Do you have a child who only wants to read the same kinds of books?
Sometimes it’s a genre they aren’t interested in branching out from (they only want to read graphic novels or fantasy books or non-fiction) and sometimes it’s a particular series they are obsessed with (like those Rainbow Magic books or Diary of a Wimpy Kid).
As the parent, you know they’re missing out on so many great books but they refuse to try them even though you’re certain that if they’ll give it a chance, they’ll love it.
So how in the world do you get them to give other genres or authors or titles a try?
Here’s what I’ve experienced: most people grow up and read what they want to read. Without the pressures of school or parents to guide their reading, they pick up what appeals to them and they read that.
It’s going to be the rare adult that really pushes themselves outside their reading comfort zone (how many of you have had great plans to read a bunch of classics and then somehow you never have any reading time, but when a bestseller everyone is talking about comes out and it sounds super fun, you miraculously find 10 hours to blaze through it in a week? Me too).
In my case, I read a fair amount of non-fiction, contemporary women’s fiction, middle grade novels, and the occasional historical fiction. I’ll admit that I don’t read tons of classics, poetry, mysteries, or thrillers. Bart reads business non-fiction or high fantasy.
Most of us just like what we like.
Take a step back and think about what your real goal for your child’s reading life is.
Do you want them to love reading?
Do you want them to have read all the childhood classics?
Do you want them to be widely read?
My number one goal for reading is to help my children love reading. I want them to see themselves as readers, and be strong and confident readers. And I really hope that they get to experience that transporting reading magic I’ve discovered over and over again when you’re sucked into a book so good you would rather read than do anything else, including eat or sleep.
The best way to become a more fluent reader is to practice reading and the easiest way to practice is by reading something you actually want to be reading.
I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about children who were slow, reluctant readers and then, when they found a book that really gripped them, whether it was Harry Potter or a non-fiction book about a sport they loved, they were willing to work through it without any coercion from their parents or teachers.
And the best way to turn your child off to reading is to push them too hard to read something they don’t have any interest in or cut them off from books they’re really enjoying.
Basically, if your child has found something they love reading (and it’s not wildly inappropriate), I wouldn’t worry too much about letting them read it.
All of that said, if you’d like to help them broaden their horizons, there are some really good methods to do so that don’t include you handing them a book you know they don’t want to read and them ignoring your request or feeling guilty that they aren’t reading it.
Try a few of these out and see what happens:
- Audiobooks. Of COURSE I was going to say this. But when you’re locked in the car and there’s nothing else to do, an audiobook is a great way to introduce a new book you think they’ll love and help them get over that first chapter or two hump (even as a strong, lifelong reader, I often find that first chapter of a new book hard to get through as you learn all the new characters and setting and plot). Even if they’re just staring out the window, I bet you’ll be surprised by how much they pick up.
- Read it aloud to them. Whether you say, “Hey, come make some paper airplanes or play with Legos or draw while I read aloud to you” or you just start reading aloud while they’re in the room, it’s much easier to listen than it is to read a new book you don’t want to read. And most children enjoy being read to even as they get older, especially if you keep it short (10 minutes at a time is plenty!) and don’t make it a big production. Casual is key! (This actually has happened in our family – I’ve been reading aloud to the girls before bed for the last several months, but last month, Bart started joining in because he didn’t want to miss out on being with the girls and then. . . he was dying to know what happened in A Return to Christmas and he was asking to read aloud while I made dinner).
- Read the first chapter or two together. Since it’s usually those first couple of chapters that are rough, read the first few together, even if you don’t plan to read the whole book aloud. Then you can point out the characters that are important or give them an overview of where the plot is going. When Ella and I read the first Harry Potter together in 2016, I was kind of surprised by the first chapter and how it takes a bit of time for the real story to get going. I’ve read Harry Potter so many times, that it was hard for me to remember what it’s like to read that first chapter without all the background knowledge and love for all things Harry that I have after all these years.
- Swap books. Make a deal that if they read a book you want them to read, you’ll read one they want you to read. If you want to die a little of boredom at the thought of slogging through a Captain Underpants novel, you’ll have more empathy for how they feel when you push a book on them.
- Keep it positive. Don’t keep pushing and pushing until everyone just feels miserable or defensive. Mention it in a low-key way. Tell them you were remembering a book or are reading a book you think they’d like. Tell them a little about the plot and the characters and why you liked it. Suggest you read the first chapters together. Or ask if they want to try it out and let you know after two chapters what they think. Reading should be fun and enjoyable – try not to surround it with lots of pressure and stress.
- Being willing to give up on a book. This is one of the things I mention in my Raising Readers course and I get SO many emails about it saying, “Thank you for the permission to ditch something that’s not working!” I know it feels so wrong to give up on a book (doesn’t it feel like you’re teaching your child that it’s okay to be a quitter?) but no one wins if you just are all suffering through and not enjoying it. And sometimes a book you remember fondly from your own childhood is. . .not as awesome when you re-read it. Let your child know that sometimes you’re wrong about a book and that it’s okay to let it go and find something better next time. Plus, if you let your child know that you aren’t going to force them to finish the whole book if they hate it, they’ll likely be more receptive to trying out a new book.
If you have tips for how to help your child branch out to new books and genres, I’d love your advice too!