From Reluctant Reader to Voracious Reader: What Worked for My Oldest Child

Guest post by Mia Wenjen, aka. Pragmatic Mom, one of my favorite bloggers! 

My oldest child is now starting 6th grade which is Middle School where I live. She’s a voracious reader now but it wasn’t always so. I guess there are many, many reasons why kids don’t like to read and for her, it wasn’t the decoding or sitting still; it was the act of performing. She hates any kind of attention. A root canal is preferable to her over performing and reading out loud was a performance to her.

Unfortunately when children are young, they have to read aloud in order for we, the parents, to see if they are reading with fluency, decoding words correctly, and comprehending what they are reading (as noted by strange pauses, skipped/added words or unfamiliar words). We’re not mind readers after all!

There were other issues too. My daughter preferred books with a plot that were beyond her ability to decode. While many kids love the Bob books, she summarily rejected them so I had to find other phonics books that could hold her interest. This issue is very common her teacher assured me but it makes finding books that she could read confidently and enjoy challenging.

My daughter also found chapter books intimidating well into second grade. She preferred picture books so as her decoding skills improved, I needed to find advanced picture books. We found many great ones using the picture book section of Kathleen Odean’s Great Books for Girls. In fact, I am now a believer that advanced picture books have much better content and vocabulary than many easy chapter book series. And some of these books below also take readers back in time or inside of someone’s skin. Wonderful stuff!

Because she is my oldest, I was fearful of screwing up. She’s my trial-and-error kid. It didn’t help that she had a very bad first grade year (which spawned my blog PragmaticMom due to all the catch up we needed to do). I sought assistance on how to get her to love reading from everyone I knew: librarians (who suggested the popular but repetitive Rainbow Fairy series), ex-teacher mom friends (I started a book club for her based on one mom’s recommendation, and indexed my picture books according to level of difficulty thanks to another), teachers (Explode the Code workbooks were dutifully done during the summer), and went to lectures on literacy (put a basket of books in the bathroom and rotate them!).

I found that I wasn’t the best choice to read with my child. We fought over reading and it was torture. My husband ended up taking over for a summer. He was much better at coaxing her to read aloud. (Thanks honey!).

Bit by bit though, through trial and error, we, as a collective family unit, made progress in the reading department. I learned to relax to make reading enjoyable. This made my daughter want to read more. The more she read, the more comfortable she got. I give a lot of credit to the You Read to Me and I’ll Read to You series which I found in the overstock section of a local bookstore.

During the course of first grade through fourth grade, I tried lots of things (see below), and then one day … around the middle of third grade but definitely by the end of fourth grade, a magical thing happened: She was a reader! The voracious kind that sneaks a flashlight under the covers to read way past her bedtime.

I think that trying lots of different strategies is the key to unlocking a love for reading in any child. I know that I presented a lot of ideas, but remember that we did these over the course of five years. The effort I made was well worth it; teaching your child to read is a gift that keeps on giving!

What has worked for you to get your child to love to read? Please leave a comment with your suggestions and book recommendations!

1) Trips to bookstores to buy books (maybe 4-5 times a year). We also have a color Nook and she enjoyed the novelty of ebooks for a few months but that didn’t last. Used book stores, garage sales, and library used book sales are also great places to acquire books.

2) Book recommendations from her friends. This works on two levels. Her friends’ recommendations carry more clout than mine, and you can borrow the books.

3) I started a book club for her and her friends after 1st grade. This was very rewarding and I think it helped to make reading fun! We had local authors Mitali Perkins and Karen Day visit our book club which was an amazing experience. I bet you have local KidLit authors where you live. They also will Skype!

4) Trips to library to select books (maybe monthly)… I would buy the book if there was interest but we had trouble getting through it after 3 weeks (which is our normal checkout time for a book). We found that smaller branch libraries were less intimidating so we’d also change up the library and go to neighboring towns.

5) Personal library of Just Right For Me books in her room as well as throughout the house. Don’t forget the bathrooms! And don’t forget to rotate the books!

6) I never did audio books but I would do that now plus I would do ebooks via ipod/iphone/and eReader.

7) Author visits at book stores.

8) I used picture books extensively especially advanced picture books when she was in 2nd and 3rd grade. I actually went though Great Books For Girls by Kathleen Odeon book by book at 2 libraries. These were great books and I was able to read to all 3 kids at the same time as she has two younger siblings. We would read 30-50 picture books a week. We all have very fond memories of this time and she still enjoys overhearing picture books that I read to her younger brother. I LOVE PICTURE BOOKS and they are for ALL AGES!!!

9) We also did shared reading. Which is simply to say that we took turns reading. At first, I’d read the more text dense pages and give her the lighter ones. Later, I’d take over if she misses five words or more per page.

10) Hooking her on a series. My favorite series though for 2nd grade is still the Cobble Street Cousins by Cynthia Rylant.

11) Graphic Novels. These were new to me at the time, but I think graphic novels are a great way to engage kids. She was into the Warriors series at the time but I’ve included some other very popular ones.

*To view any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

Bio: Mia Wenjen is PragmaticMom: Education Matters. She likes to blog on education, parenting and children’s literature when she’s not trying to get her three kids to read more. She has an obsession for making KidLit book lists that, strangely, people seem to enjoy. She hopes you will visit her blog. 

Help Your Reluctant Reader

Book Love, Melissa Taylor’s new book, gives parents fun ways to turn your reluctant reader into an enthusiastic reader. It includes the reasons why kids don’t like reading, what to do about it, and lots of book lists and printables.


  1. says

    Reading unlocks so many magical places and so much knowledge. Your quest to help your daughter find this place was more difficult than some, but she did find that joy in reading at last. And that is a wonderful thing.

  2. says

    My kids, all 3 of them, just loved the BOB series. They found the books silly and funny while they learned how to read. My oldest and my youngest always delved into all different types of books from a very young age and still today they both love reading. I’ll always find my daughter with the light on late at night just wanting to finish that last chapter. But my middle child did not like to read at all once he started kindergarten. I found the graphic novels, in particular, Bone, to be a great fit for my son. That’s what really started him on reading. Even today he’s not an avid reader like my ohter two, but he does enjoy reading.

    Great post and great ideas you have to share.

  3. says

    I’m with you, PragmaticMom! Some of the easy readers and phonic based books are just dull and dopey. Picture books have more interesting vocabulary and speak to children’s hearts. But I know what you said above is key: “trying lots of different strategies is the key to unlocking a love for reading in any child”. That and your own persistence and passion for kidlit! So great that your girl loves to read now.

  4. says

    Thank you for sharing your wealth of information and experience. My daughter has been a big reader. (She is now in high school & excels in english.) As a toddler we repeatedly read a collection of books at her request. When she was two she started trying to read and expanded her interest. We had her read select words as we read books with her as she, too, was interested in more challenging books. One of her favorite series was the American Girl books as we could talk about history. They helped create some discussion with grandparents and greatgrands about :how things used to be”.

  5. says

    I love the idea of setting up a book club for your daughter and her friends. We’re working to set one up at my school for 7-8th grade girls, and there’s been a lot of interest, but I would have loved one as a child that met at friends houses. This are great suggestions and I will definitely be referring parents to your site! Thanks again!


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