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Get Their Noses in Books! Encouraging Reading for Elementary and Middle School Kids

Find ways to encourage even the most reluctant readers with these helpful suggestions.

On any given day, there are many posts in our communities from members looking for books for their children to read. Our parents want to encourage their children to read quality books, but this can be a tricky goal to achieve, especially once kids are reading independently. Amy Abella, former Head of Youth Services at Easttown Library and Information Center, offers suggestions in response to several challenges parents of elementary and middle school children often face related to reading.

My Child Doesn’t Like to Read.

Think about what things your child does like — or even what he’d rather do than read! Books can be another tool for your child to explore other interests. If he likes sports, select some books about sports or sports heroes. If she loves to dance, find ballet stories to read, or nonfiction books about dancers. Similarly, many popular video games have book counterparts. Also, don’t discount comic books or graphic novels. Your child may crave a more visual experience and these formats deliver that and inspire reluctant readers. Another option that may get your child excited about reading is shared reading in a parent-child book club with just you and your child, or other pairs of parents and kids.

My child is reading low-quality books or books below his level.

Abella reminds us, “It’s so much more important to be fostering a love of reading and yes, that means any reading.” Although they may look less rich than the classics you have in mind, the stories and characters in today’s graphic novels are well-developed and many such books have won awards and appeared on “best of” book lists. So, while you may wish your child would choose Lord of the Flies instead of Diary of a Wimpy Kid (or at least read a mix of these!), it’s most important that they are reading something.

My child won’t read anything I suggest, and I think he’s missing out on some wonderful books!

See this instead as an opportunity to empower your kids to choose their own books (and then hope they find those wonderful books on their own). Letting your child choose his own books will also likely grow his reading skills because he will read and comprehend more, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Teach your child how to search for books he will enjoy. Encourage him to ask the librarian or his teacher for suggestions. Go to the local book store and help your child ask staff for recommendations, or peruse the displays together. Or help your child use Amazon, Goodreads, or other websites to search for books. On Amazon, find more book ideas by looking up books your child has loved and see what people who bought that book also viewed or purchased.

My child just blew through a series she loved and now she isn’t reading at all.

Kids love series books and it’s a pleasure to see them get immersed in them. There are several resources you can use to help your child move smoothly from one series to the next:

  • Ask a librarian or book store salesperson for a suggestion for a similar series or more books by the same author.
  • The Chester County Library System offers NoveList, a database that suggests read-alike books and series and book lists for all ages. Other library systems may have something similar.
  • A simple Google search can produce suggestions for books that are similar to popular series.  For instance, here is a list of books to read for kids who loved Harry Potter.

I don’t really like to read, myself.

“The best way to raise a reader is to be a reader,” says Abella, “but it doesn’t have to be War and Peace to count.” Go with your child to the library or book store and ask for suggestions for yourself, and for books to read aloud with your children. Sign your children up for activities at the library, like STEAM classes, chess club, storytimes, and more. Just being around books will inspire them — and you!

In an excellent article about raising readers, the New York Times recommends stashing books and magazines in plain view all around your house so you and your children pick them up in free moments, and establishing reading time as a shared family activity, just like movie night or board game night.

For bookworm parents and those who’d rather veg in front of the TV, making sure our kids are capable, willing readers is an important task. Knowing how to guide your independent elementary or middle school reader to his or her next book is key to establishing reading as an ongoing habit. Happy reading!

For more tips, advice, and resources to prepare your family for the upcoming school year, check out the Main Line Parent Back-to-School Guide.

Photograph by Monkey Business Images/iStock.

Contributing Writer

  • Mary Ann Dove January 13, 2021

    I’m happy that my child actually reads (at least something). He’s a 100% fan of comic books and short fiction stories. And even if I think it’s lowbrow literature, I never complain about it. Maybe when he’s older he’ll be interested in other literature. And if I try to force him to read something else now, he might hate reading altogether.
    Your article has some really helpful and sound advice! You need to foster a love of reading, not a love of certain literature. A child should have a choice.