9 posts categorized "Beginning Readers" Feed

Little Critter Bedtime Stories and We Are Moving: Mercer Mayer

Books: Little Critter Bedtime Stories (6 paperbacks included)
Author: Mercer Mayer
Pages: 24 each
Age Range: 3 - 5

I'd seen Mercer Mayer's Little Critter books around, of course. There are dozens of them. But I'm not sure I had read any until the Bedtime Stories boxed set arrived on our doorstep recently, along with a standalone copy of We Are Moving. I must admit, these books are not my favorites. But I must also admit that Baby Bookworm, at nearly three years old, adores them. So I felt that in good conscience, I had to write about them. 

These are quick reads, designed for the interests of preschoolers and early elementary school kids. The Bedtime Stories set includes: 

  • The Best Teacher Ever (choosing a gift for Teacher Appreciation Day)
  • The Best Show & Share (deciding what to bring for a special show and tell)
  • Bye, Bye, Mom and Dad (spending the night with Grandma and Grandpa)
  • The Lost Dinosaur Bone (solving a mystery at the natural history museum)
  • Just a Little Too Little (camping out)
  • Just a Little Music  (attempting to play an instrument)

Baby Bookworm likes the kid-friendly humor. Like when in We Are Moving Little Critter is so opposed to the move that his father has to carry him to the car, and when in Bye, Bye, Mom and Dad Little Critter makes pickle sandwiches with marshmallows on them. She also seems to like the fact that she can relate to some of the experiences (like eating in a tent), while others stretch her expectations, revealing things that she'll be able to do when she's a just a bit bigger (like camping out in the back yard or taking music lessons).

The illustrations frequently feature disagreeable expressions on the part of Little Critter and Little Sister (as when they find out about the planned move). There are other amusing details to counter the text, like when Little Critter spills "just a little bit" of paint, but we see that he has actually tipped over an entire gallon can. Or when Little Sister helps Grandpa water the garden, but we see that she's really watering Grandpa's pants. Like the topics, the illustrations are relatable and kid-friendly, full of warm details like treehouses and teddy bears.

These books do a good job of setting up kid-appropriate conflicts (such as listing off all of the worries that a kid might have in facing a move to a new house). My problem with the books is that the conflicts are resolved too hastily, and too easily. The feared move ends up fine, with all fears shown on the last 3 pages to be groundless. When Little Critter encounters setbacks with a variety of teacher appreciation gifts, the drawing that he hastily scribbles at the end of the book is the only one that the teacher puts up on her wall. When he is careless and lets the frog that he plans to bring to show and share escape, his mother finds it just in time, and he gets a ribbon. It's all just too easy and too tidy. Perhaps this is one of the things that kids like about the books, but it doesn't work for me as a reviewer. 

Still, Baby Bookworm asked me to read her all seven books this morning after breakfast, during a time period in which she usually asks for the iPad. She took a couple of the books to bed with her last night, too. And they make her laugh. All of that does work for me, and will keep me reading these books over and over again, as requested. And if I was looking for a book to address a particular issue, this is a series that I would look to.  There are "I Can Read" books about the same characters, too, which I will certainly consider when we are ready for them. Do any of you have thoughts about the Little Critters books? 

Publisher: HarperFestival (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you). 

Should I Share My Ice Cream? An Elephant & Piggie Book: Mo Willems

Book: Should I Share My Ice Cream? (An Elephant & Piggie Book)
Author: Mo Willems (@The_Pigeon)
Pages: 64
Age Range: 4 and up

I've long been a fan of Mo Willems' Elephant & Piggie series of easy readers (there are at least 18 books in the series). I've given them many times as gifts, and seen them dominate the Easy Reader category of the Cybils for years. But somehow I've never reviewed one. I am taking the opportunity today to discuss Should I Share My Ice Cream?, which was published in 2011. 

In Should I Share My Ice Cream?, Elephant struggles with the challenge of sharing. He first exhibits a child's joy when he stumbled upon an ice cream cart, and buys a lovely green ice cream cone. But then it occurs to him that his best friend, Piggie, might want to share the cone. Greed ("Should I share my awesome, yummy, sweet, super, great, tasty, nice cool ice cream?) wrestles with responsibility ("What if she is sad somewhere?"), interrupted by several levels of rationalization ("She does not know I have ice cream."). Turns out that Elephant spends so much time deciding that ... the ice cream melts. A tragedy. But not to worry. Friendship will surely save the day.

A big part of the fun of this book is Elephant's expressive face. His evil smirk at "She does not know." His arched eyebrows at "Hey ... Piggie is not here." His beads of sweat at "It will not be easy." Kids everywhere will be completely able to relate to the struggle to do the right thing. This is a book about sharing done right. The humor, and Elephant's realistic struggle, put Should I Share My Ice Cream? in a separate universe from many didactic books about friendship and sharing that I've seen. The ending still leave you with a warm feeling, but it's not a cloying sort of warmth. 

The beauty of the Elephant & Piggie books in general, and this one in particular, is that they work as easy readers, while offering more. The sentences are short. There's enough repetition to help new readers, but not so much as to become dull. But they are also stories, about topics relevant to the interests of five year olds. Like eating ice cream, getting new toys, and being invited to parties. They feature realistic characters, with flaws and strengths. And Willems' illustrations are spare but expressive, perfect for the needs of the genre. 

Whenever anyone asks me about easy readers, this is the first series that comes to mind. Oh, there are others, of course, and in a couple of years, as Baby Bookworm reaches that stage, I expect to become much more of an expert. But as a starting point, you can't go wrong with Elephant & Piggie. Should I Share My Ice Cream? is an excellent example of why this series works so well. It is well worth picking up. 

Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: June 14, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you). 

Penny and Her Doll: Kevin Henkes

Book: Penny and Her Doll
Author: Kevin Henkes
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 and up 

Penny and Her Doll is the second book in a new easy reader series from Kevin Henkes (after Penny and Her Song). I missed the first book, but I was happy when the second one turned up on our doorstep, because we LOVE Henkes' "mouse books" in my house. While the most famous of these is Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, my 2 1/2 year old favors the titles from A Box of Treats, little holiday treats featuring Lilly and several of her friends. We know them all by heart.

Anyway, Penny and Her Doll is about young mouse Penny, big sister to a pair of twin babies, who receives a beautiful new doll in the mail from Gram. Penny is thrilled with the doll, but finds coming up with an appropriate name for this new family member a bit of a challenge. Not to worry, though, she finds the perfect name in the end. 

Although this story is aimed at new readers, I have to say that Baby Bookworm adores it. As do I. I think that this speaks to Henkes' considerable skill. Many easy readers are so pared down that they aren't interesting to anyone, and are instead a vehicle for a child striving to decode words. Not so for Penny and Her Doll. While certainly not complex, the three-chapter story is entertaining in a gentle way, as when gardening Mama dryly observes "I do not have a favorite weed", and when Penny rejects her parents' lame naming suggestions with "No. No. No. Nothing was right." Or this:

""Beautiful," said Mama.
"Wonderful," said Papa.
The babies made baby noises.
Penny smiled." 

I smiled. 

Of course Penny and Her Doll does work as an easy reader. Henkes uses very short sentences, and plenty of repetition, to guide the reader. Like this:

"Penny unwrapped the doll.
The doll had pink cheeks.
The doll had a pink bow.
The doll had a pink dress with big buttons."

Later Papa praises the pink cheeks, pink bow, and pink dress with big buttons. And Papa and Mama try to use these attributes to help in naming the doll. Any new reader would certainly be well-versed in the word "pink" by the end of the book. Everything in the story is pre-schooler-friendly, from Penny's mother's garden to the tour of the house that she gives the new doll. 

Henkes' warm illustrations help to make the book accessible to new readers, too. Fans of the other mouse books will be made right at home by Penny's smiling face. Henkes also fills the book with interesting and welcoming backgrounds, colored tiles in the bathroom, floral wallpaper in the babies' room, stripes in the kitchen, and so on. 

In short, this is going on our keep shelf (ok, shelves), to be enjoyed now and used later on, when Baby Bookworm is ready to start reading books for herself. I plan on picking up a copy of the earlier book, too. This is a top-notch early reader (though a bit more girl-friendly than boy-friendly, given the subject matter and the pinkish flowery cover). Highly recommended. And yes, both Penny books are on the 2012 Cybils nomination list for Easy Readers

Publisher: Greenwillow Books (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: August 21, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Dodsworth in Rome: Tim Egan

Book: Dodsworth in Rome
Author: Tim Egan
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4 to 8

9780547390062 I quite like Tim Egan's books about Dodsworth. The series was launched from the picture book The Pink Refrigerator, about how the stodgy Dodsworth learns to live life to the fullest. However, the Dodsworth books really took off as an easy reader series when the character of Duck was added. I've also reviewed Dodsworth in New York and Dodsworth in Paris (there is also Dodsworth in London). But I think that Dodsworth in Rome is my new favorite.

Dodsworth in Rome, as advertised, finds regular guy Dodsworth and his crazy sidekick Duck visiting Rome. They visit the Sistine Chapel, the Trevi Fountain, and a flea market. They ride a scooter, and participate (well, Duck does) in a pizza throwing contest. When they temporarily misplace their money, they sleep on the Spanish Steps.

As you can see, Dodsworth in Rome does provide a window into the major sites of Rome. But what makes this work as an early reader is the humor, a mix of goofball kid-friendly humor and wry adult humor. Here are a few examples:

"Dodsworth smiled and looked at the duck. "Rome!" he said.
"Okay, said the duck."
The duck started walking away.
"Where are you going? asked Dodsworth.
"You said roam," said the duck. "So I'm roaming."

Funny and educational for new readers.

"Dodsworth and the duck ordered gelatos.
Dodsworth got a cone with three scoops: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.
The duck got a cone with seven scoops: hazelnut, spumoni, rum raisin, almond, pistachio, coffee, and butterscotch."

That, in a nutshell, is the duck's personality as compared to Dodsworth's, in terms that will make complete sense for young readers (though they might need a bit of help with words like spumoni).

"They walked to Saint Peter's Square.
There were huge columns all around.
"I feel smaller than usual," said the duck.
"You can say that again," said Dodsworth.
But the duck decided not to.

That made me laugh. And when the duck notices that the Sistine Chapel is lacking any ducks in the painting... Look out! Laugh out loud humor in only six lines of text per page.

Egan's ink and watercolor illustrations enhance the story, and help to provide visual cues for new learners. All of the major sites of Rome are there, set against more prosaic details, like Dodworth's little suitcase, and the detritus of a knocked-over fruit stand. Egan uses a somewhat muted color palette, so that the words retain equal importance to the pictures.

Dodsworth doesn't have a very wide range of expressions, but when he smiles, you want to smile with him. And the duck can convey quite a lot through head tilts.

I will be keeping my Dodsworth and duck books handy for when Baby Bookworm is ready to learn to read, and probably diving into them by myself on occasion in the meantime. The solemn but determined Dodsworth and the madcap duck are always a winning combination, but especially so in the new Dodsworth in Rome. Don't miss it!

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: April 18, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Three Picture Books that Will Confound Expectations (a mystery, a sick chicken, and an imprudent egg)

Today, for your picture book viewing pleasure, I share mini-reviews of three books that may confound your children's expectations. In any event, they are likely to induce giggles.

Wilson and Miss LovelyJohn Stadler likes to write books that play with kids' expectations. I previously reviewed Big and Little, the ending of which took me by surprise. In Wilson and Miss Lovely: A Back-to-School Mystery (Robin Corey Books), Wilson is so excited by his first week of school, and his admiration for his teacher, Miss Lovely, that he leaps out of bed, and heads to school early, before his family even gets up. To his surprise, no one else is there. But he gamely follows Miss Lovely's routines, reading, doing science, and even having a lonely gym class. Meanwhile, however, a second dimension to Wilson's story is going on behind hidden page flaps. Yes, "not so very far away, something else could seen quite clearly. Closer, closer, and closer it came!" Eventually, the hidden green monster starts creeping further into Wilson's story. Will Wilson find Miss Lovely? Or will he be eaten by the monster? Only brave readers will learn the answer (though their parents might have suspicions along the way). Stadler's comic strip-like illustrations are simple and eye-catching. Wilson, in his yellow raincoat and suspenders, is priceless. Wilson and Miss Lovely is more of an early reader than a picture book, with a simple vocabulary, and short sentences. I think that it will be good for read-aloud, or for new readers to enjoy themselves. It would pair well with Tim Egan's Dodsworth series (The Pink Refrigerator, Dodsworth in New York, and Dodsworth in Paris). A fun choice!

Chicken Soup Chicken Soup, written by Jean Van Leeuwen and illustrated by David Gavril (Abrams Books for Young Readers) is another fun story of confounded expectations, though aimed at slightly younger children. The word is out among the farm animals that "MRS. FARMER HAS TAKEN OUT THE BIG POT!... She's making CHICKEN SOUP!" All of the chickens scatter. The youngest chick has difficulty running, however, because she has a cold in her beak. And she finds it difficult to hide, too, because she keeps on sneezing. Meanwhile, Mr. Farmer keeps getting closer and closer... Not to worry, though. The book has an happy ending. Chicken Soup is a great choice for preschoolers, with fun words like "skedaddled", dramatic sounds like "CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP", and puns like "Better get MOO-VING!" (from a cow). There's also plenty of suspense - I can imagine kids squealing. Gavril's pen, pencil, and water color illustrations are also great for younger kids, with large images of animals, with worried expressions, and traditional farm backgrounds. There's a lovely spread near the end of the book, when Little Chickie lands in a bed of varied flowers. And Chickie herself is adorable. This one would make a great library storytime read-aloud.

Egg DropMini Grey has written a variety of quirky picture books, including the fan-favorite The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon (Betsy from A Fuse #8 Production liked it, anyway). In her new book, Egg Drop (Alfred A. Knopf), Grey tells the story of a little "Egg that wanted to fly." It's a bit of a cautionary tale, because, as it turns out, flying isn't such a great choice for eggs (landing being the problem). But Egg Drop is a lot of fun along the way. The Egg dreams of ways to fly, turning itself into a blimp, growing wings, etc. "But the Egg was young. It didn't much about flying (and it didn't know anything about aerodynamics or Bernoulli's principle)." So, it climbs a big set of stairs (fabulous illustration of the sweaty but determined Egg, some 300 steps up), and steps into space. You'll have to read to see what happens next. What makes this book work is the combination of mournful tone and varied illustration. There are sketches showing how Bernoulli's principle works, set against images of an open-mouthed flying egg. There are collage elements in the illustrations, mixed with sketches. And somehow, it all works. In truth, I think that kids will go either way with this one. Many will love it, even as some might not "get it". But it's well worth a try!

Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse: David A. Kelly

Book: Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse
Author: David A. Kelly
Illustrator: Tim Jessell
Pages: 112
Age Range: 5-8 (see further notes on the age classification of this book in the comments)

Babe RuthBackground: I hardly ever enter contests to win books, because I already have books piled up in stacks around my house. But every once in a while, a contest tempts me anyway. Recently Lori Calabrese had a contest at her sports book blog Get in the Game -- Read! to win a signed copy of Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse, a Stepping Stones book by David A. Kelly, about Babe Ruth, and the curse that his trade to the Yankees placed upon the Boston Red Sox. As a dedicated Red Sox fan, I was unable to resist.

Review: Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse is a chapter book aimed at new readers, part of the Random House Stepping Stones series. The book begins with the heartbreak (for Red Sox fans) of the 2003 American League Championship series, and then steps back in time to Babe Ruth's childhood in the early 1900s. The reader learns about George Herman Ruth as a young, disadvantaged troublemaker, and the mentor who taught him to love baseball. The action quickly moves to Ruth's early career as a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, and the celebrity (and further trouble-making) that followed. The second third of the book recounts Ruth's trade to the Yankees, and the resulting success for the Yankees, and apparent curse for the Red Sox (they didn't win another World Series for 86 years). The final third of the book is about the 2004 Red Sox, and how they broke the curse and won the World Series. The book ends on an up note, a nice contrast to the opening chapter.

Although much of the Red Sox history was familiar to me, I learned things that I hadn't known about Babe Ruth (especially his prowess as a pitcher -- he once pitched a fourteen inning complete game!). I was also surprised to learn about a specific event that some have apparently credited with the official breaking of the curse. The final third of the book was, for me as a reader, a lovely, nostalgic recap of happily remembered events from five years ago. Of course I'm not the target audience for the book.

Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curseis definitely a book for newer readers, with short, declarative sentences, exclamation points, and occasional full-page illustrations. Tim Jessell's black-and-white illustrations have, as befitting a book about Babe Ruth, an old-fashioned feel. They also offer a nice mix of humor, heart, and action (I especially enjoyed a sketch of Ruth slamming his bat into home plate, with the pieces of the bat flying, and Ruth's hat rising up from his head).

David A. Kelly includes in-line definitions for less common words. For example:

"Even though he was now a professional baseball player, Ruth never seemed to grow up. He even had a big smiley face like a baby's. Ruth's nickname was "the Bambino," which means "baby" in Italian." (Page 19)

"In one of the games of the 1918 World Series, Ruth didn't give up a single run to the other team. That's called a shutout." (Page 23)

Older readers might find these definitions redundant, or even faintly condescending, but I think that the tone is perfect for new readers, kids just moving beyond Frog and Toad into slightly longer chapter books. The author also makes sure to provide the most kid-friendly details whenever possible. For example:

"Many times he acted like a kid. He liked pulling silly stunts, trying new things, and simply horsing around. Ruth was often more interested in having fun than in doing what he was supposed to do. Sometimes he wore the same underwear for days at a time. He just didn't feel like changing. He claimed to be able to burp louder than a tractor. He'd prove it to anyone who would listen." (Page 19)

Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curseoffers a nice mix of baseball play-by-play and personal details about the players. Baseball fans will love it, but I think that even non-fans will still find the book interesting. Particularly if they live in New England, where the details of the Red Sox curse and the 2004 World Series are required knowledge for all citizens. Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse is an excellent addition to the ranks of early chapter books, just the thing to engage kids (particularly boys) and get them reading on their own. A must-purchase for early elementary school classroom libraries.

Publisher: Random House Books for Children
Publication Date: February 24, 2009
Source of Book: Won a signed copy in a contest at Get in the Game -- Read!, hosted by Lori Calabrese
Other Blog Reviews: TheHappyNappyBookseller
Author Interviews: AuthorsNow!

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Cybils Shortlists Are Up! Happy New Year!

CybilsLogoSmall The shortlists for the 2008 Cybils awards have just been revealed. Here's the announcement from the Cybils blog:

Ta-da ... The Big Reveal.  We're still missing one category, which we hope to have asap.  Can I remind everyone that our panelists are the world's most fabulous book bloggers?  They had to hunt down an extraordinary number of titles on their own this year.  Blame the economy, as review copies were often hard to come by. 

A round of applause, please, as our hard-working panelists pass the baton to our judges.

Click on each genre for its short list:

Easy Readers
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction MG/YA*
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Young Adult Fiction

Happy New Year, book lovers!
--Anne Levy, Editor

*We expect this list soon.  Sorry for the wait.

This year, I'm a judge in the new Easy Readers category. Here are the titles that I'll be reading:

Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time
written by James Howe
Candlewick Press

I Love My New Toy
written by Mo Willems

I Will Surprise My Friend!
written by Mo Willems

Maybelle Goes to Tea
written by Katie Speck
Henry Holt

Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig
written by Kate Dicamillo
Candlewick Press

It's a good year for Mo Willems, apparently. Click here for the book blurbs and cover images for the Easy Readers category. But do check out all of the categories - there are some great, great titles! We'll be putting together a printable document with all of the shortlists on it soon.

Thanks for your interest in the Cybils, and Happy New Year!!

PDF Version of Helping Readers Article

As some of you know, yesterday I published a post (based on inputs from the amazing Kidlitosphere Yahoo Group), cross-posted here and in the comments at the PBS Parents Expert Q&A, about Helping Kids Learn to Enjoy Reading. By popular demand (and thanks to a suggestion from Megan Germano at Read, Read, Read), I'm making a printable PDF version of the post available for download. I hope that you'll find it useful.

My thanks, once again, to everyone who contributed to the article and to the wonderful discussions that have continued after it's publication.

Helping Kids Learn to Enjoy Reading

LogopbsparentsAs I've mentioned, I'm guest blogging this month over at PBS Parents Expert Q&A, and I am having a wonderful time. Most of the discussion has centered around the joy of reading, and favorite and recommended children's books. These are things I would talk about all day, if my schedule permitted it, and I'm thrilled to be having such lively discussion.

This week I had questions from two (apparently unrelated) parents each looking to help boys who are not just reluctant to read, but are having difficulty with it. One father called reading a "struggle" for his son, and sought ways to help his son "consider it fun and exciting rather than a challenge." Another mother said that her son finds reading very difficult, and seems to lack confidence in himself as a result. Both of these parents were looking for suggestions to make reading easier and more fun for their children.

I shared a few of own thoughts on this matter (read aloud with your children, let them read what they want to read, etc.), but I wasn't satisfied that I had given these parents enough help. So, I turned for assistance to my friends from the Kidlitosphere Yahoo Group (a discussion group for those who read, write, and blog about children's and young adult literature). This is an amazing group. Within 24 hours, I had heard back from about fifteen people, including teachers, parents and authors, with useful, concrete, and creative solutions for helping children learn to enjoy reading. In this article, I compile their suggestions, along with my own thoughts, in the hope of providing some helpful ideas for parents. There is no quick-fix, of course, no pill that your child can take to suddenly become a reader. But there are straightforward things that parents can do.

First and Foremost: Make Reading an Enjoyable Experience

The most important thing that a parent can do to help a child who is struggling with reading is make reading an enjoyable experience. If the child feels like reading is work or punishment, he or she will end up being a resistant reader instead of a joyful reader. Sixth-grade teacher Sarah (who blogs at The Reading Zone) says: "As a teacher with a whole lot of reluctant 6th grade boy readers, I can't stress enough - LET READING BE FUN! Too many parents use reading as a punishment. If I had to read any time I was in trouble, I would probably hate it, too!" Another contributor, Jill T. (who blogs at The Well-Read Child), points out that "parents must be patient and supportive. If parents get frustrated, it will only make the child more reluctant to read."

Read Aloud

The number one thing that parents can do to make reading enjoyable is to read aloud to and with their children. Well-known reading advocate Jim Trelease wrote an entire book on this subject (reference below). Reading together should be a fun, comforting, shared experience, not work, definitely not a test. By reading aloud to your child, you can read more advanced stories than the child is ready for on his own. You can stop and discuss the ideas in the books, together. You show your child that you value reading, and that you value your time together. The benefits of reading aloud to your child are vast, and will endure for a lifetime.

For parents who have difficulty reading aloud, try reading wordless picture books and telling your child a story based on the illustrations. Or try graphic novels such as the Owly books by Andy Runton (suggested by multiple contributors). Another idea is for parents and children to listen to audiobooks together. Just make sure you have a way to pause easily, so that you can stop and discuss things. Also consider listening to an audiobook at home, and following along with the printed book. The site Just One More Book! features picture book reviews via podcast (audio file), which can also be helpful for parents.

Parent Charlotte (who blogs at Charlotte's Library) says: "My own son is not taking to reading like a duck to water. So to make it fun for him, we will read books together. I will do the bulk of the reading, but he will be responsible for some of the dialog. When it's his turn, I wait a breathe to see if he's been able to keep up with his eyes; mostly he hasn't, so I point, and he reads. Sometimes he'll read it again, with dramatic expression. This way we can read more interesting books without frustration. Shared reading also works well with graphic novels--we've read many Tintin books this way. Ricky Ricotta and Captain Underpants work well also. So do the Magic School Bus books--on every page there is something even tentative readers can read."

Writer and volunteer librarian Gregory K. (who blogs at Gotta Book) echoes the importance of reading aloud, and adds "read EVERYTHING you can, from cereal boxes to store signs to books."

Let Your Child Read the Kinds of Books that He or She Wants to Read

One of the biggest reasons why kids, especially boys, end up resistant to reading is that they are often encouraged to read books that aren't interesting to them, and they are discouraged from reading the things that they most enjoy. One of the best things that you can do if you want your child to read for pleasure is support your child's selection of reading material. If your child only likes FACTS, get him an almanac. Get sports fans biographies of sports figures. Have a kid who is fascinated by war? Find some accessible nonfiction books. Try comics, joke books, computer game manuals, books of baseball statistics, movie novelizations, sport and car magazines, quizzes and puzzles. Whatever works. Whatever your child finds interesting is worthwhile. Yes, even Captain Underpants and Gossip Girl novels. Teacher Mary Lee Hahn (who blogs at A Year of Reading) adds that home should be a "safe place for reading books that are at an appropriate or easy level (especially when/if school is a place of stress and struggle)." Liz Garton Scanlon (who blogs at Liz in Ink) adds: "About reluctant boy readers -- or girls, for that matter: the Zack Proton books seem to work some sort of intergalactic miracle."

This topic is also addressed, in the context of reluctant teen readers, in a recent Horn Book magazine article by Philip Charles Crawford. A high-school librarian, Crawford discusses kids who are not just reluctant, but actually resist reading, and says: "To help these resistant readers, I avoid stigmatizing value judgments about reading materials. I try to change the negative experience that occurs when resistant readers encounter books--the immediate revulsion they feel when presented with something they view as academic or boring. This often means putting into their hands books that many librarians, teachers, and children's book expert snub... these books have the power to engage and excite teens who would otherwise read nothing."

There are two important sub-points here: 1) fiction is not all that there is. Women (who still make up the bulk of primary caregivers, librarians, and teachers) tend to enjoy stories. But anything that gets your child reading is valid, and the child should not be made to feel that his or her reading is less valuable because it doesn't fall into a traditional fiction-sized box. Reading of any sort, if it's enjoyable, will lead to more reading. That's our purpose here.

2) Suggested reading levels are guidelines, and may not apply to all kids. Kids shouldn't be pushed (especially at home, when reading for pleasure) to read at higher levels than they are ready for. There are kids who happily read dozens of Magic Treehouse books, to the frustration of parents who would like their children to advance faster. But if the child is enjoying those Magic Treehouse books, great. They'll move past the series eventually. But if you push them to read things they find difficult, you might turn them off of reading forever.

Teacher Marcie Atkins (who blogs at World of Words) suggests: "I always tell parents of 4th grade boys that it's not as much a concern of WHAT they are reading as long as they ARE reading. I tell them get them a copy of Sports Illustrated for Kids--anything that they LIKE to read about. Parents often really want their kids to read novels, but that's not always what boys want to read. My brother was a reluctant reader, but he would cut articles out of the newspaper about the Gulf War (the first one) because he was fascinated with tanks. He hated to read, but he read knew more facts about tanks than anyone I knew.

For a struggling reader (not one who is just reluctant, but really struggling with the mechanics) I would recommend the HI-LO readers. There are many good books out there with topics that are interesting to kids that are written on a lower reading level. Sometimes kids get frustrated with the "baby books" because they are not interested in the content but they have difficulty reading anything harder."

Former reading tutor Jill T. weighs in on the topic of age-appropriateness: "I used to tutor students (children, teens, and adults who had difficultly reading), and I can't begin to tell you how this impacted their self-esteem and how often they just wanted to give up because reading was so difficult. The only other advice I can give is to try to find age-appropriate material that is also aligned with their reading and interest levels. This can be quite a challenge because a lot of the beginning reader stuff is full of bunnies and bears and themes that will turn off older kids and even embarrass them if their peers see what they're reading. When I was teaching ESL to high school students, I had a hard time finding books that were simple enough for a beginning English learner to comprehend but also age appropriate. I was able to find a lot of nonfiction books and biographies that helped me and that also interested my students, and I tried to steer clear of the ones that had "Grade 2," or "Ages 4-8" stamped on them."

Several responders pointed especially to comic books and graphic novels as a tool for making reading more fun, and a bit easier, for struggling readers.

Kelly Herold (who blogs at Big A little a) reminded me about this recent New York Times article: Superman Finds New Fans Among Reading Instructors. The gist of the article is that "a growing cadre of educators is looking to comics as part of the solution" to literacy problems. The article notes that "Proponents of comics in the classroom say that they can lure struggling readers who may be intimidated by pages crammed with text. They also say that comics, with their visual cues and panel-by-panel sequencing, are uniquely situated to reinforce key elements of literacy, like story structure and tone." There are people who question the appropriateness of comics in the classroom, but it seems clear that comics and graphic novels can be used at home to help struggling readers find stories that they enjoy, and can read a bit more easily than more dense novels.

Parent and school librarian Anna W. also recommends Sports Illustrated for Kids, and adds: "Comic books, comic books, comic books! My fourth grade son loves the new Alex Rider graphic novels, and a series called Tashi (1st or 2nd grade reading, but good enough stories for a 4th grader), and now he's working through Diary of a Wimpy Kid (also 2nd grade-ish level). He also worked his way through some leveled non-fiction (step 2 & step 3) because he was captivated by the topic... If a child is significantly below grade level, have him/her listen to grade-level books on CD. It will help develop the vocabulary and narrative skills they're not getting with reading, and it also helps some with self-esteem, being able to discuss the same books that the stronger readers have read. The trick is to find easy (easier than ability = success, speed and practice) AND interesting. And don't make it a battle -- as long as a child likes the idea of reading, he hasn't given up yet.

And, if you are stuck for book recommendations for boys, Gregory K. reminds us that Guys Read, created by new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka, is a must-visit site.

Model Reading Behavior

Another important point about encouraging kids to read is that parents should, if possible, model reading behavior. Parent Libby (who blogs at Lessons from the Tortoise) suggests: "Talk about your reading at the dinner table, go to libraries and bookstores together, let your kids see that you are happy to read, that you get pleasure from it, that it is important to you. Just saying that reading is important won't cut it; kids do what we do, not what we say. And then, maybe, let up a bit. I think some kids freeze up when they sense they're not doing well at something their parents value."

This modeling of reading behavior is especially important for fathers. If the only people boys ever see reading are their mothers and their female teachers, it's very easy for those boys to absorb the message that reading is a feminine activity. But if even some of the time your son sees his father reading instead of watching television, that message goes a long way. Author Barbara Haworth-Attard says that her son "had a special time with Dad which was the half hour before bedtime when he and Dad (and only Dad unless Dad was away) would read together. He did this until he was twelve years old because it was one on one time with Dad, plus Dad did all the voices and they snorted with laughter and it was such a fun time together. I think fun is the key. Make popcorn, get a drink, be consistent in that you do it every night and make it so special kids can hardly wait to read. It also helped that my husband liked reading, too."

Other Concrete Suggestions

Tricia Stohr-Hunt from The Miss Rumphius Effect contributed three suggestions that she likes, all from an article at Reading Rockets:

"* Encourage activities that require reading - Cooking (reading a recipe), constructing a kite (reading directions), or identifying a bird's nest or a shell at the beach (reading a reference book) are some examples.

* Write short notes for your child to read - Write down his/her weekly household responsibilities for him/her to keep track of or put a note in his/her lunch bag.

* Give your child writing materials - Reading and writing go hand in hand. Children want to learn to write and to practice writing. If you make pencils, crayons, and paper available at all times, your child will be more inclined to initiate writing activities on his/her own.

Scroll down to the section on Helping your School Age Child (in the above article) for more ideas."

Make Words into a Game: Charlotte says: "We have a box of words written on pieces of paper, and every so often my son gets them out and makes stories with them. He ends up practicing reading as a result, with the added bonus of writing when he needs new words (and it's good grammar practice too, because of having to choose the right verb form and punctuation marks."

Try Reader's Theater: Author Barbara Bietz suggests: "Reader's theatre can be a fun way for parents to help kids with reading comprehension. After reading together, they can act out portions of the story or a short summary. It can be fun, even silly - and no pressure like a book report."

Visit Your Local Library: Mary Lee Hahn reminds us that regular visits to the library help reinforce the importance of reading.

Make Real-World Connections to Books: Jill T. points out: "It's always helpful if parents can find a way to use books to make real-world connections with things that their children are interested in... If I found that one of my students had a particular interest, I tried to find books about it and then point them to a place where they could actually GO to learn more and experience it first hand. For example, one student loved tigers, and the tiger at the National Zoo gave birth to tiger cubs. I found a fact book about tigers that she was able to read and also pointed her to the website where there was information about the tiger and the cubs."

Be Aware of Possible Learning Differences

If your child is having trouble reading, it may be time to have some tests done, to see if your child needs help.

Gregory K., inventor of the poetic form "the Fib", notes: "it's also a good idea to make sure that there isn't some other issue going on besides just not liking books. By this I mean things simple like a need for glasses or things like dyslexia or other developmental issues. Imagine the frustration for a child who cannot seem to make sense of the words, not knowing that it isn't a lack of intelligence or desire, but rather a slightly different mental wiring!

Most public schools have a reading specialist (in the district, perhaps) or a program where they can test and see if there is an issue. Talking to the teacher (or principal or someone!) is the best first step, in my opinion. (And that'd be true in private schools, too). I'd note that sometimes kids are clever enough that they can mask reading difficulties from the teacher, so you might be doing both teacher and student a HUGE favor if you mention concerns."

Anastasia Suen writes: "I am a former elementary school teacher, a children's book author, and the mother of a child who had a VERY hard time learning how to read. He loved books, that wasn't the problem! It was reading words that was hard. My son has dyslexia. Dyslexia is very common, 1 in 10 people have it. My son is grown up now and runs his own business (something that is also common for dyslexics!) PBS has a GREAT series about kids who find it hard to learn called Misunderstood Minds. The webpage has info about how kids learn and how to find help for kids who have trouble learning. One of the topics is Learning to Read. The Reading Responses page has lots of practical advice!"

Librarian Jenny Schwartzberg adds: "There's a wonderful new book by Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: the Story and Science of the Reading Brain, which specifically discusses dyslexia. I recommend it for anyone who is interested in how reading developed and why. It's absolutely fascinating reading."


The challenge of helping kids learn to enjoy reading is one that the members of the Kidlitosphere (the community of people who write and blog about children's books) take seriously. While I can't guarantee that this article is exhaustive (in particular, parents may need to find out more about the last topic, learning differences), I can say that these ideas all have the potential to help. In summary, to help your child learn to read and enjoy reading:

  • Make reading fun, not work.
  • Read aloud to and with your child.
  • Let your child read the kinds of books that he or she wants, even if they are non-fiction, and even they aren't officially at your child's grade level. Explore a broad range of genres, including graphic novels.
  • Model reading behavior yourself.
  • Look for other activities, like going to the library, and performing reader's theater, that make reading enjoyable and relevant.
  • Be aware of possible learning differences and vision difficulties that may be compounding the problem.

If you do these things, consistently and patiently, I truly think that they'll help, and that reading will become more enjoyable to your child. And you'll be able to share wonderful experiences along the way. I welcome your feedback.

Anastasia Suen
Anna W., school librarian and parent
Barbara Bietz
Barbara Haworth-Attard
Charlotte: Charlotte's Library
Gregory K: Gotta Book
Jenny Schwartzberg, librarian (read an interview with Jenny here)
Jill T: The Well-Read Child
Kelly Herold: Big A little a
Libby: Lessons from the Tortoise
Liz Garton Scanlon: Liz in Ink
Mary Lee Hahn: A Year of Reading
Marcie Atkins: World of Words
Monica Edinger: Educating Alice
Sarah: The Reading Zone
Tricia Stohr-Hunt: The Miss Rumphius Effect

A Selection of Further Reading:

A Few Recommended Titles for Reluctant Boy Readers (from Sarah):

  • The Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan
  • Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty by Joy Masoff
  • The Bone series by Jeff Smith
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
  • Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time by Lisa Yee
  • John Feinstein sports mysteries, like Last Show and Last Dance

Special thanks to Jean Crawford, PBS Parents Director, for giving me the opportunity to guest blog as part of the PBS Parents: Expert Q&A. Questions posed there led directly to this article.

I have cross-posted this post in the comments at PBS Parents Expert Q&A. You can also download a printable PDF version of this article. Many thanks to everyone who has participated in the discussion so far. I look forward to further feedback! Please comment over at PBS if you have additional suggestions, so that more people will see your suggestions. Thanks!

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.