Who doesn’t want their kids to love books?
Right now, my 18 month old daughter is a champ at reading board books over and over (and over and over…). But, I’m not always sure what the ‘next’ step should be once she’s ready for something more challenging than Goodnight Moon. If I let her pick for herself, we would own every Sesame Street sticker book in existence and not much else. How do I help her get interested in high quality, interesting books?
This problem continues as kids get older – how do we encourage them to love not just movie and character-related books, but award-winning “literary” books?
Can we help our kids develop a love of books that drives them to seek interesting and challenging reading for themselves?
There’s no one answer to this, but here are five things that I’m trying with my daughter that (sometimes) seem to work:
Make a big, fun deal out of going to the library
We have REALLY great libraries available in the Burlington area and they are brimming with wonderful books, activities, and librarians. Many kids like going to the library already, but make sure they get time to just hang out there around a bunch of books, comfy chairs, and other people who love books.
For littles, pay attention to which books are read at story hours and see if you can check these out to read again at home. Start checking out books even before your kids are old enough to get their own library cards – my toddler now proudly carries a board book she picked to the front desk for check-out every time we visit.
For older kids, help them pick out interesting books or ask for a librarian’s help. Some middle and high schoolers might even be ready to browse in the adult sections, with your help — check out the ‘recommended’ bookshelves and see what might be appropriate and at their reading level.
If your kids love going to the library, there’s a good chance they’ll love books too.
Read a book together with your child (of any age)
Parents of young children already do this all the time, but don’t stop reading together once your kids can read on their own. For elementary school age kids, find a book series that is fun to read out loud – and you can take turns with your child if they read well enough. Some good candidates are the Harry Potter series, the Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, and the Lord of the Rings.
For middle and high schoolers, challenge them to read an “interesting” book with you and discuss it – depending on their age and reading level, you could read science fiction, a biography, or book of essays. For kids with lots of homework already, try something totally different (and shorter), like a book of poems or graphic novel. You could even ask your child to recommend a book to you — which you’ll read as long as they agree to discuss with you over hot chocolate! Many books come with discussion questions, or you and your child can come up with your own conversation starters.
An important part of reading any interesting or challenging book is taking time to process and reflect on it, and there is no better way to do this that discussing with another person who has also read the book.
If you can help your child engage with a book that they might not pick for themselves, they’ll be more willing to seek out other interesting and challenging material.
Meet and talk to real authors
We are also fortunate in Burlington to have great bookstores and colleges in our area, all of which are magnets for real, live authors.
My daughter and I recently got to meet the author Mac Barnett and illustrator Jon Klassen (who recently created the new book Triangle) through an event sponsored by the Flying Pig bookstore. Not only did they do a great job reading us some of their children’s books and talking about their experiences as authors, they stayed to sign books and talk personally with every child. Even though she can’t talk yet, my daughter got really excited as Jon drew in her book and wrote her name – she now turns to this page every time we read it and I know this will be a treasured book even when she gets older.
For older kids, a great experience is to attend an event like the Burlington Book Festival at the University of Vermont which takes place every fall. While these festivals may have “family” activities, you should also look at the full festival calendar — there are always sessions on a broad range of topics of interest, such as robots or foreign countries, that may pique your child’s interest. These events are also great opportunities to meet (and get books signed by) Vermont authors.
A personal connection with a book, through meeting the author and hearing their perspective on their writing, is a great way for anyone to learn to love books by exploring different genres and less famous writers.
It also gives your child an extra-special souvenir to take home: a signed book!
Check out the award winners
If you are out of ideas for your child’s reading, there are great lists of award-winning books available for all ages. Use these lists to find quality books that you may not have thought of — and which your library should have or be able to request. It can be particularly fun to check out older books on these lists — my daughter recently got very excited about the 1962 Caldecott-winning book Snowy Day, which has lovely illustrations of a young boy playing in the snow in his urban neighborhood.
You can also browse our very own book lists here on Burlington Moms Blog, tested and approved by our writers and their book-loving kids!
Books for Young Children:
- Caldecott Medal Winners for outstanding picture books by American illustrators
- Amazing Picture Books that Teach Kids about Emotions
- My Favorite Kids Books for Littles
Books for Elementary-Aged Children:
- Newbery Medal and Honor Winners for outstanding American children’s books
- Coretta Scott King Award Winners for outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values
- Pura Belpre Award Winners for Latino/Latina writers and illustrators whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth
- Required Reading for Strong Girls: Books She’ll Love
- Books that Break Gender Stereotype (Girls)
- Books that Break Gender Stereotype (Boys)
Books for Young Adult Readers:
- YALSA Book Awards and Book Lists includes 6 annual awards for the best teen literature
Reading is an activity that will enrich your child’s life as they grow, and can be a wonderful way for you to connect with them.
In addition to helping develop brain power and vocabulary, reading books is also a great way to develop empathy, as your child encounters all kinds of different characters and learns to see the world from different perspectives.
Browsing through books to find my next treasured volume is still one of my favorite pastimes, and I trace it back to the many times that my mother carted me and my sisters to the library and set us free to find our own books.