Recently I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the disconnect between the amount of help that kids feel they want or need finding good books to read, and the degree to which parents underestimate that need.
I was talking in Instagram Stories recently about this graph from the Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report and someone sent me a message to say that she does a lot of research and still finds that her kids reject A LOT of her suggestions. YES! They do that. And when they do, it can feel like they don’t REALLY need help. But, you know what? They do!
To be honest, it took me a little while to get to the point where I can embrace book rejection. For a long time, I took it really personally. You know that friend who says she wants advice on what shoes to wear with a certain outfit, and you give her your opinion, but then she just keeps debating and trying on different shoes? That’s my kids and books. Maybe every kid and books. It stings a little to suggest the PERFECT book, the book you just know they’ll love based on three booklists, two websites and four librarians’ confident recommendations, only to have them wrinkle up their nose and shrug it away. They just need to be in a certain mood on a certain day; it’s nothing personal. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t want your help. NEED your help. It just means you have to get used to a lot of rejection.
So let’s just first acknowledge that you’re not doing anything wrong if you check out a bunch of books from the library and your kid is only interested in one or two of them. And certainly, spending time talking with your kids about what they like and don’t like in books, doing research through books like The Read-Aloud Handbook or The Read-Aloud Family, and getting recommendations from reading friends and expert librarians will help you make better suggestions for your kids. Of course, do your research. But after that, here are some strategies I’ve found to help get my kids to give those books a chance.
1) Check out a LOT of books from the library. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will check out a LOT of books for my kids, and they will be interested in only a few of them. The good news is, the library lets me have all those books for free, so since I’ve come to terms with book-rejection from my kids - that’s really okay with me. If I have to check out 40 books to get my kid to read two, that’s okay. But if I have to check out 40 books for him to read two, and I actually only bring home 5, chances are good that he won’t find any in my short stack that appeal to him. Over time, as we both get to know what makes him REALLY want to read a book, my “hit” rate will improve.
ALSO, it’s okay to recommend books that are a little outside his comfort zone, but still have something in common with the books he loves most. I mean, eventually he’s going to run out of sports books by former professional athletes (ahem!), and we need to be inching into new territory before that happens.
2) When you bring back your stack of books from the library, read the back blurbs OUT LOUD (but if you followed Suggestion One, not all at once!). Don’t advocate for your favorite (that’s a jinx) - just read the backs. I find my kids rejecting books because they look too long, or the cover picture doesn’t grab them, and they just skim the cover blurb and reject it. But the job of the cover is actually to grab them and hook them in, so just read the blurb out loud and let it do its own work. BUT STILL… don’t let it bring you down if it doesn’t work.
3) Take a vote on your next family read-aloud. You may have heard me talk about this before, but here’s a step-by-step of how it works:
- I bring out seven or so strong contenders for our next family read-aloud. The key here is, I wouldn’t mind reading any one of them aloud, but I also specifically choose 2 or 3 with each of my kids in mind, hoping that they will want to read them independently.
- I read the back cover of each book out loud, and maybe the inside flap. If there are illustrations, we look at them together, and then I highlight any obvious connections between the book and my kids’ known book preferences (you know, just a little bit of subtle salesmanship…“Oh, this reminds me of that book we read last month!”)
- Then we vote. To make it less complicated, I give my kids each three “votes,” but to reduce the possibility of ties, it’s actually a ranking system. For each kid, first choice = 3 points, second choice = 2 points, and third choice = 1 point. I total the points each book receives, and the winner is our next read aloud book!
- Now here’s where the real “trickery” comes in: everyone identified THREE books they are interested in, but we’re only reading ONE together. Guess what? They’re all welcome to read those other books on their own! This has been a really successful way of jump-starting independent reading, especially for my older kids.
4) Start a book as a read-aloud or buddy read. If there’s a book that I can’t seem to get a particular kid interested in but I just KNOW would be a great match IF ONLY he would give it a try, I read the first chapter or two (or more!) with or to him. Just until I get him hooked. Then he’s off to the races. I’ve even been known to read a whole first book of a series aloud to give someone a running start.
If all that fails, I write the name of the book down, why I thought it would be a great fit for which kid, and I let it sit in the library book basket until its due date. Then I take it back to the library…for now. It may come back later, and it may not. And if all else fails and I just know they’ll love it…there’s always family read-aloud. We’ve found some of our family favorites that way. :)
There you have it: some of the things that have been working for me lately. So let's hear it - what are your best tips for getting your kids to give new books a try?