My Bio

My Bio
My name is Sharon Levin and I've been reviewing children's literature for 20 years. I founded and run the Bay Area Children's Literature List. My biggest passion (outside my family) is getting books into the hands of children and teens. My favorite thing is getting non-readers to realize that they're readers. I also LOVE t-shirts that have to do with books or literature. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll have a click through on the above picture so you can see my entire collection (and where to get them).

March 15, 2016

Raising a Reader

Trying to find a booklist for talks I'm giving this weekend and found this.  It builds on (and repeats) some of the information from the How to Get Your Child to Hate Reading post.  I just moderated a panel this past week and one of the questions we got was how to get our children to read.  Since I pointed out my 'negative' post to the attendees, I figured I might as well post this more positive one. 

As a children’s literature reviewer who gives talks to parent or professional groups, I often get asked, “My child/student is not reading, how do I get her/him to like reading?

Most everyone knows the basic advice, read aloud to your child, have a variety of reading material, etc.  Let’s go on to factors that are often not considered in raising a child who find pleasure in reading.

We know a love of reading is often a good indicator of academic success.  So, what does it take to raise a reader and what are some of the common mistakes that both parents and teachers make? 

My first question to parents and teachers is “Do you read for pleasure?”  A majority of the time the answer is “Oh no, I’m too busy.”  Well, as long as the message is that reading is not fun, not an activity we CHOOSE to do and make the time for, then no amount of lip service will convince a child otherwise.  Likewise, most classrooms have an SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) or DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time and it breaks my heart when I see that the teacher not following her own rules.  “It’s a good time to get some work done.” is what I often hear.  I understand, I completely sympathize that there are not enough hours in a teacher’s day.  However, there is a huge impact for a child in seeing her teacher prioritizing and enjoying reading time.

Reading aloud in the classroom is always a great choice.  Ignore test prep, reading aloud IS test prep.  Go for something funny.  I have read The Giggler Treatment to classes from first through six grade and it’s a HUGE hit every year (have ‘poo’, um chocolate pudding at the end, you’ll see why when you read the book). 

It’s never too early to start reading aloud to children. When they’re young, go for rhythm.  Sun Song (by Jean Marzollo, Harper/Trophy, 1997) has beautiful language and a luminescent portrayal of the Woodside Hills by local illustrator, Laura Regan.  Possum Come A-Knockin’ by Nancy Van Laan (Dragonfly Books, 1992) is a fun, lively read aloud.

Remember, not all books are good or interesting to everyone.  Just because a child doesn’t like a particular book or books, does not mean that they don’t like to read, they just haven’t found the right book yet.  Shannon Hale (Princess Academy) talks about this in her school presentations.  She asks the self-identified non-readers to raise their hands and then they find books that the kids have enjoyed and she says, “See, it’s not that you don’t like to read, we just have to find the right books for you.”  She then has them take an oath to PUT DOWN a book they are not enjoying (unless it is a school assignment) and go in search of one they like better.

We have higher standards for children than we do for ourselves.   We don’t just want them to read, we want them to read GOOD stuff.  Books that will teach lessons, stretch their minds, build their vocabularies, CHALLENGE them (ah yes, one of the most overused words in education).

Think about this for a minute.  Have you ever had a friend recommend a book to you because it would teach you a good lesson and expand your vocabulary or do they simply tell you it’s a good, enjoyable read?

Why do we think that literature for children needs to be edifying, can’t it simply be entertaining?  If a child reads for pleasure, your battle is won.  They WILL read hard books, sigh, challenging books, as well – but first, they have to actually want to pick them up.

If they hesitate to pick up books, get them storytelling or books on CD.  They get the story and a sense of narrative. There are various ways to approach literature

What else do we put on them that we don’t put on ourselves?  Reading levels.  It has to be at or above their level for it to be ‘worthy’.  Well, first of all, reading levels are hooey (this is not the normal term I use, but this is a family website).  On Lexile scores, a score evaluated by vocabulary alone, Byron Barton’s BOARD BOOK The Wee Little Woman (Harper/Collins, 1995) evaluates at a college sophomore level (the word ‘wee’ is considered unfamiliar and shows up multiple times).  On the other hand, The Old Man and the Sea comes up as third grade, because Hemingway never used three syllables when he could use two.

We can turn off children from reading by denigrating their reading choices.  I’ve seen readers turned into non-readers by well-meaning teachers who have forbidden ‘too easy’ books from entering their classrooms.

As I always tell kids when doing presentations, if anyone tries to take away my People magazine because it’s not at my reading level, things are going to get ugly.

And, most of all, don’t give up hope. Even multi-award winning author Katherine Paterson had a  daughter who did not understand the big deal about reading until she was fourteen and read Catcher in the Rye.  Just make sure they have a lot of reading (and listening) choices and they will eventually discover the joys of literature.


  1. My fiancé doesn't really like to read because no one read to him as a child, which was totally different from my childhood. I'm trying to encourage him to read a bit more. He likes comic books and since he has a short attention span, they hold is attention and interest. I agree with you that we have to lead by example and find out what works for the individual.

    1. Sorry for delay in response, haven't gotten on the blog in a bit (off spring were on spring break, so I tried to stay off the computer). There are many great comic books and graphic novels out there. What does he like to read? I'd love to come up with suggestions for him. Also, books on CD (or MP3 or however you young'uns are listening these days) are fantastic for getting story w/o reading. I highly, HIGHLY recommend READY PLAYER ONE read by Wil Wheaton. Great story, wonderful reading.

  2. I wanted to jump up and shout "amen" when I finished reading this post.

    I especially liked your statement that we have a higher standard for children than for ourselves. I lived that every time I selected a book to read to my students throughout three decades of teaching elementary students.

    Thanks for the great post!

  3. I can't applaud you enough. My first library lesson was that there is a book for every reader and that books are like music; we all have different tastes. There is no right or wrong, only the tools to make a great selection - which was my job to teach them. I also had teacher rules. No shaming. No shaming. No shaming. Reading challenges could include the back of a cereal box, and any or everything that had words that interested them. I experienced so many children who said they hated reading, fall in love with reading. It was simply beautiful. Your post couldn't have been more spot on. Thank you.

  4. Thanks Renae! Your students were so lucky to have you (and the teachers at the school as well, you were a great example). I think I'm going to 'steal' your music analogy (may I?)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I'm so inspired by the Raising a Reader blog! It's full of helpful information and resources to help parents encourage their children to develop a lifelong love of reading. ipvanish deals I'm so thankful for the posts and look forward to seeing new content.