I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend among adults who come into the store to buy books for kids and teens in their lives. Whether it be for their own kids, their nieces and nephews, or the kids of their friends, there seems to be a strange laisser-faire attitude when it comes to picking out books.
I’ll ask them about the person they’re buying for, and what they’ll tell me is the person’s age and gender.
That tells me absolutely nothing about them. Guess what? Kids are people. Tell me if they like animals, or planes, or if they talk so fast they don’t seem to have time to slow down and read. Tell me if they’re already lifelong readers, and if you know their current favourite reads. Tell me if they only read comic books, of if they’re too busy watching TV to make time for a book.
A person’s age and gender does not determine what they will enjoy reading.
Even then, when I know their likes and dislikes, when you tell me if they like to read and I make the best recommendations possible – even then they may hate my choice. They might look at the book you bought for them and know that it will spend its life gathering dust under their bed.
So here’s what you do: get kids and teens excited about reading.
Want to get them a book for their birthday? Give them one of your favourites from when you were a kid or teen. Sit them down and talk about how this book changed your life, or how it was so fun it helped you keep your mind off your parents’ divorce or your failing grades. Give them something that they’ll connect to you and attribute meaning to. And just maybe they’ll love it too.
If you’re a parent or someone who is often there at bedtime, make bedtime stories a thing. Graduate from picture books with beautiful illustrations, to fun school-time tales, to family friendly epics like Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Pierce’s Tortall books, and His Dark Materials. Instill a sense of love and wonder, and eagerness in reading.
Get them a gift card to your favourite bookstore. Whether it be a big box store, your local used store, or the small indie store halfway across town, get them a gift card.
Now – don’t just give them this gift card and leave it at that. Make it an event. Take them out on a fun bonding day – take them to the movies, and then to lunch, and then to the bookstore. Take them for a window shopping walk with the bookstore halfway through. Let them take their time in browsing.
Let them make their own reading choices, even if it’s something you think is too complex or too simple for their reading level. Let them choose comics, or poetry, or early readers books. Let them read books aimed at girls or at boys. Let them choose audiobooks, or e-books if they have access to a tablet.
Set up a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly library date with them. Most libraries have really interesting programming for kids and teens. Again, give them time to choose what they want to read. Let them just pick one, or pick several. Don’t malign or make fun of their reading choices, or suggest that they’ve chosen something too easy or too silly.
Let them learn to love reading. Let them choose to love reading.
What are your strategies to get the kids in your life to enjoy reading? What do you think makes a lifelong reader? Let me know in the comments below!