Getting Your Elementary School Aged Child to Read
"Picky Reader" Tips
Let's be clear: If your child is a 'picky' reader, ANY book is the right book. Considering the alternatives, I would rather have my son reading Big Nate for the umpteenth time than playing Candy Crush for the umpteenth hour.
Picky reading is a lot like picky eating. You want your child to expand their taste and appetite but you also don't want them to go hungry. That being said, it's important to encourage your child to grow as a reader. Don't necessarily expect your child to challenge him or herself. Left to their own devices, most kids will continually choose books in their wheelhouse and fear taking a step up into the world of books without fancy covers or pictures breaking up the words.
I would suggest adding more advanced books using baby steps. If your child will only look at comic books or graphic novels, then the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Dork Diaries or Middle School series is a baby step in the right direction. The key is to: 1) Get your child reading; and (2) Get them to see reading as an enjoyable activity.
In my opinion, the next step from books with pictures is books with pictures already in your child's mind (books made into movies your child has probably seen). For this age group (8-10), I would highly recommend the Roald Dahl Collection, which includes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Twits and Matilda.
If your child is more advanced or has already read those books, I would recommend the Percy Jackson and the Olympians Collection in paperback (around $20), of which two of the novels have already been made into movies (The Lightning Thief and Sea of Monsters)
Jumping from books with pictures (or books turned into movies) to books without pictures can be a huge leap for many children. Don't push too hard and choose books that have short chapters. Long chapters can be intimidating and discouraging for even more experienced readers. You want your child to have a sense of accomplishment and pride from completing a book. Breaking those accomplishments into small steps is a great way to achieve that goal.
Start Your Kid's Reading Engines
As a parent, former school teacher and lawyer, I can attest to the fact that there is nothing more important for your child than reading. Between the Nintendo DS, Wii, Xbox, Playstation, iTouch, iPad, iPhone and Kindle, I think it's safe to say that your fourth or fifth grader has more potential distractions than ever.
The key to getting your child to read is creating a love of reading while they are young. That means buying or borrowing books -- lots of books -- frequently! When my son fell in love with one of the Wimpy Kid books, I knew it wasn't particularly challenging or educational, but he was still READING, so I bought him every book in the series.
Once your child develops a love of reading, you can start to gently 'push' books to them. Read them the summary or an inspiring Amazon review and give them a few minutes to mull it over. Then walk away! Give them their space. Always allow your child to read in his or her room in complete silence. Never expect them to read with the TV on, the iPod blasting Katy Perry or while a sibling is playing a video game in the same room.
But what about kids who 'hate' reading?
I don't really believe kids hate reading. Children have wildly active imaginations that really allow them to immerse themselves in books in the same manner they throw themselves into video games or sports or make believe. It's really just a matter of prioritizing where reading fits into your world as a parent.
No one loves video games more than my 9 year old, but I would add that no 9 year old loves reading more than he does either. So when he wants to spend his summer playing Angry Birds or Minecraft, the solution is simple: He earns video game time by reading and writing book reports. You can come up with your own reward system, but in my experience, kids thrive on positive rewards and offering them video game time as a reward for reading just works better than threatening them with no video games for not reading.
He Who Reads, Learns
Book Recommendations for Elementary School Level
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - You can't go wrong with Judy Blume at this age (except Forever, which contains adolescent material) but watch out for the sequel to Fourth Grade Nothing called Superfudge, in which the main character reveals the true identity of Santa Claus! Don't say I didn't warn you!
Freckle Juice by Judy Blume - A memorable book for younger or more basic readers that stays with readers for a lifetime.
Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries by Donald Sobol - What's cooler than being a 10-year old detective? This series was my gateway to loving reading. And with dozens of titles, if your child likes the series, you have plenty of books that await.
Choose Your Own Adventure - Imagine a series of books where the action is decided by the choices of the reader. This is that series. Addictive, adventurous and exciting, this series is highly recommended for those with children who love video games and/or have an overactive imagination!
Hot Shot by Matt Christopher - Matt Christopher is the author of dozens of children sports fiction titles that are great to get your sports fanatic hooked on reading. Each book has a great story, appropriate themes, an inspiring message and a happy ending.
The Twits - You really can't go wrong with anything by Roald Dahl for your 4th or 5th grader. I recommend to parents that they avoid books that have been made into popular movies because kids who have seen the films will often lose interest in the book. My son also loved The BFG, The Witches, and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. If your son loves Roald Dahl, I highly recommend buying the which contains all of the above books, plus several other classics. One effective technique for kids who have not seen the movies (James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, etc.) yet is to promise to watch the movie with them after they've read the book. Roald Dahl Collection - 15 Paperback Book Boxed Set
About the Author
Jason Stern is a former New York City school English teacher who is now an attorney. He was an early reader and remembers his mother taking him to the library each week as a child to select 3-4 books to read. He draws from his experiences as an early reader and his experience as a teacher to assist other parents in making good book choices for their children. He is the founder of the Tesla Gifted Foundation, which develops educational programs for children with advanced abilities in music, math, reading and writing. Please leave a comment below if you would like a specific book recommendation for your child's age.