Raising Reluctant Readers


First, let’s start with this fact: I’ve taught in an elementary school for over a decade. In my classroom, reading is encouraged, supported, and abundant. Teaching a kid to love to read will eventually lead to a kid who reads well and ultimately becomes a well-read adult. I believe this wholeheartedly.

Now here’s another fact: I hate graphic novels. Have you ever stopped and picked up one of the books your child was reading? (I’m talking about those huge comic book type stories that have exploded onto bookshelves over the last ten years). If you haven’t, give it a whirl. They’re horrible. Minimal character development and plot, often full of immature jokes of the poop and fart persuasion and riddled with grammatical atrocities. Yep, I abhor them. About seven years ago, I even banned them from my classroom.

So, here’s the plot twist. When my daughter hit third grade, her reading skills began to stagnate. Be it due to the less than stellar teacher she was given, the mix of kids in the room that made her not want to be in school, or just an academic plateau; she started to struggle. With her abilities slipping and sliding, she went from an above-average reader to below grade level in less than a year.

What happened? Books got longer and harder. Her stamina, maturity, and attention had not caught up to grade-level requirements. Sound familiar? Many kids around this age start to feel this slip and, when faced with reading challenges, get turned off and begin to (gasp) hate reading.reading

So What’s The Solution?

If you’ve ever found yourself in the same boat with your children, you know that as a mom, you’ll try anything to support your child’s academic success. I did just that. There were sticker charts, we read together, I tried tough love (“just sit there and read it!”)…all not helpful. I brought home dozens of popular books, and I even tried bribery (“If you read this book, I’ll bring you to the store to get the next one in the series.”). Yet, no matter what I tried, her interest kept dwindling, and her grades slipped too.

Enter the Wimpy Kid.

Then one day, after a trip to her school library, she came home, nose in a book. I couldn’t believe it. I actually couldn’t get her to put the book down! To say that I was optimistic would be an understatement. Yet, it was a graphic novel. I was torn. Do I let her go because at least she is reading, or try to redirect her to an actual novel that might have some brain stimulation? I let her go. 

It was the best decision I could have made, maybe. I’m still not in love with those books. However, she read the whole thing in a day. Then she read another one and another. She tried another similar series and another. Fast forward two years, and she is back to reading at above grade level. She loves to read and does so without hesitation daily. Yes, she still reads a lot of graphic novel types of books, but she is reading

Let them read. Whatever it is. Give them magazines, online books, picture books, graphic novels, sides of cereal boxes. Who cares what it is, as long as they are reading. You might find that reading something less than Newberry Medal-Worthy may still have its place after all. They can be a good stepping stone or jumping-off point for your reluctant reader. Eventually, their love (and some peer pressure from other kids reading chapter books) will bring them back to the literary world of novels. If you are looking for some books for your kids, try this list of great graphic novels for reluctant readers. And while you’re at it, support your local bookshop; there are so many in our great county! 

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Kristen is the proud mom of two wonderful, smart and sassy daughters (born in 2007 and 2011). Raising her kids as a single mom is a challenge and an adventure and she loves every minute of it. Kristen loves bringing up her girls in the same area of Westchester that she grew up in, having only moved a few miles from her childhood home. A long time passion for working with children led Kristen to pursue a career in education and she has been an elementary school teacher in the Bronx for over a decade. Her teaching career has taught her that every day is a new experience and to "expect the unexpected." If she can find any spare time between teaching and motherhood, Kristen likes to read, binge watch horrible romantic comedies on TV, bake, and go on road trips with her girls.