How to Encourage Kids to Read (Plus Some Modern Children's Classics)

Posted by Cybil on August 1, 2018

Back-to-School Reading is sponsored by LEGO Friends.

Martha Brockenbrough is the author of The Game of Love and Death, Devine Intervention, and Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary, among other books for young readers. She's the founder of National Grammar Day and SPOGG, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar.

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As a kid, I loved nothing more than lying on the grass in the summer reading books. Nancy Drew. Judy Blume. Lloyd Alexander. I used to rip through a novel a day, and when I ran out of new things to read, I'd start over with the old ones.

Not every kid has that same love of reading. One of my kids has dyslexia and it's hard for her. The other, well, let's just say she can do things on Minecraft that probably require government security clearance.

Even so, it's important for kids to keep those reading skills up. The trick for parents is supporting this without turning reading into an assignment, or worse, something that feels like a punishment.

This is where putting kids in charge of their reading makes a big difference. All reading counts: graphic novels, magazine articles, instructions for games. It's important for parents and caregivers to respect and value all reading.

A trip to the library can be a great idea for a lot of reasons: It's free. It's air conditioned. And kids will have many books to choose from. What's more, librarians love matching books to readers.

This is infinitely better than asking your friends and relatives on Facebook for suggestions. Let's face it. Aunt Marge hasn't read a kids' book since 1951. And, well, a lot has been published since Catcher in the Rye. I don't know why grownups expect kids to get really excited about classic books. It's not like they're fainting over Elvis these days. And while kids might appreciate Elvis and his songs, it's as ridiculous to be hung up on classic books as it is to reject any music written after the stuff of our own generations.

Besides, there's such a thing as a modern classic. Here are a few:

For picture books, consider Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner and Chris Silas O'Neal. This is a gorgeously illustrated nonfiction book that will enhance any summer trip to a pond. (And there are others by the same author-illustrator team).

Likewise, Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy is a really cool close-up look at the spectacular great white sharks that live near San Francisco. While it is an illustrated picture book, it's sophisticated enough for older readers too—the perfect thing for an older sibling to read aloud to a younger.

For middle grade novels, Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder is a riveting, realistic-feeling fantasy about children growing up without adults in an environment that cares for them until the day arrives and it's time for them to leave. It's a beautiful metaphor for childhood, and the sort of book that leaves lots of room for the imagination.

The Shadow Cipher: York #1 by Laura Ruby is a big, fat mystery that eager readers will love—and because it's the first in a series, will clamor for more. Set in an alternative steampunk New York, it follows kids as they solve ciphers and hunt for a long-hidden treasure. As soon as time machines are invented, I'm sending myself a copy to the summer of 1977.

Brockenbrough's recommendations:
Over and Under the Pond
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Neighborhood Sharks
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Orphan Island
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The Shadow Cipher
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You can find all of Martha Brockenbrough's books here. Like her children's book recommendations? Be sure to add some of Brockenbrough's picks to your Want to Read shelf.

Check out more of our back-to-school coverage:
Rick Riordan's Books to Hook Middle School Readers
Great Children's Books for Young History Buffs
As Diverse Kids' Books Increase, A Chance for More Muslim Stories

Comments Showing 1-22 of 22 (22 new)

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message 1: by James (new)

James Hartley Hi Laura,

I agree with you that there´s nothing better than reading when you´re young. For me it was the world of Enid Blyton which pulled me in - I would enjoy going to bed just to get back into the world of the Secret Seven. I´m currently reading the books to my daughter (8) and she´s enjoying them too - although they could really do with a proper overhaul, editing-wise, just to bring them up to date.

Earlier this year I published the first in a series of books designed to stimulate young teenagers interest in Shakespeare´s plays - taking the kids inside the plots of the plays. The first book (link below) is about Macbeth - the children travel back to medieval Scotland - and the next, coming next year from Lodestone books, is about Romeo and Juliet.

The books have been a big success in the schools where they have been introduced - they are fun, time-travel, romantic adventures - with a hint of gothic creepiness - and if they encourage one child to pick up another book (or, better yet - a pen, or keyboard) I´ll be happy.

Thanks for your books,

The Invisible Hand: Shakespeare's Moon, Act I

message 2: by Paul (new)

Paul Encouraging children to read, if they're not naturally inclined to it already, is a tough one, especially these days when there's games consoles and Pokemon to compete with (I'm sure other pastimes are available but my contact with children is limited, not being lucky enough to have any of my own).

I have trouble even comprehending children (or anyone) not wanting to read; I've had my nose stuck in a book ever since I first learnt to read. For most of my life there has literally been nothing I'd rather do than read so to try and get my head around somebody not wanting to read is a bit like trying to understand somebody not wanting to breathe... I'm sure a lot of Goodreaders feel the same way.

As I say... it's a tricky one and I wish I had the answers.

message 3: by Books for Léo (new)

Books for Léo If you don't tell kids "why" they should read you completely miss your mission and you probably fail to make them read in the futur!

message 4: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer I've started letting my oldest (8) read to us in the car while we're driving around. He loves entertaining everyone and believes this practice helps everyone relax, haha. Finding chapter books with really short chapters is also very encouraging, especially if your child is a numbers kid and the chapters are numbered. Right now he's reading us The Wild Robot, and he is really enjoying it. I second graphic novels as a way to help engage reluctant readers. Thanks for the recommendations - I've added a couple to the Amazon wishlists for both kids.

message 5: by Kelly (new)

Kelly I've always read and I've got a lot to thank my parents for in that they started me at an early age with many different Enid Blyton works, most of which I've still got on my shelves. Neither of them think anything about my reading habits now- other than perhaps wishing I wouldn't take so long in book shops. :)

message 6: by Katherine (last edited Aug 15, 2017 01:23PM) (new)

Katherine Hayward Pérez When I have kids, I'll encourage them to read. I'm always reading something. Hope they like reading as much as I do. Glad I learned to read early and against all odds despite my disabilities. Loved Enid Blyton and The Babysitter's Club books (Ann M Martin).

Olivia "So many books--so little time."" Here's how I became a reader: I grew up in a house full of books. Before I learned to read at the age of 4, my parents would read to me, and even after I learned I still enjoyed having them read to me because of the togetherness. My dad also told me some funny stories. And he took me to the library for the first time when I was 4. I'm childless, but if I had children I'd raise them the same way.

Nikki "The Crazie Betty" V. Yeah, I'm not gonna lie, I started reading voraciously because at the time they had the reading contests in elementary school where if your class read so many pages you got a pizza party. I happened to be supremely competitive before I learned to read so reading initially was a way for me to "win" against my fellow classmates. I ended up reading my first "real" book in 2nd grade, "The Odyssey" by Homer, and that was it for me, I became a total book whore. The rest, as they say, is history.

message 9: by Erica (new)

Erica "she can do things on Minecraft that probably require government security clearance. " - My son too! I started buying him minecraft and plants vs zombies books and comics...if you can't beat em, eh?

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