If you’re a reader, there’s nothing more important than developing a love of reading in your kids. If you’re not sure how to do that, Anne Bogel from Modern Mrs. Darcy has a great post about fostering that love of reading in your children and I highly recommend it as a place to start. But what about finding those books for your kids? How do you find books your kids will love? As I former reading teacher, I firmly believe all kids can love reading with access to the right books, but it may take some digging on your part. Here’s my best advice:
- Play detective. Pay attention to what your kid is interested in. What do they like to play with, talk about, draw and pretend? Those are some great clues about interests that can help you in finding books that connect with your kids. My older son is all about epic pretending and make-believe. He loves to dress up and uses his imagination for all things (including eating dinner, which drives me a bit crazy) but it’s who he is. When I needed to start thinking about books for him, I looked at his interest in adventure and story to inform my choices about books. My younger son, on the other hand, plays differently. He is obsessed with dogs and animals and is much more tuned into people’s feelings and emotions. I know he’ll resonate differently with books because of his personality and interests.
- Be observant. How does your child interact with books? Do you have a quiet kiddo how loves to look at a stack of picture books, or do you have an active wanderer who listens attentively while you read aloud but needs to keep her/his body moving? I’ve got one of each and it makes me think differently about how I’ll present books to them. I can leave out a stack of new books from the library for my quiet reader and I need to think about audio books or read aloud experience for my other son.
- Google is your friend. I have found so many great recommendations just by Googling books. This is especially easy once I find one book that has been a hit. I tend to use search terms like “children’s lit” rather than “kids books” since it brings more pages from libraries and book blogs rather than big publishers like Scholastic (who have their merits, but I don’t typically find their recommendations helpful). Check Goodreads for similar titles to a book you’ve just finished. With so much online it’s pretty easy to find more titles that relate to something your kiddo is interested in. Lots of teachers and children’s librarians have already put together curated lists on a huge range of topics, so take advantage of them.
- Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to try wordless picture books, graphic novels, audio books, or e-readers. Sometimes a new format sparks interest in reluctant readers who are feeling a little intimidated by traditional books. Kids are never too young for picture books, so keep finding interesting titles that speak to your kid’s interests, even when they’re reading big thick chapter books. Don’t forget about non-fiction titles either. Some kids need a very specific purpose for reading, and learning a new skill or solving a problem might be just the motivation they need to tackle a book. Let your kids experience reading in a variety of ways and don’t focus on grade level or reading ability. Great print-rich environments help kids get ready (when THEY are ready) to read. Books should be an enjoyable experience, especially at home.
- Use Your Library. When you’re trying out books it’s like going on a million blind dates and you can’t afford to pay for all of those! Take full advantage of trying a huge variety of things with your library card. I also am a huge fan of the hold system. It’s so overwhelming to go and browse and often times you can’t judge a book in the few seconds you’ve got to thumb through it before your kids start throwing the puppets (no…this doesn’t happen to you?). I spend time online and look for quality titles I want to check out and then show up and have my holds waiting for me. Do we still spend time at the library? Absolutely! But not for looking for books. My kids can each pick out a few titles that they are drawn to and we’ll spend some time reading or playing at the library but I do the majority of my browsing at home so I can make sure we come home with quality books.
- Model your reading process. Make sure you’re reading in front of your kids, but also make sure you’re talking about how you select books. Our kids need to see that we don’t always have to finish something if it’s bad or not a good fit. Talk with your kids about trying things (we say to always give a book a 2-3 page test) and show them when you do that with your own books.
- Always offer choice. My kids each have a big basket of books that I’ve either chosen for them or they’ve helped select and it sits at the end of their bed. Most of these are library titles and then they have some beloved favorites we own as well. If that basket is empty, no reading is happening so it’s my job to keep it full. But it also is my kiddo’s job to choose for themselves. If I force a book, it won’t go over well, but if the books are in close proximity, I know there’s reading happening. For Type-A mommas this one can be hard, but I promise if you fill the basket (or bag or shelf) with good stuff, you’ll have a reader who develops their own sense of independence and that’s a great thing!
- Don’t Give Up. Don’t be discouraged; kids are weird! They’re also changing constantly, so don’t get frustrated when the short phase you’re in doesn’t look like you thought it would. Kids learn and develop at different rates so do not compare your kid reading I Spy Easy Readers with Sally down the street, who just completed Book 7 of Harry Potter. Focus on meeting your kid where they are and keep it casual. I promise that if you keep books around, pay attention to what your kid loves, and are patient, you’ll find yourself raising a reader soon enough. Keep reading part of the culture of your family and it won’t go unnoticed by your kids.
For booklists, I’m always impressed with Erica’s from What Do We Do All Day? She’s got a variety of themes, ages, and types of books all sorted into curated lists. It’s an excellent resource if you need a place to start.
So what books do your kids love? What winners have you found that go you a big mom/dad high five? If you’re stuck and need some suggestions, leave a comment and I’ll help you pick some titles for your little readers!