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