Getting kids to read more and better books

I really hate the mantra that it doesn’t matter what kids read, as long as they’re reading. Of course it matters. I know we can do better than that, and I know how important it is to lay a deep, strong foundation of good ideas, powerful words and images, and memorable scenes and characters. Unfortunately, most of the books that are popular in my kids’ social circles don’t have any of these things.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Boy and Book via PublicDomainPictures.net

12 thoughts on “Getting kids to read more and better books”

  1. My kids still like me to read aloud sometimes (no screens allowed for listeners–they usually draw or color) especially on car trips. Recently I started Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh–great adventure story! even for adults!–on a car trip, and my 15-yr-old, 14-yr-old and 11-yr-old all wanted to hear the rest after we got home. The 7-yr-old wanted to hear it, too, but we read after her bedtime. Other family-wide hits have been One Hundred and One Dalmations (the original novel, by Dodie Smith), The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye, Bunnicula by James Howe, By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman and of course The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia.

  2. I used to do this back in my English teacher days. I had a student who I knew would LOVE Dostoyevski but wanted to do her senior project on Victor Hugo because she’d never read a book she loved more, so I told her she could choose whichever she wanted after reading “Brothers Karamazov” while I, as my part of the deal, would read “Les Miserables.” Then she could write her essay on whichever she chose. She chose Dostoyevski, as I expected. I never regretted the deal, though I still think Brothers K is a MUCH much better book.

    1. What?? I love Dostoyevski (my mom minored in Russian lit, so we were exposed early and often…), but Les Mis has an awful lot going for it too.
      Usually combox fights are awful, but Les Mis vs. Bros. K could be fun. 🙂

      1. Oh, nothing against Les Mis; it’s a very well done thing of its genre.
        But its genre is melodramatic potboiler – albeit from a time when melodramatic potboilers were written with a whole lot more literary skill than the contemporary equivalent. But still, it can’t be compared to Brothers K, in my opinion anyway.

        If my student had been less gifted, I would have left her to go ahead with Les Mis for her essay; it’s just that she was a student who should be reading a great book rather than just a pretty good book.

  3. For some unknown reason my kids have never gotten into Captain Underpants, but I know he’s huge because whenever I’ve volunteered at our school library he’s been a hot ticket item. A few of my kids are passionate Percy Jackson fans and I’ve tried to find something they’d love as much but I haven’t had any success(Not even with other Rick Riordan series). This summer I’ll probably just be happy to get them through their summer reading lists and not worry about what they’re (not) reading beyond that.

    1. Most of my kids are excellent readers, but some of them don’t read so much for enjoyment as for information. It’s a pattern that began when they were very young. The ones who enjoyed Dr. Seuss as babies still seem to get enjoyment from words and how they’re strung together. The kids who as little ones favored books about about trucks, farm animals, and dinosaurs are more likely today to be reading a Pokémon reference book than a novel. I figure it’s just the way God made them. Between the ridiculous 400 problems in their summer math packets and their summer reading assignments I can’t imagine Mom required homework, but I really would LOVE suggestions of good books for tween and young teen boys that I could leave lying around the house to be discovered without any prompting from me on some lazy, rainy day.

      1. I found an excellent trilogy for boys (and girls, and mothers and fathers who like to read . . .): Airborn, Skybreaker, and Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel (Airborn Trilogy?). I recommended it to a friend whose son has always been fascinated with machines and how things work, and had to be forced to read. After he had finished Airborn he said it was his favorite book ever, and he read the other two.

        The main character is a cabin boy in an airship (book’s kind of steampunkish, but more realistic than fanciful) and he absolutely loves and is fascinated by this amazing machine that he lives and works on. I personally have almost zero interest in any kind of machinery, and I have never read any other book that helped me participate in that love and fascination so well. Not to mention it’s just a rip-roaring adventure. Sky pirates! Cryptic clues from dead/missing relatives! Spunky girl to help hero get in trouble! And smarts and courage triumphing over raw power. And that’s just the first book–great stuff.

        1. Thanks Leah Joy! I went ahead and ordered the first one. We’ll see how it goes. I once had big hopes for other books but I couldn’t get anyone to crack them open. At least not yet. Probably if I threw out all the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books there’d be a better chance. I think one of the main purposes of encouraging my kids to read is so that they can flex their attention span muscle and Diary of a Wimpy Kid is just the worst for that.

  4. Working on both more and better here too! I’ve been trying to give choices, but limiting them to “read one of these (5-10) books I’m offering you.” So they feel that they have some freedom, but aren’t reading trash. And almost invariably they end up enjoying what they’ve picked out (from among the options I present). An on-going struggle…
    I would love to hear the results of your experiment! And what you’re having them read.

  5. I would love to know what you picked and they picked and even a few sentances on why you picked what you did and if they liked it and what their books were about and if you liked them, either ongoing or an end of summer wrap up.

  6. Hmmm, I like it. I may have to try that. My eldest (10) has gotten hooked on American Girl books, which aren’t exactly objectionable and all her friends read them… but they’re just lame. I remember reading Babysitters Club books at around that age since no one my age liked Tolstoy’s 23 Tales; having some connection point with other kids wasn’t a bad thing, but I could tell my reading ability went down exactly as you described.

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