One mom shares her secrets for encouraging reluctant readers

Let them choose the books they like
Let them choose the books they like

There are so many things for moms to worry about these days.

Are your kids safe enough to walk to the park without an adult?

When do we allow them smartphones with access to social media?

Are they being bullied and would they tell us about it?

And that’s just some of our worries, apart from schooling and learning. It’s endless.

Let me share my latest worry with you. I have somewhat of a reluctant reader at home. I do see glimmers of hope, when she picks up and devours a graphic novel on a weekend when we have no activities scheduled, but, I have to admit, I want her to grow into a full-on book nerd.

So… I did some research, and here are a few things I can recommend to you, if you too are a mom with a reluctant reader at home or you’re just not sure how to encourage your young reader to take time to enjoy a book by themselves.

Also see: LISTEN: Local podcast chats about female authors making waves in children's literature

How to encourage them to get started:

1. Let them choose the books they like

If you’re anything like me, this will not be easy. You may have dreams of them devouring Little House on the Prairie or a Newbery Medal winner, but they turn to the Magic Kitten series instead. That’s okay. Part of the fun for them is going to a bookshop or the library and finding something that interests them, and making that choice for themselves.

2. Make sure there is time in their day for reading

Kids are busy these days. Much busier than we used to be, and let’s not get started on the amount of homework! It might be time for you to reassess the amount of after-school activities they are involved in, or to carve out some space during the weekend for reading. And, you can even get crafty with the actual experience, perhaps create a reading tent for the weekend and sit in there with them, reading your own book.

3. Have lots of books available

Having lots of books at their reading level at home will encourage them to pick one up. Scatter them all around the house. Trawl the secondhand bookshops, get library books that you think will interest them, and start decorating your home with words! And remember, the books don’t have to all be fiction. If your kid loves science, look for books with fun experiments. If they hate the idea of just seeing pages of text, look for graphic novels or chapter books full of illustrations.

When they’ve found the one they love:

1. Find more of the books they love

If they have found a book that peaks their interest, go hunting for more books by the same author. Support and encourage their love of a series and, if there is a movie of the book, rent it as soon as they have finished the book. I can guarantee a lively discussion will ensue about if and how the movie lived up to the book and what they had imagined.

2. Bring it into everyday life

If you’re reading the book with them, quote a fun phrase from the book or bring the characters into your everyday life by asking what they might do. What do you think Laura would have made for lunch everyday? Do you think Harry enjoyed doing orals? And if you’re not reading the book with them, ask them about it - why they love it so much, who the characters are and if and how they might approach situations in our daily lives?

Also read: Parents can help kids catch up in reading with a 10-minute daily routine

3. Reward their time spent reading

When they’ve finished a book by themselves, make sure to praise them… you could even slip a little reward in too! There’s nothing like a trip to their favorite play park or buying them something they’ve wanted for ages, to say, “Mmm, maybe I should read another book!”

If they dislike a book they are required to read:

1. Try make the book an experience

Now, you’re going to have to get creative and spend a lot of your mom energy here. Try and turn the story they may not be enjoying into an experience by: cooking a dish inspired by the book, going to the museum, tackling a science project, drawing, writing, painting - whatever is relevant to the book. This will help them connect the character or storyline to their world.

2. Develop criticism skills

It’s fine if they don’t like a book their school requires them to read, but unfortunately they still have to finish it. So talk about it, help them develop a good criticism for why they don’t like the book. Make sure you encourage their point of view, and maybe even ask them to write their own review. 

3. Again, reward them for finishing

Dangle a little carrot in front of them, as an incentive to finish the book.

Do they struggle with reading on an academic level?

I recently came across an interesting UK website by publishers Barrington Stoke. Their focus is on publishing “super-readable, accessible books that help every child experience the joy of reading”.

And, with a focus on children who struggle to read because of dyslexia or visual stress, they have a ‘reading age’ test on their website - which is a good, simple test to find out where your child’s reading level is.

Once you know your child’s reading level, it will be easier to find the kinds of books that won’t be stressful for them and that they will, hopefully, enjoy reading. Have a look at

Also read: Teach your kids about African history with these locally produced books

Reluctant reader book recommendations

SA History & Adventure

Libertalia: Lost Fortunes by Mel Lewis

Age 11+

Mystery meets history in Libertalia: Lost Fortunes, Melina Lewis’ new tween fiction novel aimed at 11-15 year olds. Lobengula - the last ruling King of the Matabele - was fabled to have hidden treasure of diamonds, gold and ivory, which was never found by the invading colonialists. It is against the historical backdrop of this ancient African legend that the mystery unfolds. Set in a private boarding school in the Eastern Cape in South Africa, the story is a melting pot of friendship, mystery and treasure, peppered with suspense, intrigue and African legend.

Best friends since they met at school, Karabo and Isla are grade 10 learners at Dayeton College, who are about to discover that the people they think they know, aren’t really what they seem. As they navigate their way through school terms, holidays, exams and the end-of-year matric dance, ancient mysteries emerge and their friendship becomes more important than ever.

Libertalia will excite teens about history and legends long forgotten - ones not taught in the classroom.

Coming of Age Story

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Age 10+

This novel will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in. Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, she discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid. 

Fun Series, for Boys & Girls

‘Fudge’ series by Judy Blume

Age 9+ 

The mischievous Fudge repeatedly gets into trouble. He gets his father fired from an important advertising account, refuses to eat for four days, and swallows his brother Peter's pet turtle. Peter, the fourth grade ‘nothing’, writes about his two-year-old brother Fudge's antics. As the older brother, Peter bears the brunt of Fudge's tricks and schemes.The series consists of four books: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, Fudge-a-Mania, and Double Fudge. Blume came up with the idea for this story after reading a newspaper account of a young boy eating a pet turtle.

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