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Due to time pressures, I am unable to commit to reviewing books at the moment. However, please feel free to recommend or discuss by tweeting @MsTick68 or commenting on here. Thank you!

Friday 21 October 2011

Books to encourage reluctant readers

I've been asked several times recently by parents how to encourage children to read, and I thought I'd expand on this in something longer than a 140 character tweet or quick chat after lectures at University! I hope you find this helpful.

1. Continue to read to your children, even after they can read competently for themselves. Children's language comprehension skills often develop in advance of their ability to decipher words on the page; so they enjoy hearing adults or older siblings read books they can't yet read for themselves. From hearing stories read aloud they develop understanding of how books and stories work, and it can encourage them to persevere with reading.

2. Take your children to the library, and encourage them to choose anything that looks interesting. Allowing them to select fairly freely from the children's section will allow them to develop their taste and improve their ability to choose books that are likely to interest them. If they choose books that are a bit too difficult, you can read them with the child; if too easy this is fine- it will improve their confidence. Talk to the children's librarian if you can, and look out for story time, holiday reading clubs and other events which may encourage your child.

3. Allow your child to see you choosing books for yourself in the library, and read in front of your child. That is far more valuable on a day to day basis than seeing Premiership footballers read! This is particularly important for dads, as schools can be such feminised places. Allowing them to see reading as something that is enjoyable and a pleasure in itself rather than something stressful, can encourage them to read other than when they have to.

4. Series of books can be very comforting for child readers. I was a reluctant reader until I was about 7, but latched on to Enid Blyton's Secret Seven; I realised pretty quickly that they were pretty much all the same, but this was reassuring. Astrosaurs- space travelling dinosaurs- are great for 6-8 year olds, the glorious Mr Gum for 7-9-ish year olds (and 40-something University lecturers; I really can't read them on public transport due to loud cackles), and of course for older children there are a plethora of series. I particularly like Artemis Fowl, and Caroline Lawrence's Western Mysteries looks fantastic. I've written before about how Harry Potter got reluctant readers- particularly boys- reading in my classroom.

5. All reading is good reading. Comics and annuals- including those based on popular TV programmes and sport- were devoured in my classroom by children often reluctant to read books. The forthcoming Phoenix looks very exciting, and Bayard's comics that Zoe blogged about on Playing By The Book. There are some fantastic graphic novels for children too, like the Baker Street Irregulars by Tony Lee and Dan Boultwood, for 10-12 year olds. Since comics and graphic novels don't feel or look like graded readers from school, it removes one of the barriers for children reluctant to read.

6. Have a look at the Guardian's Children's Books site if you haven't already, with your children. There are podcasts and video clips of authors talking about their books and book reviews by children of children's books. There are competitions to win books as well! For older children, sites like Walker Books' Undercover Reads is great: book trailers and author information, which is also posted on YouTube.

7. Allow a space for reading. I'm the kind of person who could read in a whirlwind, but some children need a space with no distractions. Maybe an evening a week with no telly or computer, where the whole family reads?

8. Audiobooks can be a great support. Libraries again can be a great source. Some children enjoy listening to the audiobook alongside reading the book, while some may like listening to the story first then reading the book. Knowing the storyline allows children to make sense of the text, and if they enjoy the story, it will encourage them to persevere.

9. Collections of short, related stories can be more manageable than a novel. For younger children, Horrid Henry or Penny Dreadful are great, with lots of pictures to break up the text. For older children, Horowitz Horror and Geraldine McCaughrean's wonderful retelling of myths and legends are great reads.

10. Tap into their interests. Sport? Tom Palmer and Helena Pielichaty write great football and rugby stories for boys and girls. History? Well, the Horrible Histories and Philip Ardagh's fascinating historical list books. Sharks, dinosaurs, space, trucks, ballet, gardening, cookery... there are some amazing non fiction books out there. The Wonderwise Science-related picture books are great. Baking from a simple cookery books or following instructions to make something from a craft book can show children the purpose of reading for information.

Finally, apps and ebooks may or may not have an impact- but I have no experience of them, so I can't comment from experience. Nosy Crow's Cinderella app looks great, and I am quite excited about the possibilities of the Choose Your Own Adventure app- the original books were huge favourites with Y3 and 4 boys. In my experience this is the age that children may start to be reluctant to read independently, but spotting the furtive groups of boys huddling in the corners of playground swapping books was a delight in the 90s!

I hope that this is helpful! If you have any tips, please do post them.


  1. Great list of ideas here Ali. I'm definitely for offering comics/graphic novels, audiobooks and short stories. Sticking with it I'd say is important too. Even when it feels like you're not making any difference as a parent, it can all be adding up behind the scenes. Certainly I spent a year with M thinking "aah, I'm doing all the things I'm 'meant' to do and it's not making any difference" but then things suddenly clicked and she's picked up the ball and run away with reading.

  2. Thanks for commenting Zoe! I think you're right, with some children it takes time for the pieces to fit together, and it's easy for the reason we're doing this- reading as an aesthetic pleasure, joy and consolation as well as for the utilitarian aspects- to get lost in the process. And I think with the creative approach you've taken with your girls, the pleasure and joy aspects have survived!

  3. Fab suggestions there...

    My boys (one reluctant but able reader and one bookworm) also like Dirty Bertie (similar reading level to Horrid Henry) so that is another series of books for boys that might be worth looking at if you have boys.

  4. Thanks Elaine! Dirty Bertie looks like great fun.

  5. Hi,

    You might like to take a look at my books for readers 8 - 13.

    Max Elliot Anderson

  6. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five & Secret Seven books made me want to read (nothing else did) and my youngest grandson loved Horrid Henry. I’ve tweeted about your excellent list.

  7. Thank you so much Barbara! Good to see you back sharing lovely books that you've found. I think the comfort of knowing the characters and (to an extent) the plot line in a book is not to be underestimated in a young reader. It is reassuring knowing what to expect in a book when the act of reading is not always a pleasurable experience.