Today is National Book Lovers Day. It’s a wonderful excuse for book lovers like me to sequester ourselves to a quiet corner and read until our hearts are content. Yet, what do we, as homeschool parents, do when our children don’t love books? How can we instill a love (or even a little joy) of reading in our struggling or reluctant readers?
I’ve joined up with a couple of ladies on YouTube to share ideas and books for struggling or reluctant readers. Be sure to check out their videos at Life in the Mundane and Project Happy Home.
It’s important to first understand if your reluctant reader simply isn’t interested in reading or if reading is truly a struggle for them. It may affect the choices you make when it comes to books that will get them on board. It’s also important to remember that every child is different. Books that are engaging for one person may be duller than paint drying for another.
One of the most challenging points of growth for struggling learners is that leap from easy readers to chapter books. It can be beyond overwhelming for a child who has to work harder to read. Here are some ideas to help get you over that hurdle, and hopefully into a world of reading . . . for fun!
*Please be sure to check these books out before offering them to your children. I have books here that are appropriate for seven-year-olds and some that would be best suited for children ages ten or twelve and older. I have included a wide range of books because struggling and disinterested readers come in all ages and varying interests. Books in bold were mentioned in the video.
Fall in Love with Authors
One thing I forgot to mention in the video is helping children fall in love with a particular author. Prolific children’s authors tend to have lots of books on various topics and at different levels. You can start by giving kids easier books from the author and increase difficulty over time, or enjoy a family read aloud, then offer your kids more books by the beloved author to read on his/her own. Here are some of our favorite authors:
These are some of the most popular books by the authors. We haven’t read all of these exact books.
There are so many great picture books that are longer or are written in chapter book style. Please don’t dismiss these books as easy though. Their vocabulary can be rich and the content can be deep. I find that picture books with chapters, or even that are broken up in sections can help readers who are reluctant to make that jump into books with fewer pictures. The chapters or breaks are a good way to help kids get used to the idea that they don’t have to read the whole book all at once.
- Tuttle’s Red Barn by Richard Michelson
- Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlmann
- Einstein: The Fantastic Journey of a Mouse Through Space and Time by Torben Kuhlmann
- Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure by Torben Kuhlmann
- Lidenberg: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann
- Discovery in the Cave (Step Into Reading Level 4) by Mark Dubowski – Check out all of the level 4 Step Into Reading books here.
- To the Top! Climbing the World’s Highest Mountain (Step Into Reading Level 5) by Sydelle Kramer – Check out all of the level 5 Step Into Reading Books here.
Graphic novels are taking the children’s and middle grade book market by storm. You can find this format for both fiction and non-fiction, on any imaginable topic. The great thing about graphic novels is that there are only a few words on every page and they move quickly. This gives children a feeling of accomplishment, and can be especially helpful for kids with reading struggles like dyslexia.
- Billy and the Mini Monsters Series by Zanna Davidson
- Scurvy Dogs by Kevin Frank
- Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea (Book 1) by Ben Clanton
- Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt (Book 2) by Ben Clanton
- When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson
- Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd – I haven’t read this one personally, but have heard good reviews about it.
- I Survived Graphic Novels – Many popular series are now releasing graphic novel formats. This can be an excellent bridge for children who aren’t quite ready to tackle a full page of words. It might make the leap easer because they are already invested in the series.
Chapter Books with High Picture-to-Text Ratio
Sometimes seeing so many words on a page with no pictures or nothing to break them up can be really overwhelming and intimidating. Easing kids into books with a high picture-to-text ratio and slowly decreasing the amount of pictures over time can be a nice transition for kids. These books have higher picture-to-text ratios to help children feel accomplished and reduce the overwhelm of a page full of words.
- Fizz the Police Dog Series by Leslei Gibbes
- Kirsten American Girl Book Set by Janet Beeler Shaw
- Olivia’s Secret Scribbles: My New Best Friend by Meredith Costain (First in a series)
- Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Sciszka (First in a series)
- Bear Grylls Adventures: The Blizzard Challenge by Bear Grylls (First in a series)
- Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo (This is the first in a series, and there are many more challenging chapter books by this author.)
- Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro (First in a series)
Books with Short Chapters
As a busy mom, I honestly prefer books with shorter chapters. I’m more likely to pick up a book if I know I can read a chapter in just a few minutes. I also feel like I’m making more progress in a book. I also have to admit, it’s easier to read “just one more chapter” if the chapters are short and sweet. I’m much more likely to close the book and come back to it later if the next chapter is long. Often kids feel the same way. A short chapter feels more doable, and that’s something that can help us help our kids love books.
- The Boston Massacre: An Interactive History Adventure by Elizabeth Raum
- Boxcar Children Interactive Mysteries series created by Gertrude Chandler Warner
- Star Wars Choose Your Destiny – I’m not personally a Star Wars fan and I haven’t read this book, but I know there are many fans out there. I decided to include this to show you the variety you can find in this type of chapter book.
- City of Orphans by Avi
- The Greystone Secrets: The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix (First in a series)
Read Along with an Audio Book
This is more of a strategy than a list of books. Listening to the audio version of a book while reading along in the print copy can really help struggling readers. It helps them to make the connection between the words they have heard in spoken language with the words they see written on a page. This can also be a way to help kids read books that might be a little more challenging than what they would read on their own. It’s best to try to keep the audio on normal speed, but you also don’t want your child to become totally lost, so it’s OK to slow down the reading speed a bit if needed. (Find out more about this strategy here and here.)
You can do this with ANY book that’s available in both audio and print versions. Here are my kid’s favorites:
- The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
- Prince Martin Wins his Sword by Brandon Hale (First in a series – this has rhyming text and is good for earlier readers to listen along with, but works well for kids who want something that’s not babyish)
- James Herriot’s Treasury for Children by James Herriot – This is a picture book, but the language is quite complex and is an excellent choice for this strategy.
Grabbing Interest – Books in a Series and High Interest Books
Honestly, the definition for “high interest” books is going to vary from child-to-child. They can range the gamut from non-fiction science graphic novels to pop culture chapter books and everything in between. The key here is to think about things your child is excited about, then give her books about it.
You’ll also probably notice a lot of books I’ve recommended are part of a series. There’s a reason for this. If you can get your child started in one book in a series, he will be much more likely to pick up the next book and read it. The more your child reads, the more comfortable she will become with reading and the process snowballs into a lovely display of literacy.
It seems silly to share books here because what’s high interest varies so much, but I will share some favorites from me, my kids, and students I’ve tutored in the past.
- Science Comics Series – This engaging graphic novel series covers just about any science topic you can think of. It includes topics from all the major branches of science.
- I Survived Books – These can be a great way to bring history alive. They are one of the most popular early chapter book series. You can even start with the graphic novels if needed.
- Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner – This is an excellent classic series with loads and loads of books, and more coming out all the time. There are also spin-of series as well including graphic novels, early readers, Great Adventures, and more.
- Explorer Academy by Trudy Trueit – This National Geographic series includes so much of the latest technology, travel, and an intensely gripping story-line. The pages are illustrated, and the pace is fast. Each book ends on a cliff-hanger, so you have to read the next one. These are best for children 10-12 and up.
- Green Ember by S.D. Smith – This is another series that has other series that branch off of it. It’s a fantasy series that my husband says reminds him a lot of Lord of the Rings, but for a younger audience. My boys both loved these books and couldn’t get enough of them.
- Chronicles of Narnia – The Chronicles of Narnia is a truly classic series that remains among the favorites of children today. There are so many additional resources available to help you get the most out of this series for your kids. These would be a fantastic series to listen and read along.
- Anna Hibiscus – This is a favorite series in our home. The chapters can be a little bit long for brand new chapter book readers, but the high picture-to-text ratio makes them great for chapter book readers who are just building confidence.
- The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls – This is a fun series that takes kids through the stories of the Bible. Great for reading along with audio or for children just building confidence with chapter books. Text heavy, but reading level is about 3rd or 4th grade.
I know many people don’t like giving their kids abridged or “watered down” versions of the classics. However, having easier to read versions makes classics accessible to your children at younger ages, or if they struggle with reading. It can also give your child a step-up when they begin tackling the more advanced versions later in their schooling. They will already be familiar with the stories. Here are some great lines of simplified classics:
- Great Illustrated Classics – This may be the most extensive library of classics for younger readers. I like to let my kids look through the lists and pick the ones that are appealing to them. The first time my son read a book from this series, he felt SO accomplished and proud of himself.
- Usborne Books & More is always innovating when it comes to bringing classics to kids. They currently have a line of graphic novels, very early chapter book classics, illustrated originals, and more.
Team Up With Your Child
Maybe there’s a book your child isn’t crazy about or that’s more challenging than what she’s used to. First of all consider, is this a book your child really needs to read. If not, consider the five chapter rule. Most books worth reading grab you by the fifth chapter. If you’re still trudging through and struggling to read page after page, it might be time to let your child abandon the book.
However, if it’s a book your child needs to read, or it’s something you think is important (or maybe they just really need to start FINISHING books they start), consider teaming up.
One way to team up with your child is buddy reading. You can read a page or paragraph, then they read a page or paragraph. This style of reading does take a lot of time, but it can give your child the confidence he needs without wearing him out.
Another thing you can do is have a book club. I did this with my son when he was tackling his first long chapter book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. It was a big jump for him and he was struggling to get into it. I decided to read it along with him. It quickly turned into a race. He wanted to stay ahead of me. It also led to some great discussion and camaraderie around the story. “Have you met x Character yet?” “You won’t believe what happens in this chapter.” “What did you think about y? Did it totally surprise you?” Ultimately there was some great relationship building around that book, which I’m sure led to my son’s, now love of the book he didn’t want to finish.
Child Led Reading Lists
When it comes to independent reading, it’s important to give children, especially those who struggle or aren’t fond of reading, some freedom in choosing books that appeal to them. I like to do this by creating a grid of books and book options (with plenty of free spaces). I like to include books that go along with what we’re learning in school, topics I know will interest my kids, and things to stretch them a bit. You’ll notice that over time, as he found more books he liked, I began giving him more choices as I knew he had plenty in his TBR (to be read) pile.
Here are some examples of challenges we’ve had in the past (click the pictures for a larger image):
Don’t discredit magazines as a way to get your kids reading. Look for magazines specific to topics your kids love. The Week Junior is a favorite subscription in our home.
So much of helping struggling and reluctant readers has to do with taking the time to slow down and be in tune with your child. I hope some of the ideas and resources I’ve listed here have been helpful for you.
Again, remember to check out what Katie and Tanya have to add to the conversation as well. Let me know if you have have any questions or if you need help troubleshooting and coming up with ideas for a particular reader. I LOVE helping find the perfect books for kids.
HAPPY NATIONAL BOOK LOVER’S DAY to all the readers in your family!