How to Raise a Reader

Ten tips for getting your kids hooked on books -- ebooks or the paper kind.
Regan McMahon Senior Editor, Books | Mom of two Categories: Early Childhood, Healthy Media Habits, Reading
Senior Editor, Books | Mom of two

Kids become lifelong readers for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes there's one key book that captures a kid's imagination and opens him or her up to the exciting world of fiction. Other times, a teacher who assigns great books in class sparks a hunger for more big ideas and fine writing. In some cases, parents influence kids' appreciation of books by sharing their own love of literature and modeling reader behavior -- always having a book to read, taking books on vacation, reading before bedtime, making regular trips to the library and bookstore, etc.

Here are our best tips for nurturing a love of reading that can last a lifetime:

Read aloud: This comes naturally to lots of new parents, but it's important to keep it up. Kids will enjoy it longer than you think. When reading to babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and kids in early grade school, it's wonderful to have a kid on your lap, snuggled next to you on the couch, or drifting off to sleep in bed as you enjoy picture books together. You may have to read your kid's favorite a hundred times, but just go with it. Your kid will remember the closeness as well as the story. And try nonfiction for those who are curious about pirates, Vikings, robots, castles, history, sports, biography, animals, whatever. For second through fifth graders, read those rich and meaty books that might be missed otherwise, maybe classics like Treasure Island or Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Many parents think that as soon as their kids learn to read on their own, they no longer need to be read to. But kids still love it and benefit from it as they hear the rhythm of the language, learn correct pronunciation, and get to relax and just take it all in. Kids will get the idea that there's something worthwhile in books and that there's something special about time spent with a parent.

Savor the series: It's common for kids to become book lovers for life after getting hooked on a series. And there are lots of good ones that keep kids hungry for the next installment. Some reliable prospects: Ivy and Bean, Judy Moody for beginning readers; Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the Percy Jackson series for middle graders; and Hunger Games, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and Twilight (unless you think vampires are too creepy) for older kids.

Grab onto a genre: Kids go through phases of genres they're passionate about, from girl detectives to science fiction and fantasy. Don't get hung up on whether it's considered great literature (although some genre books are). Be happy that your kid is devouring books one after the other. 

Feed the favorite-author addiction: Once your kids finds a writer they love, they may want to read all of his or her books -- a great excuse for a trip to the library or an opportunity for book swapping among friends and classmates. Here are some good bets for favorites. Younger kids: Dav Pilkey (The Adventures of Captain Underpants), Beverly Cleary (Beezus and Ramona). Middle grade: Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie), Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book). Tweens and teens: Judy Blume (Are You There God, It's Me Margaret) and Sarah Dessen (Just Listen). 

Count on the Classics: Books are called classics because they continue to engage readers generation after generation. There are no guarantees, but you could try introducing your kids to books you loved as a kid and see which ones click. Some good ones to try are the Dr. Seuss and Narnia books, Charlotte's Web, and The Secret Garden. Check out our Classic Books for Kids list to find more. 

Find Books About the Things Your Kid Loves: If your kid adores horses, try Black Beauty or any of the titles on our list of best Horse Books. If he's wild about cars, trucks and trains, check out our list of Vehicle Books. Librarians, booksellers, and Internet searches will help you find books on any favorite topic.

Funny Is Fine: Some parents wrestle with letting their kids read Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and other edgy humor books about kids getting in trouble. Talk to your kids about the content, but keep in mind that kids like these books not because they want to imitate the characters' actions but because they can live vicariously through their bad behavior. Humor is a great pathway to book loving.

Comics Are OK: Graphic novels are among the hottest trends in children's publishing, and they can get kids hooked on reading. Kids may start with Squish and Babymouse and move on to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. But these series can also lead to more sophisticated fare such as Marzi and American Born Chinese. Find other titles in our list of best Graphic Novels.  

Engage with ebooks: Kids can cuddle up with a Kindle, Nook, or iPad before naptime or bedtime. Some recent studies say more than half of U.S. kids are reading digital books at least once a week. The electronic format has proved to be especially engaging for boys and reluctant readers, and you can download or access many books on an ereader, which make it a great choice for air travel and car rides.

But note that some studies show that book apps and interactive “enhanced” ebooks, while fun, can be distracting and inhibit reading comprehension. So to promote reading skills and encourage your kid to be a frequent reader, you might want to stick with ebooks that have the look of a bound paper book. Some even have animation that mimics turning the pages.

Make Reading a Family Value: Actions speak louder than words. Take your kids to the library once a week or once a month to get new books, make regular outings to your local bookstore, hunt for low-cost books at used bookstores or second-hand shops, and show kids that finding a good book is like a treasure hunt.

Fit reading into your family lifestyle. Set aside time for reading only -- turning off the TV, computer, and cell phone. Encourage focused reading time, either for independent reading or reading aloud. Take preschoolers to story time hours at libraries and bookstores. For older kids, a parent-kid book club can be fun. Read to kids at bedtime. Provide time and space for your kids to read for pleasure in the car (if they don't get car sick!), on vacation, after homework is done, on their own before bed. Warning: It could be habit-forming!

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About Regan McMahon

Regan has been reviewing children's books for more than a decade. A journalist and former book editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, she cites as one of her toughest assignments having to read and review the 784-page... Read more

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Comments (31)

Adult written by CarolinaR

I read alot as a child. I was already reading, Call of the Wild, The Golden Compass, Treasure Island, The Egypt Game, MAUS, ect. at age ten. Yet my parents did nothing of the above.
Adult written by EJKorvette

Back when I was a Dad and a Husband, my stepchildren used to see me constantly reading books and magazines (this was back in the eighties so it was all on paper). They became readers because they constantly saw me reading. One of them grew up to be a librarian!
Educator and Parent written by JenRuk

I would highly recommend starting to read with your child early on. We started reading daily with both our boys at the age of six months and they are both book lovers. My eldest craves the Geronimo Stilton series and my youngest happily reads alongside his brother. It is a family pastime to sit down and read a picture book, novel, or non-fiction book. Because we value literacy , our boys see reading as an important part of their day.
Kid, 12 years old

Here's an idea: hand them Harry Potter and see how long it takes them to finish it. If it takes them more than a month, they just don't like reading. If it takes a few weeks, they just need encouragement. If it takes less than that, prepare to be getting a LOT of bookmarks...
Kid, 10 years old

I love reading my fave books are idk but I like ivy and bean doomed to dance its a really good book if your kids love scary stuff they should read goosebumps books they are good And if your daughter loves my little pony you should interdoose her to the Mlp books I like to read animal books I like to read frozen books mlp books Goosebumps books I wrote The pain and the great one Judy moody fear this book phobiapedia and many more and if your kids like writing they should write there own books
Kid, 12 years old

Goosebumps is what got me into reading. It's still one of my favorites. And I'm writing my own series. Each book has about 600 pages and I'm on the fifth book.
Educator written by CaptionsForLiteracy

Another easy, free thing parents can do to make sure their kids get more reading practice is turn on the captioning when they're watching TV. To find out more about the research behind this, see our site:
Parent of a 6 and 8 year old written by HowesMom

Thank you for this post. It caught my attention immediately! I post a Raising Readers feature on my blog every Monday and would love to repost or link to this post next week. May I have your permission?
Parent written by leste

Your six year old will enjoy this picture book titled: Where is scales and at the park with Tommy and scales ages 3-7 ..Tommy takes his pet lizard to school. .The lizard just want to have fun, so he slips out of Tommy ' s pocket. Tommy and his friends search high and low for their favorite pet lizard, and a small lesson at the end. Available on ipad and iPhone at the ibook store and kindle as well. titles Where is Scales At the park with Tommy and scales
Parent written by Sheila Welch

For a nine -year-old boy, I'd recommend the short series by Judy Blume about Fudge and his older brother, Peter. The first of these is TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING, followed by FUDGE and SUPER FUDGE. There may be a few more of these funny stories. My own son, who is an adult now, loved Beverly Cleary's Ramona stories even though they were about a girl. He also loved a British series called THE SECRET SEVEN by Enid Blyton. It was those 15 books that got him reading independently. Another wonderful author for that age is Ruth Chew and her stories of magic in the everyday world. It's so much fun to find books that really connect with kids!
Parent written by Collyn Trayl

My daughter is 10 and she really loves to read, her favorites are Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries. She can read a book in 1 to 2 days tops.
Parent of a 4, 9, and 12 year old written by Yocum1219

Any ideas for a series for a 9yr old boy? My 12 yr old son LOVES to read, my 4 yr old daughter too (well, she pretends to read herself & listens attentively when we read to her)...we just can't seem to find something that appeals to him! We've tried Goosebumps, Harry Potter, graphic novels, Spider Man, Star Wars...anything that he's enjoyed the movie!!
Adult written by CarolinaR

Good authors... Carl haissan Mary pope Osborne Ronald Dahl John green Mark twain Books... His dark materials A wrinkle in time MAUS American born Chinese Smile A Brave new world Clockwork Orange Feed Anne of green gables Call of the Wild White fang The jungle book Alice in wonderland The unwanteds Lost voices The tail of Emily windsnap The Gallagher academy The princess diaries Redwall
Kid, 12 years old

I might be able to help because I'm a kid, too. The Septimus Heap series is good. So are Goosebumps and Harry Potter. And Spider-Man. You get the idea. Also, a good series for younger kids like five or four is called Dinosaur Cove. For nine year old kids, the Septimus Heap series is also good but slightly scary. Maybe Diary of a Wimpy kid because it's not too challenging yet still funny and interesting enough to get people's attention. :) Oh and for nine year olds "Ready Freddie" is good, or "The Magic Treehouse."
Parent of a 6, 6, and 9 year old written by marinersfan72

My son loves the Jack Stalwart books. He is only 6. My 9 year old daughter loves the Dragon in the Sock Drawer series and the series that starts with The Name of This Book is Secret. Also anything by Roald Dahl.
Teen, 13 years old written by Useursense

The JANE AUSTEN DIARIES SERIES is an amazing romance for teens! It's totally FREE of any of the bad stuff and SO addicting! BEING SIXTEEN by Allyson Braithwaite Condie (also Ally Condie) is beautiful and sad. BUT I LOVED IT! Just some books that raised my reading obsession a little higher:)
Parent of a 7 year old written by Mrs. Crabapple

I heartily agree with the inclusion of comics and graphic novels in this list. We'd been reading aloud to my son since he could sit up, but he was not showing any signs of wanting to read on his own until his dad came home from the Goodwill with a seven-volume set of Tintin (three episodes apiece). Well, he was hooked, and he learned loads of vocabulary - Hergé didn't skimp on big words! Our son is in the second grade now, and his reading level is generously beyond where it "needs" to be. The moral of the story? Don't scoff at the comics format. It might be just the thing for your kid.
Kid, 12 years old

Good point I developed my quick wit from Spider-Man and Goosebumps taught me a good enough amount of vocabulary. I consider myself adept at vocabulary and I was once asked to be a tutor, which I had to decline :(.
Parent written by Cee Pali

Wonderful advice - AND let your kids catch you reading. Let them see you reluctant to put that book down that YOU are reading because you do love reading.
Educator and Parent of a 4 and 8 year old written by kdeep

We love reading and it has become a bed time ritual for both my boys: almost 9 and 5. Some series that my older one has ready: Magic Tree House and Geronimo Stillton. we are now exploring other books/authors and series. he is into Diary of the Whimpy Kid as well. <3
Parent written by leste

Check out Where is scales At the park with Tommy and scales Available on the ipad and iPhone and on storyline: help Tommy and his friends find their favorite pet lizard scales. Ages 3-7
Adult written by willa66

It's important for your kids to see you reading as part of your life, not some "activity." Read everything: books, comics, newspapers, magazines. Question: why is it so important for some parents that their children are the first to read in their class? Isn't it more important that they get there in their own time, with guidance from parents, teachers and friends? Why is everything a race to be first? Just wondering....
Parent of a 13 year old written by Happytobeamom

My three kids love reading. I agree with reading to them out loud, and start early (I started at 3 month). I also believe that we should not stop when they start reading on their own. It is a very special time together and you will both remember forever. My kids favorite series included Harry Potter, Amos Daragon (Quebec French series), Les Désastreuses Aventures des orphelins Baudelaire (French version of A series of Unfortunate Events) Favorite Authors for Older readers: Malorie Blackman (Noughts & Crosses series) and Scott Westerfeld (Uglies series).
Educator and Parent of a 6 year old written by suewishard

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have a 6 year old that is going into the 1st grade. I want him to love reading. I am a Special Ed English teacher and I see the struggles my students have. This is a great resource. Keep them coming.
Educator and Parent written by Reviewer Lynne

I am a 6th grade teacher and I have to comment on the point about children/teens getting hooked on reading through series (You're right. it is a great reading motivator and I have seen children become readers this way countless times). I must however take issue with the recommendation of the Twilight series for older kids. I read the highly engaging series and it was great until the fourth book which sends a highly inappropriate message about being hurt in the name of love. All I could think was "Who is your intended audience?" Because of the fourth book, I cannot recommned the series and was a little dismayed to see it recommended here.
Parent of a 12 and 14 year old written by rdc

As soon as my sons starting reading on their own, if we were out for dinner, I would not let them have any electronics, if they became restless they had books which they cold read at the table. They started carrying books everywhere they went, which came in handy in waiting rooms, at the airport, on the subway, all the places where waiting takes place. As teen-agers, they are still avid readers, though books have not been allowed during meals for a few years.
Parent written by fanznanz

My children have all been avid readers. I believe the key is to create the love of a story. Read every night to them and at naptime too. It's never too early start reading to them when they are learning to talk. Soon you and your child will have a library of favorites. Then the job is mostly done. Not only are they the earliest ones to read in thier classes, but they never want to stop. As one of my daughters says, "I don't remember ever NOT being able to read."