Reading is an important skill, one a child will use all through their entire life. It will not only help them in school, but it will also help them working their way through achievement tests, getting into college, graduating from college, and making a success of their chosen career. But how do you get a child reading? And how do you choose books that are both appropriate for the child’s level and are of interest to him or her?
The following is a list of the most common ways to get just the right book into your child’s hands (or for a teacher to suggest a book to a student for independent reading):
- Ask for recommendations. Talk with other parents, or your child’s teacher, and find out what books other kids their age have enjoyed; suggest some of these. You can also ask a librarian what books they see kids reading a lot, in case any particular one is of interest to your child.
- Check the book lists. Every year, the American Library Association publishes a list of Notable Children’s Books assembled by its Association for Library Service to Children division. The list is a great source of high-quality reading recommendations.
- Introduce the idea, as early as possible, that we have a purpose for reading, even if that purpose is simply to enjoy ourselves with a good story. Ask your child what he feels like reading today, and then ask him why. The “why” will help you gain information into how his mind works and some of his areas of interest. With older children, you can make the distinction between fiction and non-fiction when choosing, again asking them to explain their choice.
- Determine whether or not the book is written at the child’s level. A commonly stated rule (one supported by the librarians at the Aspen Hill Library in Montgomery County, MD) is that if there are five or more words your child doesn’t know on a single page, the book is too difficult for them to handle independently (you can always choose to read the book aloud and discuss the unknown words when you come to them). Proper nouns (character names, places, and similar words) do not count toward the “difficult” words, and sometimes a child can read more challenging books if they are on a familiar topic, because they already know some of the specialized vocabulary. Another option, if you already have a sense of the appropriate level, is to use mobile apps that match a child’s reading level to items found in book databases.
- Follow an author, a genre, or a topic. If your child has enjoyed one book by a given author, see if it is part of a series, and read the next part. If there is no second book, another book by the same author may still be a good choice, as the child may like the writer’s style. If your child likes a particular genre (i.e. history, sports, science fiction), look for other books in that niche; the familiarity with the subject may help boost the child’s comprehension of the new material.
- Give the child the ultimate decision about which books they’re going to read. If the child is interested enough to want to take a book home, the chances are very good that they will want to sit down and read it. Don’t be too fussy if a book seems too short, easy, or has pictures in it; the goal here is to get the child reading and enjoying the experience. In fact, graphic novels (stories told in comic book form) are a great way to entice a reluctant reader; you can then slowly transition to books that contain fewer pictures.
- Let the child know it’s okay if he doesn’t like a book; adults don’t like everything they read, either. Use the experience as an opportunity to understand more about his reading skill level and his preferences. Go back to the library or book store and let him browse for something that looks more appealing.
- Ask questions. Libraries and book stores usually group books based on the reader’s skill level, and that information may be printed on the back cover, but don’t be afraid to ask for more information. Librarians know a lot about books, what’s age-appropriate, and what’s trending among same-level kids. The more you and your child know about a book before he reads it, the more likely the reading experience will be a success.