Building the Next Generation of Readers

Building the Next Generation of Readers

Encouraging Children to Read

Steve Hooley


With children going back to school, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss reading and children.

Most of us have children, nieces and nephews, or grandchildren. We want them to be successful in adulthood, and one of the best correlations with success is early reading. Reading is required to learn in every area of knowledge.

As writers, we want more people to read and more people to buy our books, so we want everyone’s children to become readers.

But, like construction, the process of creating an interest for reading in children takes repetition and multiple steps. It takes time, and it takes someone (parent, relative, teacher, friend) dedicated to helping the child learn and grow.

So, how do we build passion for reading in children? What do children want to read? And what do the “experts” suggest as the best processes to achieve that goal?

Current trends

In this age of TV, computers, and cell phones, all competing for children’s attention, how do we interest them in reading? And what are children today interested in reading?

A quick look for current trends of what children are reading revealed this list:

10 Current Trends in Children’s Books

  • Empowered females
  • Dragons
  • Unicorns
  • Pugs (Yes, apparently children like that breed of dogs)
  • Wild creatures
  • Ghosts, monsters, and scary things
  • Mysteries
  • Gross and goofy
  • Nonfiction titles

And a quick look for an “expert’s” tips on developing good reading habits, revealed this list:

8 Tips to Help Young Kids Develop Good Reading Habits

  • Make reading a daily habit – read to your children at a young age
  • Read in front of your child
  • Create a reading space
  • Take trips to the library
  • Let your child pick what to read
  • Find reading moments in everyday life
  • Reread favorite books
  • Learn more about how children read

I’ll add my thoughts:

  1. Read to children at an early age
  2. Allow them to explore picture books
  3. Help them learn to read at an early age
  4. Give them access to age-appropriate books
  5. Provide/protect a time to read (with TV, computer, and phone turned off)
  6. Give books as gifts
  7. Show an interest in what they write. Encourage them to write stories.

 Okay, now it is your turn:

1. What factors encouraged you or made you a reader?

My story

I don’t remember being read to at an early age, but I’m certain I was. I do remember going to kindergarten for two years before first grade, and reading second grade material by the end of those two years. During my third-grade year, our county library started a book mobile that included a stop at our elementary school. I remember the excitement of being allowed to explore those books. I also remember a large collection of “Bible fiction” given to my father and placed in the family book shelves. I became especially interested when I discovered that many of those books contained adult material. I spent too much time exploring those books, and my parents soon discovered why. The books disappeared. One of my best influencers was the elderly librarian in our little town, who wrapped her arm around my shoulders and directed me toward “the classics” that I “needed” to read.

2. What has worked with your children or relatives to create an interest in reading?

My failure

After my wife and I spent every Wednesday, this past summer, watching two of our grandchildren, reading to them, having them read to us, taking them to the library, and working through a workbook on language skills, I asked each of them, “Has anything made you interested in reading?” The first answered, “Nothing.” The second said, “No, not really.”

My success

On the other hand, I have a granddaughter who lives two hours away whom we visit every several months. She likes to read and write. We trade stories when we see each other, and she loves to read her stories out loud to me.

3. What suggestions do you have to build the next generation of readers?

I hope you have better ideas than I did., and I hope you will share them.

40 thoughts on “Building the Next Generation of Readers

  1. My parents had no money, so I didn’t get loads of toys as a child. what I did have though, was my imagination and a library card! Books allowed me to be anyone. Visit any world and I tried to instil that love of reading in my four kids, to no avail. None of them are readers. The computer and gaming has always been their thing and my husband is dyslexic and hates reading, so, it’s just me slowly filling up the bookcases.

    • Thanks for your comments, Nic. Yes, libraries were a big reason for my love of reading and books. As a child, I would take a book home from the library, climb up a tree in front of the house, and read, while people passed below me on the sidewalk.

      Have a great day!

  2. I was reading before kindergarten. Don’t know how/why, I just did. My parents say we moved from our first home because I’d finished the local library.
    The Hubster was working on his PhD when we had our first child. Daddy would come home from school, I’d hand him the baby, and Daddy would say “Let’s turn pages” and sit with the baby in his lap, reading scientific journals. I don’t recall if he read any of them aloud, but reading was a big thing.
    Later, with two more kids, bedtime was always extended by reading time. We’d read to them, but also let them have time before lights out to read by themselves.
    We’d go to the library, they’d check out their 10 books, and have three of them finished before we got home.
    I was the grandma who gave books, not toys to our grandson. He’s an avid reader, but prefers screen time to everything else. He reads both print and digital books.

    • Thanks for your story, Terry. I love the line about moving from town to town because you finished the library. Sounds like Abe Lincoln. And your children checking out 10 books, maybe that’s what I did wrong with my grandchildren. We limited them to 3 books.

      Have a great day!

  3. Good morning, Steve. Thanks for sharing your ideas and experiences.

    My experiences, box scores, and suggestions:

    1) I learned how to read at a very early age. My parents read to me. We had six of the “All About” books that Random House published. I then started reading Little Golden Books (Rootie Kazootie) on my own, as well as Dick Tracy comic strips in the daily newspaper. I went from there to Classics Illustrated comic books, dug into the source material, and by the time I was six was reading science-fiction, (Tom Swift, Jr.) and detective stories (Hardy Boys). I haven’t stopped since.

    2) My children: I encouraged all of my children and my granddaughter to read and read to them each night. My sons weren’t too interested initially but became avid readers in their 20s and still are. Their tastes match my own. My older daughter has always been a reader and remains so. My younger daughter had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude but continues to read occasionally. My granddaughter, despite having been read to by her father and being provided with advance copies of some of the finest middle-school fiction being written today, is more interested in other activities but is developing an attraction toward Stephen King/Joe Hill.

    3) I believe that reading to your child and providing reading material are the most important things one can do to foster a love of the activity. Period. They won’t develop it in a vacuum.

    Have a great weekend, Steve!

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Joe.

      “I believe that reading to your child and providing reading material are the most important things one can do to foster a love of the activity. Period.” Great advice. And I totally agree.

      If your granddaughter continues to develop an attraction to King and Hill’s books, she’ll have lots of books to read.

      Have a great weekend! Too hot and humid to be outside. A good day to read.

  4. The comics section if the paper was a great place for beginning reading.

    We had encyclopedias which were wonderful to explore. I loved pulling a letter out and turning to a random page and learning.

    The comic books of the 80’s were epic for a teen. The. X-men, Frank Miller’s Daredevil, Spider-Man were so dramatic and there were no spoilers then!

    The library was magical and I could go beyond the encyclopedia.

    Louis L’Amour book club in my twenties was a splurge item.

    I buy books for my nephews but they don’t seem very interested.

    • Great comments, Warren. I never thought about the comics being similar to picture books and a great place for beginning reading. I’ve heard other writers talk about being given a set of encyclopedias and reading much or all of it. Great ideas.

      I hope your nephews develop an interest in books. Maybe you can find what they are most interested in, and write some short stories to grab their interest.

      Have a great day!

        • Thanks, Mike. Comics are definitely being mentioned this morning. That’s giving me some ideas for my grandson who is not interested in reading.

          Have a great day!

        • I love G.I. Joe comics. Not only was that my go to reading materials but it led to buying and trading of other comics. That also led to reading action type stories. I actually still have a collection of comics in my basement that I have held on to for forty years.

    • Thanks for reminding me of that awesome memory too–poring over the encyclopedias. The “H” and “D” World Book encylopedias were worn out in the Horse and Dog sections from going to them so many times! 😎

  5. By the time I finished grade one, I was an avid reader. Actually, I think I was an avid reader once I finished my grade one reader – ahead of everyone else.

    We had a limited library where we were living at the time. I read one or two of my mum’s children’s book – my first chapter book was a Lassie tale. After that, my mum says I started reading her Harlequin Romances, because there were always those lying around. For the life of me, I don’t remember that.

    In high school, my English teacher would test all the students before starting a new section of grammar. If we did well enough, we could read quietly while the others learned. I think I read every James Blish Star Trek novelization in grammar class.

    I’ve always bought books for my niece and nephews. The older ones have done all right. The youngest is still young enough that I hope we can develop a love of reading in him.

    • Thanks for telling your story, BJ. It’s interesting that early reading is associated with success in adult life. It sounds like it’s also associated with a love of reading.

      Good luck with developing an interest in reading in your nephew. Maybe you should leave some Harlequin Romances lying around.

  6. I don’t have suggestions but your post brings up something I’ve always wondered about for myself. It’s possible they may have and I just don’t remember it, but I don’t recall my parents reading to me. However the one thing they did do from the time I was a little kid was buy me lots of books and I was a voracious reader.

    When I was really young it was these huge hardcover books–I don’t know–they were about 11X18 and each book was a different fairy tale. And then those little flip books (they were usually Lassie stories) where you flipped quick through the pages to make the animation at the top right “go” as you flipped. Plus other books and a LOT of trips to the library. One of my fondest memories will always be going to the library & coming home with a huge pile of Zane Grey novels almost as tall as I was–I’d check out as many as I could stack and carry in my arms.

    I suspect my parents (especially my Dad) probably DID read to me & I just can’t remember, but it’s the fact that I had a ton of books around that I recall as the reason I loved to read from a young age.

    Economics must surely play a part too. We didn’t have much money. There was no constantly going to professional sports, vacations, concerts, etc. So you read for adventure.

    I have a niece (who just turned 18) who also LOVES to read. I don’t recall her parents reading to her either. Now you’ve got me curious and I’m going to ask her where she thinks she learned to love reading books.

    Thanks for bringing up fond memories. It’s why I hate adulting. As a child, I had tons of time to read. Adulting leaves much to be desired in that area. 😎

    • Interesting thoughts, BK. I had some of the same questions about my parents reading to me. I don’t remember that happening, but my earliest memories go back only to about age four, and by then we were reading in kindergarten. Is it possible that early readers are less able to remember their parents reading to them, because they were already reading at the point where their earliest memories begin?

      Have a great day! And I hope you find some time to read.

  7. Compared to other commenters, I was a late bloomer–I learned to read in first grade. Before that, my father read to me every night. I also spent a lot of time at the public library. However, public libraries didn’t carry Nancy Drew books back then (not considered “real literature”), so my mother bought me those, one by one. They cost $1 back then.

    I also read to my two sons nightly and allowed them full access to any reading material in the house. They both continue to read voraciously.

    Regarding the younger generations, here is what I’ve observed with from my two grandsons and two granddaughters, who range in age from 12 – 21:

    – Reading as a leisure pastime is delegated to space leftover after social media activities. Instagram is their preferred social media time-waster. They consider Facebook to be a passe activity for older generations.
    – The boys also engage in video games. The girls do not.
    – One grandson reads a few books a month but only books in the sword & sorcery, Game of Thrones type genres, which are heavily touted on cable TV.
    – The girls tend to read fiction covering social topics and issues common to their age group.
    – The one grandchild who reads the least, will read humurous stories and graphic novels.
    – All four like characters to be the same age as them or older. Stories centered around younger children don’t interest them.

    • Great observations, Truant. I especially like your thoughts on your grandchildren. Have you developed any strategies for your grandchildren, based on your observations? After hearing several men mention comics this morning, I wonder if comics in many choices of genres might be a helpful tool for interesting boys. My grandson (who is not interested in reading) loves inventing his own creations with legos. I’ll have to look for lego comics.

      Thanks for sharing your observations. And have a great day!

      • Steve,

        As Dale and others suggested, it’s easier to get (grand)children to read books about topics in which they are already interested. It is futile, for example, to attempt an introduction to literature you’d like them to read, such as literary or other classics. That might work with some children, but others will feel like they are in school, which is where they will be exposed to the classics soon enough, anyway.

        Here are is one idea that has worked with my grandchildren:

        I found high-interest topics tailored to each child. Buy or borrow those books from the library. Somebody mentioned the Wimpy Kid books. Those are highly readable, funny, and relatable for middle school-aged children, especially boys. My oldest grandson read them (as did my husband and I). In fact, he used to call me when a new one was published, so I’d send him a copy.

        For the grandson who reads much less, I hit upon the Captain Underpants books, and sent those to him periodically.

        High interest fiction and nonfiction books, magazines, and comics exist for every age group. Scout out a couple of those and read them yourself, so you can discuss them with your grandchildren after they read them. Keep it fun and no-pressure so it doesn’t seem like a homework assignment.

        I plugged the phrase “children’s books on Legos” into Google and came up with several interesting hits about everything from fiction using Lego characters to idea books, how-to-build projects, history, and dictionaries. Amazon has “Lego Books” subject breakdowns for Boys 6-12; Kids; and Building Ideas.

        • Thanks for those ideas. Thanks for the reminder of the Wimpy Kid books and the Captain Underpants books. I’ve already started doing some research on the Lego books.

          Great suggestions! Thanks!

  8. A topic to touch my soul, Steve. I believe the greatest asset a person can have is the ability to read and the appreciation of that asset. I grew up in a reading home with a wall of bookcases in our living room. The black & white television occupied a small space in the corner which was usually only turned on during Hockey Night in Canada which I ignored because it interfered with reading time.

    My children are now 33 and 30 – both avid readers as is my wife of 38 years. We read to those kids from the day they were born – literally – and it habituated them to the point where they couldn’t sleep without a bedtime story. The early reading turned both into avid writers. Our daughter has her own writing agency and our son has just returned to university to study IT/Gaming so he can write simulator programs for military training. Their success comes from their asset of reading. Enjoy your hot and humid day of reading!

    ps. My wife is sitting here reading Stephen King’s If It Bleeds. She thinks he’s a better writer than me 🙂

    • Thanks, Garry, for sharing your story of success with your children. And congratulations on their success. It’s interesting that you mention the lack of interest in sports (on TV). I wonder if that lack of interest in sports is associated with children reading earlier.

      Tell you wife that a friend, who once called your writing “encyclopedic,” said that your internal monologue doesn’t go on and on and on like King’s.

      Have a great day!

      • The kids are doing good, Steve. Doing good. We limited screen time with them and encouraged page time. I’m not a sports fan – personal choice because I don’t get information from watching a puck passed by overpaid players. To each their own, but tell your friend who called my writing “encyclopedic” that verbose writing (King) can really pay off 😉

  9. Hey there,

    There isn’t one factor that made me a reader. I would say that I became an avid reader when I moved to profession, and reading was a necessity. I liked books, but not as a favorite pastime in my youth. I have one of those day jobs where I’m stuck in a book, doing research or reading reports for at least six hours a day, minimum. That necessity combined with my creative side led me down to path to be a storyteller.

    I have three kids. One boy, age nine and twins, which are seven. They all read but not as independent as I would like. However, the most successful things have been talking with their teachers and tutors (we hired one of those to go over reading and writing skills with our kids every week). Those discussions have led me to buy books for the kids based on suggestions that educators know will work. “Dragon Masters” and “Ivy and Bean” are book series that I would have never found on my own. I also find that books written in the last ten years vs. books when I was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s, seem to connect better with today’s youth.

    I suggest you don’t force kids to read. It’s all about balance. Think of work-life balance that in your job you should have balanced out your work with your downtime. It’s the same for kids and reading is a stressful thing for those who are beginner readers. It’s hard when a little brain is firing all its nerves to comprehend subject materials that they have yet to experience. Letting kids watch TV or play video games in my opinion is a short-term distraction that allows them the break so they will happily go back and read the books they love.

    • Good thoughts, Ben, about not forcing the reading with kids, giving them a break from the reading, and asking for input from educators. My concern is that some parents don’t limit the TV, social media, or video games. I also have to admit that I have some concerns for some of the content that is being forced on children, a reason I started writing a middle-grade fantasy series.

      I hope your success with your children continues.

      Have a great day!

  10. Thought-provoking and important post, Steve. You don’t mention it here but I think it’s pretty cool that your Mad River Magic series features characters based on your grandkids. Putting them in books as characters sounds like a great way to involve kids in reading.

    My grandmother read to me–Dr. Doolittle, Mary Poppins, Princess and the Pea and other Hans Christian Andersen stories. I knew how to read before I started kindergarten. By third grade, I was writing stories.

    I recall plowing through Aesop’s Fables and World Book encyclopedias on bookshelves at home. Also spent lots of time in the library.

    Took ten weeks to save my 10 cent allowance to buy the latest Nancy Drew (thanks for that reminder, Truant Librarian!).

    When we moved to a house with two entire walls of built-in bookshelves, my parents requested books as house-warming gifts. I discovered some had “adult” content which was fascinating.

    Don’t write off your summer reading mission as a failure. You planted the seed. In some kids, it takes longer to sprout.

    • Thanks for mentioning my Mad River Magic series, Debbie. I’m hoping that my grandchildren being in the story, will make them more likely to want to read the books when they are old enough, and maybe even read them to their children. I’ve thought that I should use the tagline, “middle-grade fantasy adventures young people will enjoy, and their grandparents will approve of.”

      Those books on your built-in bookshelves that contained “adult material:” seems that we keep finding more things we have in common.

      Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions.

      Have a great day!

  11. Happy Saturday, Steve! This is a topic near and dear to my heart. You covered it in very fine fashion. My own reading began in Kindergarten and First Grade, but my passion for books really came from my mother, who read pulp science fiction, and westerns, especially the latter. She inspired and encouraged my own reading.

    What I’ve seen work with kids over my years at the library is to help them connect reading to what they are passionate about. Don’t make it about shoulds and musts when it comes to reading, but rather, find books about things they are interested in. For many young readers, this might be the always popular heavy machinery books, trains, and fire trucks. Dinosaurs are also possible. Non-fiction is as valid an entry point to reading as stories (as much as I love the latter!). That said, there are many classic and new picture books and early readers that kids can connect to when they are toddlers and pre-schoolers.

    The parents who are engaged with their children’s reading, who read aloud to them, and encourage them, model the fun of reading, those are the parent’s whose kids often develop passion for reading on their own.

    Later in grade school, it becomes even more important to help connect their passions to books about those passions, whether it’s horse stories, mysteries (always popular), fantasies, books on a sport or hobby, and even graphic novels. There are wonderful pictorial novels, like Nate the Great, Diary of a Wimpy Kid etc which provide visual stories and words.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Thanks, Dale. Great ideas and advice.

      “What I’ve seen work with kids over my years at the library is to help them connect reading to what they are passionate about.” Well said, Dale, and I wonder if this isn’t at the core of making everything else work.

      Thanks for sharing the wisdom from your experience as a librarian.

      Have a great day!

  12. I had a triple whammy. Mom was an avid novel reader, Dad read lots of magazines, and Dad was also an oral storyteller and a humor/outdoors columnist for the local newspaper so hearing and telling stories was part of every day life for me.

    Then I found my gateway drug book, THE SECRET HORSE, because “I want a horse” was supposedly my first sentence and kids rescuing a horse from death and keeping it is every horsegirl’s greatest fantasy. So, I went from every horse book I could get my hands on to every dog books to every novel to working on a Ph.D. in literature and a writing career. So, find that gateway drug book for your kid and watch what happens.

    • Great idea, Marilynn. I love your “gateway drug book” idea. This seems to be the central theme today: find the young reader’s interest and give them books on that subject.

      Thanks for telling your story. Your parents’ examples must have helped a lot.

      Have a great day!

  13. Hi Steve,

    I have one suggestion that I haven’t seen mentioned here. Our son was an extremely early reader. By the time he was three, he could read articles out of the newspaper. That’s not to say he could understand them, but he could get the words right. I attribute his ability to read to a rich verbal environment. We talked a lot and that made him interested in words.

    And words are the building blocks of stories. My husband used to make up the most interesting stories about “Andy and Timmy” which were fun and adventurous. Our trips to the library resulted in armloads of kiddie books. I have fond memories of asking, “Which book would you like to read before your nap?”
    Answer: “Let’s read them all!”

    Bottom line: I believe it is the love of words and how they shape stories that captivates a young mind.

    • Great addition to the advice, Kay. It sounds like your approach was very successful. I’m hoping that my middle-grade fantasy series will have a similar effect on my grandchildren.

      Thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend!

  14. I am forever grateful to my parents for not letting television into our home in the early fifties. We read plenty-mother was partial to the Saturday Evening Post and Life and father read Scientific American, Astounding and F&SF in addition to the proceedings of the AIME (metallurgical engineering). We also had the Sunday NY Times delivered along with the Daily Home News and the Newark Evening News. That was back when Sunday newspapers had some content and weight.

    There was plenty to read and our parents taught us well. My first grade teacher took a dislike to me because while I was supposed to be reading Alice and Jerry I had Treasure Island stashed in my flip top desk.

    Reading well is a set of tools that will last a child a lifetime. It opens up the world of ideas and creative thinking to the child. Nothing used to bother me more than workmates who used to say “Oh. I don’t read unless it’s for work.”

    I always think “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

    • Thanks for stopping by, Robert. I like your story of all the reading material your parents provided. And, yes, the TV took its toll on reading. Now it’s social media. Wise parents will set a limit on those, and provide a time for reading only.

      I had to smile at the image of a teacher unhappy with a student reading a classic. So sad.

      Thanks for your comments, and have a great week!

  15. Sorry I’m so late, Steve! I had an all day book event on Saturday and only now remembered to look for your post (Sunday is for football, after all).

    I loved the Book Mobile! It was such a special day when it pulled in, and I could spend hours in there. Everyone in my family were big readers and Mom always read bedtime stories to us. My eldest granddaughter’s favorite gifts are books. Always been that way. The other two like to read, too. Of course, their dad (our son) always reads bedtime stories to all three. Don’t worry too much about your grandchildren. You’ve planted the seed. Even if they’re not interested now, that seed will grow.

    • No apology necessary, Sue. Sorry I’m so slow to respond. I hope your book event went well.

      It’s interesting that only you and I mentioned a book mobile. I remember ours with fond memories. When I prepared for this post, I checked with the library to find when the book mobile started, and when it ended. Turns out the year I remember was the year it first started.

      Congratulations for the success you have had with your son and grandchildren being readers. You did well.

      Have a great week!

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