Thursday, September 1, 2011

I was a Reluctant Reader. There, I said it!

I’ve been hearing and reading quite a bit about reluctant readers lately.  I've found that some of the folks talking or writing about the subject weren’t reluctant readers themselves, but have children or know others who are.  I was a reluctant reader as a child so I thought I would address the topic from my perspective.

Come to think of it, I’m probably still a reluctant reader.  When I buy or borrow a book you can be sure that I have researched it thoroughly before taking the plunge.  I won’t just pick something up and give it a try because I know that I probably won’t get past the first few pages.  This has been true for a long time.

I remember reading the Dick and Jane books as a child, but I’m not sure those books count because they were required reading in my first few years of school.  And, yes, I read Dr. Seuss books and some of the other books that were popular, like Caps for Sale and the Curious George books.  If my memory serves me correctly, I remember that those books were just “okay.”  You’re probably upset with me right now and I’ll probably get some interesting comments for writing that.

I read those books because they were familiar and easy to read, not because I couldn’t put them down.  I read them because they were always easily available in my elementary school classroom, not because I always had to have a book in hand.  I read them because they were the books that the librarians propped up on the shelves, not because it was a read or die situation.  I’m not saying that they weren’t and aren’t wonderful books.  They have stood the test of time and are terrific books loved by all.  What I’m saying is that I was not a reader.  There were a few rare occasions when I picked up a book, like Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl or Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life, and read it cover to cover in one or two sittings but that was quite rare. 

What was wrong with me?  Nothing.  Who was to blame?  Not a single person.

I just preferred to play hopscotch outside with friends, play with Barbie Dolls, or watch television.  Some of you will recall that we used to do those things back in the dinosaur age… I mean in the 70’s.  I’m sure that my parents, teachers and librarians tried everything they could to spark a love of reading in me, but it just wasn’t happening.  The only time I ever thought about reading was when there was a reading assignment and a subsequent report due.  My thoughts were mostly of how horrible the whole ordeal would be.  What could I do about it?  Nothing, just read the book and do the assignment.  I disliked (we weren’t allowed to say “hated” in my family) every minute of it.
Does everyone like peas and carrots or jumping out of an airplane?  No.  So, is it possible that not everyone likes reading?  I know, it seems weird that I’m asking that, especially because I just wrote a children’s book!
Well, the truth is that we would all be very happy if everyone liked to read but the reality is that not everyone does.  Yes, reading plays a critical role in expanding vocabulary and comprehension, in unleashing imagination and creativity, and in growing curiosity in children.  The problem is that it can’t be forced on someone any more than you can force a person to eat their peas and carrots (believe me, my parents tried and somehow I always found a little hiding place for them) or to jump out of an airplane (my husband would like to try to convince me but knows better). 
So, what do we do?  We keep trying just like my parents, teachers, and librarians did because we want to give our kids the best we can.  It takes a bit of patience and some imagination to find the right fit for each child but if you can get that spark, it’s all worth it.
I’m not a teacher or a librarian and I certainly don’t play one on TV, but as a reluctant reader and the mom of a somewhat reluctant reader, let me give you some ideas that I’ve used successfully. 

1.      Books you enjoyed as a child:  Read to your child the books you enjoyed as a child or young adult.  Tell them why you liked the books, where you read them (in a fort you built in your room, for example), how you came upon the books, and who read them with you (mom, dad, grandma, grandpa).  

2.      Books that interest your child:  Always be ready to read books that interest them, even if they don’t necessarily interest you.  This one can be tough.  Remember it’s not about you; it’s about your child and that spark you want to create.

3.      Picture books and books with pictures:  When children are very young, picture books are wonderful because, while the child may not yet be able to read, the pictures are fun for little ones to look at.  They will probably memorize the story before they can read the words.  Once they are able to read the story, they will enjoy the book in a completely different way.  In a funny twist, small children may also like books that are not necessarily meant for children but that have colorful pictures.  You can relay the information in the text by tailoring it to their comprehension level.  Make up stories for the pictures until they are old enough to understand the actual text.

4.      Different genre:  Read all types of books with your child to find out which ones he or she likes best.  If one genre isn’t appealing, try something new as long as it is age and reading level appropriate.  Historical fiction, current events (even newspapers, magazines and on-line blogs or articles) and biographies may interest him or her.

5.      Sports and animals:  Children’s sports magazines with interviews of favorite athletes may encourage a child to read more about a particular sport or her favorite team member.  Likewise, animal magazines usually feature unusual creatures and their unusual lives.  It’s a fun peek into another world and a reason to find more reading material of the cool animals featured.

6.      School topics:  Find books or fun workbooks about topics your child likes in school like math or science.  Even fun workbooks require reading comprehension, writing and focus.  When the problems are fun to solve, they will most likely look for harder ones to challenge themselves.  Even young children like to peek under secret flaps or follow a winding road to find their favorite characters.

7.      Magic or science kits:  Magic and science experiment kits are a great way to get your hands on reading and a great way to show what you can do with a magic wand or a test tube.

8.      Comic books:  Age appropriate comic books are fun.  The pictures are detailed and engaging and allow children to escape to different worlds.  It’s fun to imagine living in a strange world of superheroes with superpowers.  Children may even be encouraged to write their own adventures.

9.      Mad Libs:  Fill-in-the-blank books like Mad Libs and others are a fun way to be silly and giggly.  They won’t even know they’re reading and… added bonus, writing.  They can even try to write their own fill-in-the-blank stories.

10.  Board games:  Play board games with age appropriate trivia questions.  If your child doesn’t know the answer, it can be fun to explore on-line or at your local library for the answer or to learn more about the topic.

11.  Cooking, crafting, exploring:  Find cooking or craft activities to do together or go exploring in your back yard with a bug book and magnifying glass or a telescope and astronomy book.

12.  Plays and movies:  Buy or borrow books of plays and help the kids put on a production for family and friends or make a movie.  Sometimes getting into costume can make reading fun.

13.  Scavenger Hunts:  Pick a theme, like movies, books, or video games, and hide items related to the theme.  Then write up some silly (and long-winded) clues or hints to where the items may be hidden and let the hunt begin.  Another great way to do a scavenger hunt is to give the kiddos a list of items and ask them to take pictures of the items (a mall, a park, and the beach are great places to do it this way).  Then, ask them to write a story about the pictures. You mean they'll be writing, too?  Now that's cool!  Another fun idea for a scavenger hunt/writing prompt all rolled up into one is here

Don’t stop there.  Ask your child’s teacher or librarian for more ideas, be a good example by reading books for pleasure, listen carefully to your child when he tells you why he likes or dislikes certain books, and relax and let him or her take the lead from time to time.  You never know… she may write a book some day! 
Until next time… stay cool!
Safety first!  Parents should always supervise children when working with science kits, cooking and crafting, or when going on-line.
Here are some resources you may want to check out:
Sports Illustrated Kids:

Zoo Books:


Mad Libs:

Comic book list by Imagination Soup Blog:

Show Me How! by Vivian Kirkfield.  With one hundred picture books, crafts and cooking ideas for young children.  Read my review here:

Free movie script for elementary school children:  Mama Mia Can't Believe Her Ears

Free plays at

Kid Lit Blog Hop


  1. Hi Martha,
    This is one of the best articles on helping children love books and love to read that I have EVER read. I am rushing to tweet it and post it to my Facebook!
    Thanks for including Show Me How as a are a very special lady.
    I don't know how I am not getting your posts emailed to me already...but I will fix that right away. Glad you liked my review of A Reel Cool really was really cool!

  2. Hi Vivian,
    Thank you for your comment. It really means a lot to me coming from you. I know you are on a mission to not only help parents build self-esteem in children but to help them spark that love of reading. Your book is a wonderful resource for parents and teachers of young children and I hope folks will pick up a copy soon!

  3. Martha, this post is awesome! I was researching the Inner Reading Voice last week to see if the lack of subvocalization caused some children to be reluctant readers. My sister was, and still is, a reluctant reader while I am the polar opposite. You clearly invested a lot of time in the article and I have just shared it on FB and Twitter. :) Thanks!

  4. Hi Leanne,
    Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my post. I'm honored that you felt strongly enough about it to pass it along. I hope it will help parents, teachers and others who work with children see it from the point of view of the reluctant reader. Even adult reluctant readers can help themselves by exploring their options!

    Thanks for all you do to spread the word about great books for children on your blog, Ahgoo Review!

  5. I loved reading your post. I am not a reluctant reader nor am I parent to one, so I may not be the best person to comment. However, I tend to agree with you about the "reluctant" label, because I have a reluctant soccer player, a reluctant ping pong player, and so on. Not everybody "likes" reading as a hobby. That being said, literacy is so important because it's tied to so many indicators of success (e.g., social standing, education, employment, etc.) The key is to finding that balance between pushing a child into reading, versus nurturing other interests. I loved your list of suggestions because it highlights that even "other" activities (e.g.,board games) touch on literacy. Loved your post!

    Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop. I'm now following you via email, GFC, and Networked Blogs. Hope to see you again next time! :)

    1. Hi Renee!
      Thank you very much for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed my post. I know that many parents become frustrated when their kiddos just don't want to read. I hope my list of suggestions gets them thinking about all the great (and sneaky) ways to get them reading! :)

  6. One other way to sneak in some more reading practice is to turn on the captioning when kids are watching TV or DVDs. It helps improve word recognition, reading comprehension, and a host of other skills! You can find out more on our site: