Wimpy Kid Author's 6 Tips to Hook Reluctant Readers

Jeff Kinney offers sure-fire ways to get kids reading -- and have fun doing it.
Regan McMahon Senior Editor, Books | Mom of two Categories: Early Childhood, Back to School, Reading, Special Needs
Senior Editor, Books | Mom of two

Jeff Kinney is no slacker -- unlike hapless middle schooler Greg Heffley, star of Kinney's blockbuster Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which has 150 million books in print. The books also have been translated into 44 languages and made into three feature films. Kinney's ninth book in the series, The Long Haul, tracks a mishap-filled family road trip.

Knowing the appeal Kinney's books have for reluctant readers, we asked the author and game developer (he created Poptropica) -- who has two boys of his own, age 11 and 8 -- if he had any suggestions for how parents can help get their kids into reading. Here are his six tips: 

Encourage reading for fun. Adults read for pleasure and fun, and from an early age kids do, too. But I think as adults we take the fun out of reading. I think parents need to make sure kids are reading for fun and finding characters they can relate to. I created a flawed protagonist in Greg Heffley, and a lot of kids seem to relate to him.

Feed your kid's interests, even if they're not yours. Fifth- and sixth-grade boys are into Minecraft, and now there's a lot of literature about Minecraft. If you give them something they're really interested in, then reading will follow like a boulder rolling down a hill.

Be happy your kid is reading something, even if it's not a book. Reading can get done in many ways, even if it's through periodicals or the Web. I turned my kids on to the comics I read as a kid, which were part of my dad's comic book collection, especially those by Carl Barks, who wrote the Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics. I read them for the good storytelling (I was never into superhero comics). We have stories to read on my website for kids, Poptropica, where kids can learn about history and other cultures, but the emphasis is on fun and good storytelling. I know screen time is an issue for parents, and we limit our kids' screen time to an hour or two a day. But not all screen time is equal. 

Find authors your kid will love. When I was a kid, the options were very limited. I read my sister's books by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, which I loved. But now there are so many really wonderful choices. I'd recommend anything by Kate DiCamillo [Flora & Ulysses, The Tale of Despereaux] and Lincoln Peirce [Big Nate] or Stephan Pastis' series, Timmy Failure. There's an author out there for everyone. I think it's the parents' job to funnel the kids in the right direction.

Give them books with art. Kids go from reading picture books with big, beautiful illustrations to chapter books with no illustrations. Even as an adult, I want pictures when I read, even if it's in People magazine -- I need something to reward the effort. I think kids are the same way. For me, drawings are kind of a crutch in my books, because they're what I use to pay the jokes off.

Add humor. Making my books funny is my way to sneak the cartoons into them. I cut my teeth on cartooning and comic books, and, when I couldn't break into that, I switched over to books and was lucky enough to be well received.

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
What books got your kids into reading? Do you have any tips for parents of reluctant readers?

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Comments (2)

Parent of a 10 year old written by Trebuchet

This is a great piece. While my daughter is in no way reluctant to read, she does enjoy Kinney's books and agrees that sometimes adults take the fun out of reading. At school she had to fill out a "Reading Log" with a minimum page count each month, which I had to sign, in order to make her a "responsible reader." I still haven't figured that one out. Does anyone know what a "responsible reader" is? For those who want even more about this topic, Neil Gaiman (author of Coraline) gave "A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens." I found it frankly inspiring and positive. The text is available at http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-librarie....
Parent written by leste

I agree ..kids want to read a book they can relate too and is fun to read, that's why I wrote my two children's book titled Where is Scales and At the park with Tommy and Scales. It's about a little boy name Tommy who takes his pet lizard to school. I gifted my books to my god son as well as your books.. i wonder which one he liked better Lol!!