Category Archives: The reading rules

Everything you need to know about turning your child into a reader.

Reading Rule 10

10. Don’t ever give up.

All children reach developmental milestones at different times and I believe that children become true readers in their own time. I know one teenage boy who didn’t become a reader until he was 16 years old and picked up his first Michael Crichton book. I’ve also met a 7 year old boy who had no trouble reading the fifth (and longest) Harry Potter book. If you have followed all the rules and your child is still a reluctant reader, don’t give up. Focus on one rule and persist.

When our children are young we have a great deal of influence on them, and by following the rules we can develop a love of reading in them. Sometime we do need to continue our efforts into the teenage years. It is important not to give up.

Many adults will tell you they didn’t become readers until later in life. Conversely, many parents will tell you their children were excellent readers when little, but gave up reading as they grew up. The fact is, all these people are readers – it just happened at different times in their lives. Sure, there are peaks and troughs. I’ve been through reading droughts in my adult life, but I always return when I find the right book.

Your child will become a reader if you follow the reading rules. In developing a reading culture in your home and encouraging a love of books in your child, you will bestow one of the greatest gifts on your child – the joy of reading. Just don’t give up.

© Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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Reading Rule 9

9. Make reading routine.

Does your child play a musical instrument? How often do they practise? Do they play a sport? How often is training? Music and sport are activities that most children take part in and one thing they have in common is that they both require practice.

Reading is somewhat similar. In the early years, it does indeed require practice which is why children have home readers and parents are expected to listen to their children read every night.

But when children become independent readers, many parents think “job done”. This is not the case. Children’s reading needs encouraging and nurturing, and it requires parental involvement long after children are reading independently. Reading needs to become a part of your child’s everyday routine.

The most convenient time to read is probably bedtime. When children are little, this is when most of us read stories to them. As they get older and can read independently, there is no need to stop this ritual. This is a great time to read aloud to your children (Rule no.3). Just make sure you always stop at an exciting point in the story, and your child will want to continue on with their own independent reading.

The most important thing is to make this time a regular occurrence. If bedtime is 8.30p.m in your house, try making it 8.00p.m instead. This leaves half an hour for reading time before lights out. If you have followed all the rules up to this point, you will find that your child is quite happy to have this reading time. In fact, half an hour may not be enough and you will often become engaged in heated debates at 8.30p.m when you say ‘lights out” and they say “just one more paragraph/page/chapter please!”

The main thing is to make reading a part of your daily routine. It should be an expectation and be a part of family life. The other important part of this rule is that when it is reading time, it is “no screen” time. Unless the reading material is an e-book, all devices (mobiles, laptops, i-touch etc) should be off so that the reading time is an uninterrupted, sustained period of interaction with the written word.

© Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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Reading Rule 8

8.  Ask an expert.

You pay a mechanic to service your car, even though you may be able to do it yourself. You can colour your own hair, but when you pay a hairdresser to do it the result is much better. There are experts in all areas whom you can pay for service or advice, and this includes experts on books and reading. But there is one difference: you can get advice on books and reading for free.

Start at your local bookshop. Bookshops are magical places. They contain the promise of pleasure: row upon row of pristine new books, beautifully displayed and very enticing to the most reluctant reader. Book sellers cleverly design their stores so that you can browse in sections according to your taste: science fiction, crime, romance, cooking or sport. Best of all, bookshops contain fantastic children’s and young adult sections. Titles are displayed face out, so the covers will tantalise, entice and entreat you to buy. There are often recommendations to accompany the books. If not, your bookseller will be able to recommend a title to you. Booksellers are highly intelligent and well-read people. (I know many booksellers with degrees in children’s literature). These booksellers are voracious readers and they know their product. They may not like me saying this, but I think most booksellers are more passionate about finding the right book for their customers than making a profit.

A plea: please try to avoid the department chain stores which heavily discount popular titles. They buy books much more cheaply than book shops can and therefore sell them cheaper. But they are really making it hard for bookshops. The department store cannot offer the knowledge, expertise and service your local bookshop does. Just consider their presentation and selection of titles….both are lacking. So if you can afford it, pay a few dollars more and support your bookshop.  This will ensure they survive to support our reading future.

Librarians are also passionate about finding the right book for their patrons, and once again, their expert advice is free. Libraries are treasure troves of knowledge and recreation. Unlike the pristine books in a bookshop, your library contains volume upon volume of well-loved, slightly worn tomes. In older libraries there is even a slightly musty smell, which bibliophiles find tantalising. Your library is organised in beautiful Dewey decimal order and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, your librarian will only be too happy to assist.

Develop a relationship with your librarian and bookseller. Let them know that your child is a reluctant reader/new reader/voracious reader. They really are experts at recommending books for all types of readers. By becoming a regular customer in your bookshop or regular patron in your local library, your bookseller and librarian will look out for titles to recommend for you. There is nothing more exciting to a bookseller or librarian than promoting books and sharing the passion for reading.

When your children are young, get in the habit of making regular visits to your local library and utilise all the programs your library offers: story time, competitions, author visits. Make it a fun time and it will be something your child looks forward to. Make trips to your bookshop a special event. Even quality, second-hand bookshops can prove exciting as many have excellent children’s sections. It was in a second-hand bookshop that one of my daughters first discovered Trixie Belden books. This find eventually developed into a love of crime fiction, which contains a plethora of reading options from quick mysteries to the more sophisticated classic literary genre.

If you’re not convinced yet about visiting your local bookshop or library and taking advantage of the wonderful free, expert advice available consider this. If you are not confident enough to read aloud to your child (Rule Three), they will do it for you! Every library has story time for younger children and many offer it for older children too, or it may be incorporated into a teenage book club. Ask the Children and Youth Librarian what is available. Similarly, good bookshops offer story time and many also have readings, sometimes by the author. 

If your bookshop or library offers an author visit, make sure you go! Even if your library or bookshop has paid a fee for this, it is free for you. And talks by authors are fantastic! I have been privileged to hear many authors speak over the years, and not surprisingly, given that they deal with words every day, most authors are gifted speakers. Many are quite hilarious and will engage your child and make reading “cool” and enticing in a way that no-one else can.

There is not much in life that is free. Expert advice on books is free. Books from your library are free. A beautiful new book from your bookshop costs approximately the same as a movie ticket, but will offer more than 90 minutes of pleasure. Reading really is an affordable and accessible pastime. So when you want to get your child reading and don’t really know what book to borrow or buy, just ask an expert. It’s free.

© Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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Reading Rule 7

7. Remember it’s the 21st century.

Not only is it the 21st Century, there is just so much to do! If you’re a child or screenager, you are surrounded by a whole host of entertainment and online activities to keep you busy. So rule seven is obvious: use technology to hook your child.

It is difficult and indeed foolish to try to separate reading from technology these days. Our children are digital natives and technology forms an incredibly important part of their lives. The clever parent or teacher will embrace this and use technology to tempt their reluctant reader.

Ebooks are increasingly accessible, cheap and especially exciting for younger readers. Ebooks for younger readers include many interactive elements which will engage and entertain the hardest audience. All you need to access an ebook is a computer. For more portable ebooks you can choose to use an e-reader device such as a Kindle or Kobo, or you can use your i-pad, i-phone or i-pod touch. Whilst interactive ebooks will really appeal to the very young reader, it is interesting to note that anecdotal evidence from booksellers and teacher librarians indicates that many teenagers still prefer the printed book to the ebook. It doesn’t really matter what format your child chooses to read, as long as they are reading.


Teenagers may prefer to use technology in other ways to keep them engaged in reading. YouTube has fantastic book trailers to hook children and teenagers. Book trailers are just like the movie trailers you see in the cinema. They are often made by the publishing houses, but can also be put together by fans. A book trailer will give you a ‘taste’ of the book: a little of the plot and characterisation, but like a movie trailer, they will leave you wanting more. They are a fabulous way to tempt the reluctant reader, and I use them a lot in my library to promote books and reading.

Social networking is a guaranteed way to engage a teenager. There are few teenagers these days who are not using Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and other social networking tools. A great way of engaging your child with books is to tap into the many resources available through social networking to promote reading. There are many Facebook groups associated with reading, and on Twitter it is easy to follow popular authors. In addition, there are numerous blogs created by fans of reading, or special genres such as science fiction. One terrific website which many teenagers enjoy is Fan fiction is where fans write stories about their favourite books using the characters and settings already created by the original author. Fans can write the next Harry Potter chapter, or write a story using characters from the Percy Jackson books, or develop a new plot line for the Twilight series.

Other ways of using technology to engage young readers is to simply browse the web and see what’s available. You will find websites about popular books, authors’ websites, library sites and blogs about reading. There are also online magazines for teenagers about books. One example is Spine Out, an online magazine created by Good Reading magazine. Spine Out is targeted at Young Adults and is designed for young people to share their ideas about reading and writing in various media: words, film, music and art. As such it actively seeks contributions from its young readers.

If you want your child to spend time reading, you do need to appreciate that a great deal of their reading will be done in front of a screen. If you can embrace this idea, and encourage your child to utilise some of the tools and sites mentioned here, you are planting a seed and sparking an interest. More importantly, if kids are reading about reading, then generally, they are reading.

© Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.


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Reading Rule 6

6. Loosen your filter – preferably lose it altogether.

If you want your child to read and be a reader, then you absolutely have to relax and loosen (or even lose) your natural parental filter. Younger children love anything with bum, fart or poo jokes. Teenagers are fascinated by sex and other “taboo” subjects. Generally, they are also far less offended by strong language than you are. The point is, if they find something a little bit tantalising or naughty, it is a huge enticement to read it… the attraction of forbidden fruit. This is not to say that if you really feel uncomfortable about a book that you should swallow your concerns and let your child read it – perhaps you should have a discussion with them first or wait a few years until they are older. But in my experience, children are the best self-regulators with appropriateness of material and if they feel something is inappropriate they will tell you.

As a teacher-librarian, I feel very strongly about the concept of censorship. I am not a supporter and believe strongly in the freedom to read. Much of my own education about life’s less traditional education matters came from books. Questions I was too timid to ask were answered by books, and my teenage curiosity about members of the opposite sex (and the act itself) was often satisfied by some well-read passages in my adolescent years.

I have a challenged materials policy in my library. Essentially it is a questionnaire I have developed for parents when they “challenge” a book in the collection. (Incidentally, I have not yet had to use the questionnaire). One important question on the form is: “have you read the entire book?” The reason for this is that children’s and young adult literature is normally extremely responsible and highly moralistic. If sensitive topics like drugs, sex, and suicide are included in a work, it is always necessary to read the entire book to gain a full understanding of how those topics are dealt with and resolved. Usually this is with a great deal of insight and sensitivity, and the young reader has the opportunity to critically reflect upon the lessons learned by the characters in the book.

An example of this which occurred recently concerned a young adult book called In the bag. This book is about a couple of boys who discover a car wreck and a bag full of cash. The first few chapters include a certain amount of swearing, as well as references to alcohol and drug use. A parent of a boy in Year 7 voiced her concerns to me about this, and whilst she wasn’t complaining or challenging the book, I still asked her if she had read the book in its entirety. She hadn’t and decided to go ahead and do so. I then read the book as well. What struck me was the book was primarily about the value of honesty as the boys involved struggled with their guilt and the moral aspects of their actions. The early swearing and drug and alcohol references were totally acceptable in developing the characters and their socio-economic standing which was all integral to the plot. The book is an excellent example of young adult fiction which will hook young readers, get them reading and have them critically reflect as they do so.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that in the modern world, children of all ages are exposed to a great deal of material which would be considered unacceptable, usually through the mainstream media. Very young children are exposed to quite horrific images on the evening news; older children see movies and television shows with gratuitous violence and explicit sex. Swearing is increasingly common in society and in the media, with comedians especially making prolific use of swear words. Video games can be the most unacceptable and gratuitous of all. In comparison, I believe most books are fairly reasonable in terms of their content. Young adult fiction in particular deals with all of the abovementioned topics in a measured and carful manner, and always with a powerful message. I would much prefer my children to begin their exposure to adult themes in the safety of the printed word. In addition, it must be remembered that whilst pondering the sex scene, wading through the swear words and contemplating drug or alcohol use, your child is reading! Your child is developing all those wonderful skills that come from engaging with the printed word, above all, critical literacy.

So loosen your filters and realise that the benefits of reading far outweigh the odd swear word or fart joke.

© Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.


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Reading Rule 5

5. Don’t be a snob.

A literary snob that is. This blog contains the rules for getting your child to read. It is about the joy of reading. The idea of reading for pleasure: pure and unadulterated pleasure.  Nothing irks me more than people who scoff at ‘popular’ reads and believe that the only ‘real’ books are those with great literary merit. It is true that in the realms of books and fiction, there is a vast difference in the quality of writing on offer. It would be ridiculous to compare wordsmiths like Howard Finkler or Tim Winton with Matthew Reilly or Janet Evanovich. But I don’t believe the Reillys or Evanovichs of the world expect or want to be compared with writers of great literature. Writers are story tellers. How they tell their story is irrelevant when we are talking about reading for pleasure. If we want to encourage children to read, then it doesn’t matter what they read. If they want to read popular fiction that you don’t think carries much literary merit, don’t worry. Let them read whatever they want. You will be surprised what the popular fiction will lead to.

I am a reader and read everything: great literature such as Booker prize winners to airport fiction, such as thrillers and what I refer to ‘three page chapter’ easy reads. It depends on the mood I am in. All books are worthwhile and valuable, and it doesn’t matter what book your child chooses to read – as long as it’s the right book.

You have to find the right book. It is fair to say that that J.K Rowling single handedly got more kids reading that the combined education authorities across the world. Why? Because Harry Potter was the right book. It grabbed kids, it was readable, it appealed to most tastes and it was a series – read one and you’re more likely to read the next. (It is no surprise that the majority of children’s and young adult novels being released these days are always part of a series, or franchise. This is where authors and publishers can hook a market and make some money). Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series was also responsible for getting kids, especially girls reading, and Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series continues to hook many boys.

The point is that if you find the right book, your child will read it and probably continue to read other books. I’ve had so many parents tell me that the first book their child read was Harry Potter. Note that they say the first, because their child discovered the joy of reading and kept on doing it. But Harry Potter is not the only book to capture the imagination of young people. I know one Year 9 girl who had not read a book since primary school, and those books were thin, very easy to read volumes. Then Twilight became popular and she was determined to read it. She ploughed through it, going on to read the remaining books in the series. This was no easy feat, considering the last book in the series Breaking Dawn is a hefty tome of 754 pages. But this wasn’t the end of her achievement: she then went on to read another 80 books that year! Now, you will hear many people question the literary merit of Twilight, but I say any book that gets a girl reading 80 books in one year is a masterpiece!

It is not really all that difficult to find the right book. I always tell my students that if they have read a few chapters and they really, honestly can’t get into the book they should bring it back to me and I will find them another. I don’t want a child ploughing through a book they are not enjoying, as I believe it does more damage than good. Reading should be a pleasure. It should be something to look forward to. A good book should have you thinking about it when you’re not reading, anticipating the moment you and the book can be at one again, sharing the story.

If this means cashing in on trends such as Harry Potter and Twilight, then do it. Even if you prefer your child to be an individual and avoid peer pressure, reading should be exempt from this.

Movie tie-ins are another great way to entice kids to read. If a child has seen a movie and enjoyed it, they are familiar with the plot and characters which gives them a sense of comfort and confidence to tackle the book. Books contain much more detail than movies, so the book can be the icing on the cake after seeing the movie. Or the movie can be an inducement:  “read the book and I’ll take you to see the movie”.

A recent example of a successful movie tie-in is I am number four. This book was purpose written as the first in a series of books which will become movies. The book is easy to read, with a great plot and lots of suspense. It doesn’t hurt that the leads in the movie are popular and good looking actors, who have been in other popular movies or television shows. I am number four has a high interest level for both boys and girls – most boys at my school have seen or heard of the movie. They love the book (there are 4 copies in the library which are always on loan or reserved) and one reluctant reader read it in one weekend. All the boys cannot wait for the next book.

© Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.


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Reading Rule 4

4. Redefine “book”.

Parents want their kids to read, but many parents also think that the only form of ‘legitimate’ reading is a print book. If you want your child to be a reader it is important to redefine your concept of what constitutes a ‘book’.

A book is many things. It is the traditional novel with which most of us are familiar, but it is also information (or non-fiction) books, graphic novels, ebooks and audio books.

Many children, particularly boys, find the idea of reading an entire novel quite overwhelming. But give them an information book on their favourite subject (surfing, basketball, motor cars or cooking) and they will happily sit and read. This form of reading encompasses more browsing and reading short passages of information, and is therefore different to reading a novel. However, it is still a form of sustained reading which will engage the reader.

One of the most popular non-fiction books with the boys in my library is the Guinness Book of Records. Some teachers are unhappy with the boys choosing this book in their private reading time, but I vigorously defend this. In my experience, many reluctant readers find the Guinness Book of Records non-confronting, as it has small passages of information accompanied by numerous illustrations. It also has a high interest level. Boys will sit, engaged, with this book for a sustained period of time. Job done. And who knows what further reading this will lead to? The most important reason to get kids reading is to develop their ability to engage in sustained periods of reading and reflection, which will ultimately develop their critical literacy skills.

Another way to encourage reading is to entice your child with Graphic Novels. You may be more familiar with the idea of ‘comic books’ from your childhood, but the Graphic Novels of today are a little more sophisticated that the comic books of our youth. They are indeed novels, with a full plot, narrative structure and character development. Graphic Novels deal with all topics, from superheros to the holocaust. There are also Graphic Novel adaptions of the many of the classics: Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen for example.  More importantly, to the reluctant reader, a Graphic Novel may not appear as daunting as a traditional novel. They appeal especially to visual learners, with some Graphic Novels even having no text at all. Graphic Novels are certainly not the easy way out, with time and thought necessary to read the images and text. Graphic Novels are a legitimate form of reading, and will often lead on to bigger and better things, such as reading entire novels. Many popular fiction novels such as the Young Bond series and Artemis Fowl series are now being adapted into Graphic Novels. This is a great development for reluctant readers. They can read the Graphic Novel and then, similar to watching a movie adaptation of a book, they may yearn for more detail and read the novel.

If your child is a typical screenager, another way to encourage reading is through ebooks. Many ebooks for younger children are interactive, offering high interest level for pre-schoolers, and ebooks for teenagers may appeal simply because they are read on a screen. Similarly, audio books are an option for the extremely reluctant reader. Whilst listening to an audio book does not bring any of the traditional benefits associated with reading the printed word, listening to an audio book and becoming familiar with the plot and characters may be an entry into reading a traditional book, making the idea of reading a book in its entirety less daunting.

By redefining the concept of book, you are providing more options for your child. Reading anything, even newspapers and magazines is important and to be encouraged. As a teacher and librarian my mantra has always been “I don’t care what they read, as long as they are reading”. I know this to be true: reading ebooks, magazines, information books or graphic novels invariably leads on to bigger and better things.

© Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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