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:
tips to help your child read more widely
- 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!
I struggle with this – my almost 10-year old loves Harry Potter. He reads nothing but HP, and while it’s great that he loves them, there’s so much out there that he’s not reading because he’s got his nose back into HP for the 6th time (not an exaggeration; I’ve possibly under-reported).
My husband tells the story of the time he was reading Redwall as a kid and his dad saw and suggested he pick up some books with more serious literary merit to them. It totally killed his reading momentum. He never really got into reading after that. ? Let kids read what they want and they’ll be much better off for it.
Also, this is probably a strange request but can Bart do a post on what high fantasy he likes? Those are my bread and butter. ? And, as long as my TBR pile is, I’m always looking for more good recommendations.
Ooh, I would love high fantasy recommendations. That’s a genre I’ve never read.
I don’t have kids, but I like to think I read pretty widely (and I’ve read a majority of the classics – I was one of a few students in high school who actually read the books) and branch out whenever I can. I have two suggestions for this: one, take them to the library and turn them loose. Let them pick what appeals to them and I bet they branch out naturally. Two, Goodreads has a feature where you can put in a book title and then on the right hand side of the screen it suggests books that are similar to that. I’ve found that my suggestions come from all different genres, so if you start logging the books, it’ll start generating suggestions (and giveaways to win freebies!).
Leslie @ Leslie's Bookcase says
Nice post and tips here. My 3rd grader loves to read…Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dog Man series (these are pure comics LOL!!), some Minecraft diaries, Big Nate, Stick Dog series…you get the picture. He’s a really good reader but I can’t get him to read anything that does not have comics or pictures on the pages. I bought him Harry Potter a long time ago, and he won’t read it, ugh! And he will read these same books OVER and OVER. This has been a struggle for me but like you said, I’ve been mostly letting it go. At the end of the day I love that he loves to read even if it isn’t what I would choose.
I love the idea of reading the first two chapters together. Looking back, I can see that’s what my parents did with me, and it carried on into my school years. Luckily for me, my parents were also SUPER patient with the books I wanted to read. They’d let me talk about them for hours, which supported me in my interest and my love of reading!
Thanks for the tips!
Janssen Bradshaw says
I’m so glad they were helpful!
Lindsey Sanders says
I’ve used many of your suggestions with my kids and they definitely help. I try to be patient and let them read what they want for the most part. I get to pick our read aloud books and even if they wouldn’t have picked they always seem to love them. If I have a kid really stuck and I feel that they need to branch out I let them get what they want at the library but then they have to pick one book that isn’t (diary of a wimpy kid or big nate!) The usual stuff. Lastly, and I don’t know how it this is a good idea or a bad one, but I totally bribed my 10 year old with 5 bucks to read Harry Potter because I just knew he would love them if he tried them!
Have a family book club! I started this when my boys were in elementary school and we went through high school. We’d usually rotate who got to pick the book, or I’d pick something I thought they would like if they didn’t want to make suggestions (I have odd kids sometimes). And I’d honor that — one time when one boy was complaining about reading I picked a super-short book for his turn and he really appreciate it. I started the “club” while we were slowly transitioning out of bedtime read-alouds so they were used to the idea of rotating whose turn it was to pick the book.
I have a small family so we’d go out for sushi on book club night (a big treat), but if money was tight we’d just have a special dinner at home, and then we’d talk about what we liked or didn’t like. And for a while we would do this with the whole extended family at Christmas, which was also fun. (I think we did The Thief by Turner one year, and Unwind when most of the kids were teens, and I’m pretty sure we did The Hobbit while the movies were coming out and Gramma took us out before the meeting so it was a book vs movie discussion.)
Tiffany Locke says
Your advice to recommend books to them in a more low-key way so that they don’t feel pressured and to talk about the plot and why it’s interesting is a great idea. When doing this it could help to find plots and characters similar to ones in the other series they read, such as finding various types of adventure books from fantasy, non-fiction, or even mythology if they have enjoyed a series about adventures from one of the other genres. I’d imagine that it could even help to visit a bookstore with them to give them time to browse through any that look interesting or to check the ones that have been recommended to them from you and other people.
Emily W. says
As a former school librarian, myself, I totally second the read-aloud idea! I increased checkouts of several authors that way—widely appealing authors, just unknown to my students. I also found that by picking up the books they were reading and letting them see me give it a try, they were more likely to trust my recommendations. When I recommended books, I tried to find a piece in it that related to what they did like and sneak that into my spiel without being “oh it’s just like ….”.
Personally, I was that kid that if I was bored enough, and it was a book, I would read it. I would always start the school year by reading what I thought looked/sounded interesting in my teachers’ classrooms, and would typically end the year having read 90% of their libraries. (There were always some books that even I wouldn’t touch! Usually horror.)
One thing I did with my daughter when she was about 14 is asked her to read a couple short books that I had recently read. I explained that once she finished them we would discuss the likes and dislikes, etc. These books were way out of the normal fantasy genre that she preferred. After she read the first one we had a very good discussion. The second one she was eager to discuss because she had so much to say about it. We continued this path for about 2 years and then she started making a list of books she wanted to get when we went to the used bookstore.