How to grow readers

How to grow readersBoth of my boys are readers. Mr12 is a die-hard reading addict, much like his mother, and has the blog to prove it. Mr9 is less obsessive, but always has a book (or four) on the go.

He’s a dipper, is Mr9, and I always watch his progress with great interest. Why? Because if he finishes a book, I know that book has something really special, so I read it myself to try to find out what that secret might be…

(If you’re wondering, the last books he completed were John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Richard Roxburgh’s Artie and the Grime Wave).

I’m sometimes asked how I get them to read. With Mr12, there is no ‘get’ involved. He discovered books at five and has inhaled them ever since, to the point where dragging him away is often more of a problem.

Mr9 is a different case and not a boy who would choose to read when he can run, jump, kick a ball or, equally, play a screen.

But he is surrounded by readers.

I read, The Builder reads, Mr12 reads… The house is full of books and there are always more and more coming through the door. We go to the library, we frequently ‘poke around’ in bookshops. Every time I go to an author event I get the boys a signed book from one of the other authors.

The Builder and I have read to both boys since they were born. Me, ad nauseum, The Builder, regularly. Even now, I still read aloud to Mr12 on occasion, despite the fact that he is more than capable of reading all by himself, just because we both enjoy it.

And every night, we send them off to bed to read, partly for relaxation, partly for reading habit, partly for enjoyment and, frankly, partly for my own vicarious pleasure. (Seriously, the thought of being despatched to bed at 8pm every night to read is pretty much my idea of heaven these days.)

For me, growing readers is about finding the right books (you’ll find some great suggestions here), creating a habit, and then enabling it as much as you can. But I also get that some kids are tough nuts to crack when it comes to reading. So, let’s open this up for discussion…

What do you think? Are your kids readers? What steps did you take to get them there?


  • I do what my Mum did, which is buy books, and more books, then some more. I remember every birthday, Christmas and for no reason at all, my Mum would give me new books. There was a period in the teenage years where I completely rejected books and went a good few years without reading. She persevered. It worked. I think she knew if she kept nurturing the reader in me, I would become one. And that I am. I can’t live without books. I have converted my husband as a result. So now I do the same for my children – my 9 year old and 10 year old are well on the way and I just have my three year old to work on next.

  • My girls are much older now, but when they were growing up I encouraged them to read whatever they could. I read to them nearly every night for many years. One idea I used was a special treat of a book from a series. The “Book Fairy” – they knew who she was! – left a book under their pillow every now and then. We’d make a point of sharing that book. I bought two series, one they both still remember is the Wheedle on the Needle. When my daughter who is now in her thirties moved into her home near a tv tower she pointed out her memory of the book. My other daughter encourages her own two year old with books. Her little one gets super excited when we suggest reading a book and snuggles into her space ready and eager to turn the pages.
    I take her to the local library’s story time once a week.
    I think the the main way I encouraged reading was having lots of books in the home as well. I still have book cases full of books to choose from.

  • Our two eldest (my step-daughters) aren’t the biggest readers. Miss 18 is showing more of an interest these days though. Miss 8 reads every night, and has favourite books and authors, but does require a little encouragement to read at other times. Miss 10 is our biggest reader and has been since early on. I can still remember from about 18 months old where she’d sit up in her cot after waking up, flicking through a book rather than crying for me to come and get her! Now she devours books and will take any spare moment to sit down and read.
    I think it’s about encouraging it from a very young age and making it fun. Having lots of books around and of course, leading by example makes a huge difference too.

  • Kids are so scheduled with lessons and practices after school, and there’s so much other entertainment available at home! I was desperate to learn to read, and then to get lost in a story, possibly because it was the only option when I was a pre-schooler. My daughter went to day care, where there was always somebody to play with.

    Growing a reader turned out to be a matter of practice, practice, practice.

    We did all the right things–reading to our daughter from an early age, going to library story time, checking out books, making time to read ourselves, buying books as gifts–but sometime during her third grade year I realized that I had an eight-year-old who never read for pleasure. I had always assumed she would love reading. She didn’t. I don’t remember what event clued me in. I do remember deciding to become an enforcer of “reading hour” every day. We started by sitting together–she’d read a page, and I’d read a page. I enjoyed the reading, but it was also excruciating. She was struggling, and I had loads of other things to do. Like prep a healthy supper. Anyway. We kept at it because it’s that important. After a couple of months, she was making great improvements, and I could say, “Hey, I need to make a salad. Read to me while I do it, okay?” She took over more of the reading, and by the end of the year, we were reading separate books at opposite ends of the window seat, with an occasional question about a word or context.

    So now she has a month-old boy, and she and her husband are working on a bedtime routine with story time and singing. She remembers our reading hours. She remembers liking the stories. She doesn’t recall any anxiety about it. (YAY!) She says she’s not sure how or when she made the transition, but she recognizes that, as an early reader, she was reading individual words. One. By. One. At some point in our amped up reading practice, she developed the ability to skim the text while an accompanying movie played inside her head.

  • I read to mine every night when they were small. We lived in Italy for 6 years and their English reading lessened. Mr 16 doesn’t read for pleasure at the moment, which I am upset about, but I am not going to force him to read. Miss 14 has started to read more. Her book choices are partially influenced by her peer group but I do hope she reads some of the books I read when I was her age.

  • I have four children, with two of them (number one and number three, one boy and one girl) reading by inhaling, it seems. The other two (numbers two and four, also one boy, one girl) were dragged across books as if they were beds of rusty nails, at least, that’s the impression I got. All four were given the same upbringing: a steady diet of love, bedtime stories, songs and bad dad jokes (mum jokes are sensible, naturally). Number four has taken off with secretly reading books instead of doing chores, and I believe loads of bedtime stories have helped tremendously. Or not helped, as the case may be. What was the question again?
    Our house is full of books. In fact, one day I was decluttering and I told the 13yo avid reader that I’d have to cull some books. His response, “No mum, we need more bookshelves.” He’s a keeper.

  • While both my wife and I would be chuffed if our 12-year-old boy could drag himself away from the iPad a bit more and not just read a book in bed at night until he falls off to sleep, I appreciate that so long as the books are there on the shelves in his bedroom, then he will eventually come to around to our way of thinking.
    Looking back on my own childhood, I came from a very fiction-poor family. Not much “losing oneself” in a shelf of Funk and Wagnalls I’m afraid. My wife, to her credit, has laid the groundwork with trips to the library. And I never tired of reading to him at night “The Caterpillar who ate too much” for quite a few weeks. Reading the comments, I guess I’m on the same page with everybody here: we don’t need to overthink it too much. Somedays it’ll be iPad, somedays it’ll be practicing his sketches, somedays it’ll be Morris Glietzman.
    That said, I have been slowly culling some of the books that he keeps going back to time and again (think funny boy stories featuring lots of graphic stick figures). He hasn’t noticed anything yet. I suspect he won’t.

    thanks by the way for the 12-year-old reading suggestions for boys.

    • Fantastic thoughts Richard – and you’re so right. As long as we make the books available, we give them the best chance possible. Hopefully it’s a ‘build it and they will come off the iPad and around to our way of thinking’ proposition… If you’re keen for more suggestions for 12 year old boys, check out – he’s always trying something different. 🙂

  • I’ll be amazed if either of our children are not readers when they are older. We are indoctrinating them with nightly story sessions. Getting a bit tired of little Miss Nearly Two’s recent fascination with all books involving bodily functions. Mr Nearly Four is loving Blue the Builder’s Dog by Jen Storer at the moment. We have a big book box they flick through and choose a book each every night. Usually we get conned into reading three or four.

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