Note from April: When I saw Alisha Gale’s home library and spoke with her children about their love of books, I knew this was something we needed to share with our Power of Moms community. Thank you, Alisha, for inspiring us all with these practical, replicable ideas!
At any given time of the day, if my children are awake, chances are at least one of them has his or her nose in a book.
My children all love books. I suspect some of that might be genetic—both my husband and I are avid readers—but I’ve worked hard to cultivate their love for literature. April asked me to share my insights; here are the five strategies I recommend.
1. Invest in books. All kinds of books.
Did you know there is a correlation between the amount of books in a child’s home and the level of education he will attain? Educators once assumed the strongest predictor of attaining high levels of education was having parents who were highly educated. But it turns out, having a library with 500 books has the same effect.
It’s my firm belief that all children can love to read—they just need to find the right book. And so I’ve spent hours finding great books to add to our collection so all my children can find a book to love. I’ve had great success branching out from standard fiction—some of our favorite books are myths and folktales, historical fiction, and picture books about historical events or figures (my kids aren’t as interested in histories and biographies without pictures).
Building a library can seem expensive, but there are many ways to diminish the cost. I buy used books online and at the library’s used bookstore. When friends and relatives ask what my children want for birthdays, I suggest books.
But the truth is, I’ve spent a lot of money on children’s books. Some time ago I decided that if I wanted books to be an integral part of my childrens’ formative years, curating our library would have to be a financial priority.
2. Make use of your local library…
We make regular trips to the library during the summer. The trips make reading more exciting, and my children often choose books we wouldn’t have found otherwise. Each child (who can walk) gets a bag (I get one, too), and we all get whatever books catch our eye.
I used to limit how many books each child could check out at a time, but it didn’t take long before I heard some version of this at every outing: “These two books are actually Thomas’s, but he already has his ten, and I only have seven, so I’m checking these out for him.” So now I just make sure their stacks are reasonable. They’ve learned not to get too carried away.
3. …And your local librarian.
In my experience, no librarian is as enthusiastic and helpful as the librarians in the children’s section. So I consult with them! I’ve received dozens of fantastic suggestions and recommendations. Last year, I mentioned to our school’s librarian that my oldest son was interested in science books, but couldn’t find any at his reading level. The next time his class went to the library, this wonderful librarian made sure to point out to my son where the science books were, and he happily chose one he liked. Librarians are a great asset in the quest to find the right book.
4. Limit screen time.
I’m convinced that one of the reasons our children are voracious readers is that, in our house, there’s not many options when there’s “nothing to do.” We don’t have a working TV or a video game system; they watch movies only on special occasions; and they earn computer time sparingly. I estimate our children spend less than two hours a month in front of a screen. I understand that going screen-free isn’t feasible (or even desirable) for every family, but my point is this: if you want to encourage a reluctant reader, you’ll only help your cause by minimizing the availability of more appealing alternatives.
5. Make reading part of your family culture.
Our library is the center of our home.
We’ve read with our kids from the time they were babies. We read from a children’s novel (nearly) every night at family story time. My husband and oldest son have special books they read together as a father-son activity. Thanks to our oldest daughter’s ingenuity three years ago, our children earn books by doing chores. (Though, in the interest of full disclosure, this same daughter was heard muttering recently, “I wish I had never thought of that chore chart.”) When our children have been assigned to read books aloud for homework, I have them read to a younger sibling. I always know what book they are reading, and I ask about it–the characters, the plot, their favorite part. I listen intently when they describe the exciting parts, and laugh when they read me the silly lines. My husband and I tell them about our favorite books. I congratulate them when they choose a challenging book and I’ve rewarded them when they’ve finished a difficult book.
In short, reading has become a part of our family’s identity. My children read because it’s just something we ALL do. I’m certain the emphasis we place on reading has nurtured whatever innate love for reading our children have.
I realize not all children will be as ardent readers as mine are. And that’s okay! Even increasing your child’s love for (or tolerance of!) books just a little bit is a worthwhile endeavor.
QUESTION: What do you do to encourage your children to read? We’re especially interested in hearing from mothers of children who don’t willingly pick up books.
CHALLENGE: Read with your children today! If your children are too old for story time, discuss your favorite book(s) with them.
*** For some great book recommendations, check out our picks in our Amazon Store.
Mary Jenkins says
Love this post! And what a great home library space! Books are so wonderful. My husband and I grew up as avid readers and love sharing our love of books with our two little ones. We’ve had daily “storytime” since they were infants and it’s always my favorite part of our day. Now that my 7 year old is reading chapter books I enjoy listening to her read aloud to her brother and asking her questions about the characters/storyline, etc. My 4 year old is reading picture books and early readers now and gets so excited when he is able to finish each book by himself. My husband and I both grew up in homes that had huge home libraries, several bookshelves full, etc. We used to have such a library until we moved to our current location where the apartments are teeny tiny. The fact that my son and I are also both allergic to the dust created by books doesn’t help either! Over the past 2 years we have downsized our collection quite a bit and it makes me sad, but I know that one day we’ll have a place for those books again. For anyone else living in a super small space like me who is looking for ways to enjoy a “home library,” I have found e-books are good and the library is even better. We regularly check out about 50-100 books per week from our local library. Going to the library is a weekly event and sometimes we go 2-3 times a week just to sit and read together.
What a fantastic post! One of my great joys as a mom is to share books with my children. My tip would be to go with your children’s passions. My son is Star Wars mad so we’ve got some great Star Wars easy readers for him. He will also sit for hours reading Lego Star Wars encyclopedia. It wouldn’t be my choice, but then I doubt he’d want to read what I’m currently reading either!
I was blessed to be raised by parents who read to me as a child and whom I saw reading themselves. When I became a mom it was a no brainer. I wanted to read to my children and have books in my home. My husband didn’t have a love of reading as a child, other than science books so reading stories was hard for him. Through a job that he had during the summer between semesters of college he had to entertain himself for long periods and he picked up reading. He realized what he had missed! So when kids came along he was on board. I read to my kids when they were just tiny babies. I would read to them when they were fussy and it calmed them down. When I went to my oldest son’s one year check up the doctor asked me what his favorite toys were. I answered, “books.” He always had one by him. He would play with cars and blocks etc but he would always stop if I picked up a book. We read to him all the time. We read before bedtime and naptime. It became a ritual. He quickly learned that if he brought me a book I would stop what I was doing and read it to him. I can’t say no to those beautiful eyes and a book!
My daughter loved to hear us read to her and she would pick up books to look at but reading to herself was harder. We found out when she was 9 years old that she has dyslexia. That was a huge blow for me because she struggled so much with reading. I spent a lot of time wondering what to do about it. We decided we would just keep reading to her. Slowly she gained confidence with reading and I would catch her reading books to herself. I made it a passion to get books she was truly interested in even if they were below her grade level. Now she is a sophomore in high school and she loves to read. It may take her a bit longer than other kids her age but she LOVES reading.
My other two children have grasped reading very easily. I think it has to do with having so many good readers in the family. There is always someone reading or being read to at our house. I also think that the younger ones want to be like the older ones and push themselves to read.
Alisha Gale says
Paula, your daughter is amazing! What an accomplishment–to continue to read despite it being difficult. And congratulations to you for all the effort you must have put in! Finding the right books can be SO HARD sometimes. My hat is off to you and your family!
I totally agree that having older kids set an example helps the younger ones. I’ve been blessed with older children who ENJOY reading to the younger ones, so my younger ones have definitely picked up the idea that reading is FUN.
Sarah Monson says
Thanks for the ideas! I definitely agree with the effect of screen time on reading.
These are such great reminders and ideas! Thank you so much for sharing! I love to read as well but because I have gone back to school my choice in reading has vanished. My kids LOVE to be read to…and I can attest to finding the right books for your kids. My son does not want to read anything but superheroes right now (He’s three)! Thanks again!
Amy Muri says
What a great article! We love books at our house too. There is nothing that makes me happier than to see my kids reading. I have even had to tell my kids to stop reading at times, which always feels so strange to me when those words come out of my mouth, but they have to go to bed at some point! Wonderful article.
Alisha Gale says
Thanks, Amy! Isn’t it funny, to have to tell your kids to STOP reading? Sometimes I have to tell them to stop reading because they need to do homework, and I laugh at the irony.
Does Alisha have a book list?
Alisha Gale says
What sort of books are you interested in? I’d be happy to recommend some.
Thanks Alisha, spot on, we do exactly those things in our house too, with the same results!
Elsje Denison says
Alisha, I LOVE this! First of all it’s so fun to get a peek into your life, but I love your ideas. I love having the book shelves around the dining table and I’ve been debating for awhile if I should get rid of the wii all together. I’m to that point, I just have to get my husband on-board. Your ideas just might to the trick. 😉 Thanks so much for the great advice and ideas.
Maybe you can help me…We are book loving family…but I have an unusual problem that I never thought I’d have. My second grade daughter is an avid reader and reads at an 8th grade level. My problem is finding apporpriate, but challenging reading material. Im struggling with keeping her in books. We’ve tried some fantasy (i.e. Lemony Snickett and Harry Potter) but they were too “scary”, done quite a few biographies but she’s tiring of them. Historical fiction has been challenging because she doesn’t have the reference (she’s only a 2nd grader!) HELP!
Alisha Gale says
I’ve had the same problem–my children read above their grade levels and it can be challenging to find books to suit them. There have been MANY books I’ve not let my kids read because I was unhappy with the content–too mature.
Here’s what I’d recommend, off the top of my head:
If your daughter likes fantasy, I would recommend the Percy Jackson series. My daughter (4th grade) LOVES them, and recommended them to my son (2nd grade), and he loves them, too. (He hasn’t read Harry Potter because he thinks they are too scary, but he was fine with these.) I’ve read them and I liked them, too. There’s a lot of monster battles and characters do die, but there is also a lot of humor, which I think is why the books seem less scary. And even though the characters are teenagers, they’re very innocent teenagers.
The side bonus of these is that they got both kids interested in Greek mythology, so they have read up on the subject on their own. (We have D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths and Mary Pope Osborn’s Tales from the Odyssey.)
My daughter liked The Emily Windsnap and Phillipa Fisher series. And I also recommend author Wendy Mass. I was very impressed by her Finally, and my daughter likes her Twice Upon a Time series. There’s another Twice Upon a Time series, by Rick Riley, and those are great, too. I don’t think the two series are connected, but they’re both modern retellings of fairy tales.
You may want to also look into the classics–all of Roald Dahl’s books, Pippi Longstocking, Heidi, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The Secret Garden and The Little Princess. My daughter read and enjoyed all of those (except Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, but I think she the exception to the rule). And the Oz books–Baum actually wrote 15 of them, and they’re huge hits here.
I would also recommend collections of fairy tales. We have some from China, Norway, Russia, Ireland, and America, along with the standard Grimms/Perrault/Hans Christian Anderson.
If your daughter is into princesses and stuff, Scholastic put out The Royal Diaries series. They’re out of print now, but fairly easy to find online. They’re historical fiction–each is a year’s worth of “diary entries” from a famous princess or queen in history. I don’t think those are scary at all, and there’s always afternotes that explain more about the historical circumstances, so my daughter could understand them.
One thing I’ve realized is that even though my children could be reading more challenging material, as long as they’re interested in what they’re reading and reading frequently, it’s okay for them to read books that are “easy” for them. Our school librarian once mentioned that it’s good for kids to read books below their level, because it increases their fluency. So I wouldn’t worry too much if you can’t find books that are as challenging as they could be. If you’re daughter is happily reading, that’s probably enough.
If I think of any more, I’ll let you know! But hopefully this list will at least get you started. Good luck!
Tami Bauer says
Great article, Alisha! You inspire me!
Ivy S. says
Thanks for this great write up. I’ve been reading to my son since birth, and still read to him now because his comprehension level is higher than his reading level. I am able to read to him books with more complicated story lines, which he might find a little frustrating reading on his own due to his reading ability (English is not our first language).
I can’t agree more with #4 – limit screen time. We have a TV, but is probably only turned on a few days a month. No playstation, or video games at home either. So my son either plays with his multitude of Lego, or he reads 🙂
Katie S says
Alisha, I’m wondering how you went about teaching your children to read…what books, method, etc.? Also, are your children homeschooled or public schooled (we’re debating on what to do), and what challenges do I need to consider if we take the public school route–does it change anything to their motivation to reading? I’m just worried if public schooled that my kids will end up becoming like the other kids in a bad way (not interested in reading, among other things). I know these may sound like silly questions and concerns, but I am genuinely concerned. Thanks.
Alisha Gale says
Thanks for your comment. Only three of my children are actually reading independently. I didn’t teach my first to read–she was not interested AT ALL, and I didn’t want reading to become a chore. So she learned to read in kindergarten. (Of course the emphasis we place on reading at home encouraged her once she was ready to start.) It didn’t harm her one bit–once she got to 1st grade, she was reading so well the first grade teachers started a special book club just for her and two or three other students. And she continues to be a highly advanced reader. I did teach my second two children to read, and plan on teaching my fourth (who is eager to start, actually). I tried “Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons.” That one didn’t work for us at all. I mention it, though, because it seems like everyone else loves it, so I think I’m definitely an outlier for not liking it. I found the greatest success with “The Ordinary Parent’s Guide To Teaching Reading” by Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington. There’s not a lot of bells and whistles–not even any pictures–but it teaches phonics in a way that is very easy to follow. I highly recommend it.
My children do go to public school. We are fortunate to live in a great school district and so we have access to a fantastic elementary school. I don’t know what other public schools are like, but at my kids’ school, it’s very common to like to read. They have a great librarian and a lot reading-centered activities to promote literacy. My kids have naturally become friends with other readers because they have that hobby in common. So I can’t really answer your question about motivation in regard to public school.
I do hold a summer school for my kids every summer. The curriculum I use is very loosely based on “The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide To Classical Education at Home” by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. I started doing it about five years ago in part because I wanted my kids to do something academic over the summer. Mostly, though, I realized that there is a vast amount of literature and culture I wanted my kids to experience and I ought not to just cross my fingers and hope they experienced it in school. (We do math and science, too, but that is just so we can do fun experiments.) So even though I don’t have to worry about my kids’ school zapping their motivation, I do strive to make our house a place where learning is a way of life. I think that will steel them against the time, should it happen, when reading becomes less popular with their peers.
I hope this helps! Good luck with your decision!
wow and i thought i was hardcore about reading with my kids! your reading space inspires me! good for you!
Alisha Gale says
I know some don’t agree with rewarding kids for reading, but we have used the rewards sheets for years and had success with them. (Governers Summer Reading, or treasure box mark-off sheets from library)
Thanks for the encouragement to keep going to the library. With my kids getting too old for storytime, I haven’t been as consistent.