How to Raise a Reader
As we gear up for the Back To School season, we are thinking about the power of reading and the importance it plays in our children's education and their growing imaginations. But with a seemingly limitless amount of books out there, where do you even start? We're turning to our friend Janssen Bradshaw of Everyday Reading for advice! A former children's librarian turned book blogger, Janssen is a wealth of information on all things reading and she's sharing her best tips of how to grow your child's interest in reading to what books she recommends for various age groups!
As a former children's librarian, a book blogger for more than a decade and now a mother to four little bookworms, you won't be surprised to hear that I feel strongly about the importance of raising a reader (or four of them, as the case may be).
Helping your child develop a love for books is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Being able to read is such a fundamental part of education and feeling comfortable and enthusiastic about books will help them throughout their lives.
If you're looking to raise a reader of your own, here are some of my best tips to make it a wonderful experience.
- Read Together. There might not be anything more fundamental you can do to help your child develop a love of reading. The thing children crave the most is attention from the adults in their lives, so when you snuggle up together on the couch or in bed or on a blanket on the grass, you're creating STRONG connections between books and happiness for them. And don't give up reading to them when they can read on their own - it's still such a great tool to keep reading aloud to them as long as they'll let you!
- Rotate who picks the books. If your children are anything like mine, they go straight for the worst character books at the library or bookstore. I'm willing to read those once but I also want to make sure we're reading lots of quality books, new and old. So I'll let them choose a book that I'll read to them and then I read a book that I chose. This helps mix up genres, topics, and titles so they get exposed to a wide array of books and can learn what they like.
- Quit a book you aren't enjoying. This feels counter-intuitive to many parents since it can seem like you're teaching your child to be a quitter. But slogging through a book you hate doesn't make you love reading – it just makes you NOT want to read. If your toddler loses interest in a board book or your elementary-school kid can't keep track of the plot or characters in a chapter book, ditch it and try something new. The goal is to help your child develop a love for reading, not dread getting stuck in a book you won't let them give up on.
- Don't push too hard for the next level. As parents, it's normal for us to want our kids to progress as quickly as possible. But there's no gold stars for leaving behind picture books and there are so many great books at every level! If your child can handle chapter books, but still loves picture books, absolutely keep them part of the mix! When your child is ready for the next level, they'll let you know, but in the meantime, don't make them feel dumb about their choice of books or force them to read something they aren't quite ready for.
- Keep books within reach. Whether you have a low shelf or a small basket on the floor, it's super helpful to keep books where children can pick them up on their own (once they're past the stage where they're likely to destroy a book if left unattended for more than 20 seconds). Picking up books on their own, helps kids self-identify as a reader, plus looking through pictures and identifying a plot based on the illustrations are both great pre-reading skills.
- Give audiobooks a try. Like reading aloud, audiobooks can introduce children to the joys of a great story even if they can't read it on their own yet. It helps develop listening skills (which is a huge bonus when they start attending school), plus exposes them to a wide range of styles, voices, and vocabulary. I always recommend trying them out in the car when there isn't anything more interesting - even a resistant listener will likely get sucked in!
- Model reading as a fun hobby. If you want to raise a reader but then your child always sees you on your phone, they're going to see screen time as the pastime of choice. Instead, make time to sit down with your own books and read for a few minutes. Give your child a stack of board or picture books and have her look through them while you read your own novel. Model for your children that reading is a delightful part of adult life, not just a requirement for unlucky children to slog through.
And of course, all of this is useless without actual books! And there's nothing a librarian loves more than recommending books, so here are some of my favorites that I hope you'll love too – get your library cards ready to max out!
Best Books for Babies
- Besos for Baby: A Little Book of Kisses. You already know how irresistible those round little baby cheeks are. This charming board book with both English and Spanish words in it is utterly delightful and one you'll happily read over and over again.
- Piggies - If you twisted my arm, I'd probably name this as my all-time favorite board book. On each page there is a set of children's hands with little piggies on each finger. The details are mind-boggling and it's the perfect length for a bedtime read (e.g. short).
- Baby Animals - My mother-in-law (who knows all the good books!) gave us this board book when my first child was born and it's been well-loved through four children now. I love the extra-tall shape of it, the beautiful illustrations, and the wide variety of both animals and children depicted.
- Peek-A Who? - We own most of the books in this darling series and my children have all LOVED guessing who is behind each page and then seeing themselves in the mirror on the last page.
Best Books for Toddlers
- Duck! Rabbit! - This book is like those pictures where you're asked if you see two women or a vase. Do you see a duck or do you see a rabbit? The off-screen narrators can't agree, no matter what the duck does. Or is it a rabbit? This was probably the single most popular picture book I read to my students as a school librarian.
- Mae Among the Stars - For all the children who get asked a million times "what are you going to be when you grow up?" this book is a delightful tale of Mae Jamison who knew she wanted to be an astronaut even when her teacher suggested she pick something more realistic.
- Not a Stick - It might look like a stick to you, but with each page turn, you see what an imagination can turn a simple stick into, from a fireman's hose to an artist's brush. Check out Not a Box too.
- My Pet Wants a Pet - When a little boy gets a dog, it's so wonderful that the dog quickly decides that HE wants a pet too. The little boy's mom (unsurprisingly) is much less enthusiastic about this idea.
Best Early Chapter Books
- Ling & Ting: Not Exactly The Same! - Ling and Ting are twins, but even if they look alike, they have very distinct personalities. And you get to watch those differences shine in each funny chapter.
- Mercy Watson - This whole series is just really great fun about a pig who lives with an older couple and is obsessed with buttered toast. The audiobook version is fantastic, too.
- Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy - Two little brothers are DELIGHTED when their grandfather comes to spend the week with them. (There are three books in this series and they are all super sweet).
- The Princess in Black - If you think princesses just sit around wearing tiaras, you haven't met The Princess in Black. She can throw a tea party with the best of them, but when the monster alarm goes off, she puts on her disguise and races off to save the day.
Best Chapter Books for Kids (for reading aloud or solo reading!)
- Juana & Lucas - Juana likes fun things. And learning English is NOT fun. Until her grandfather figures out a way to convince her that it might be worth her while. This one has full color illustrations, which makes it perfect to keep a younger child engaged as they start listening to longer books.
- Toys Go Out - Three toys have plenty of adventures during the day when their little girl is otherwise occupied. If your child loves the concept of Toy Story, this one (and the two sequels) will be right up their alley.
- Vanishing Coin - Mike is a third grader who struggles in school but discovers - thanks to the mysterious owner of an antique and joke shop - that he is very good at learning and performing magic tricks for his friends (and sometimes the neighborhood bully).
- Zoey and Sassafras - A series with magical animals, science, and mystery? Sign me up. In each installment of this series, Zoey and her cat sidekick Sassafras help a magical animal using science.
About The Author
Janssen Bradshaw is a former children's librarian and the blogger behind Everyday Reading where she shares reviews of her favorite books, makes suggestions for how to incorporate reading into your family life, and creates lists of the very best books for different ages and interests! You can check out her free course Raising Readers for hands-on tips and ideas you can implement right away.