm and so on. But, she shows no sign of desiring to read ahead in the book (unlike her sister), to pick up the book on her own after you close it every night.
Obviously, this is based on personal experience, here: M is our “reader”, devouring books, sometimes as many as one a day. C is our extrovert: it’s not that she doesn’t like reading, or that it’s difficult for her. Rather, there’s better things that she wants to do with her time. And, to tell the truth, long books intimidate her.
I have thought about pushing C; M and I have thrust books at her, telling her that she’d LOVE this, that or the other. We’ve bribed her: the only way she read Order of the Phoenix was that we wouldn’t let her see the movie until she finished. But, I wonder about either of these approaches: I want C to love reading, and she’s not going to love reading if she’s forced or coerced or bribed to do it.
So, what to do? I’ve thought long about how to get C to enjoy what she’s reading, to be excited about books — long or short — and these are some of the ideas that seem to have worked for us.
1. Find a genre that your child is interested in. For M, we let her read the Harry Potter books over and over, and threw fantasy books at her as often as possible. Sure, we gave her other books to “branch out” but mostly we let her read where her interests were. For C, however, it’s not been so easy. She enjoys picture books, and still pilfers through our picture book piles every library day. So when I’m at the library, I pick up a few picture books with longer stories that I know C will pick up and read. Fairy and folk tales, books about girls her own age (Moxy Maxwell or Bobby Versus Girls, Accidentally), and general non-fiction, are also all things that she likes.
2. Try Graphic Novels. This was the big winner in our house. Graphic novels like Babymouse and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Dork Diaries and Ellie McDoodle, bridged the gap between early chapter books and more difficult middle grade books for C.
3. Don’t push it. You know the saying “at least they’re reading”? Think about that. Reading is not supposed to be a chore, it’s supposed to be fun. And if they LOVE reading Magic Treehouse (even though you think it’s crap), then let them read Magic Treehouse. Besides, if you push a kid to read something they’re not ready for they’re going to end up hating it (or at the very least, not getting much out of it). And that would be worse, I think, than them reading under their grade level.
4. Have someone else — a librarian, a friend, a teacher — suggest books. Sometimes, the reason your child isn’t progressing is because it’s coming from you, the parent. (Sad, but true.) There are other sources to get book recommendations. Have your child (not you!) talk to them, and get some ideas there. They might find something they really like. Included in this are fads, which are not always bad. Perhaps part of the reason M read Harry Potter was because everyone around her was reading Harry Potter. Likewise, C willingly reads and loves the Percy Jackson books because they’re popular right now.
5. In that same vein, try a parent-child book group. I’m not going to go into details, but rather send you over to Imagination Soup for some great ideas and reasons why this works, and works well.
Oh, and 6. Keep trying. Just because they don’t love Saffy’s Angel right now, doesn’t mean they won’t love it later. (We handed the book to her at the end of third grade; she could have read it because she read well enough. But she didn’t actually read the book until a month ago, and started it only because she couldn’t find anything else to read. She did like it, in the end.) Time and patience, as with everything, is the key.
Because, in the end, you don’t want to raise a precocious reader. You want to raise a child who loves books. Right?