Would you select a work of horror fiction to read if you hated horror? Would you spend your free time watching football on television if you didn’t care for sports?
No. The answer is always no.
Why, then, do we expect our kids to read books they don’t enjoy? If we are talking about independent reading (versus required reading for language arts classes), shouldn’t kids have a say in what they consume for entertainment?
Teachers ask our youth to read plenty from the similar and familiar list from English and American literature canon (aka classics), and they should. Your children will study plenty of Shakespeare, Dickens, Steinbeck, Twain, Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, and Lee.
The freedom of book choice movement in schools grows every day, and I’m here for it. Freedom of choice allows children to make choices for themselves.
If our goal is to allow our children to develop a positive relationship with reading, we need to listen.
You should let your kids choose their own books.
What’s the Benefit to Letting Kids Choose Their Own Books?
Many young readers view reading as work. Often, the increasing pressure to read from schools and parents eclipses the sheer pleasure of reading for children. Once a kid loses interest, it can be hard to get them back. If parents always choose the books, self-motivation and curiosity take a hit.
Too often, well-meaning parents push children to read the books they enjoyed “back in the day.”
I’ll fess up. In the beginning, I fell into this trap.
As an elementary-aged reader, C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia rocked my world. Epic journeys, fantastic creatures, and battles between good and evil — what’s not to love? I purchased the Chronicles boxed set for my own children, hoping they would love it just as much as I had.
Reading is an enormous part of my life. Sharing my favorite books from childhood with my kids equals sharing part of myself with them.
Sadly, my children viewed Lewis’s prose as over-formal and old-fashioned. For them, the writing style took away for the other wonderful aspects of the stories. To say I was disappointed would be putting it mildly. 😉
I learned something from the experience though. Why was I pushing my kids to read the things I thought they should be reading, especially when it was for enrichment or entertainment?
When I took my children to the library, I let the explore the children’s section. I allowed them to select books that looked interesting to THEM (not me!).
The freedom to explore empowers young readers. When they choose a book, they practice decision-making and develop a positive relationship with reading. There is power in choice.
Avoid the “That Doesn’t Count as Reading” Pitfall
“Pick a real book! No comics or graphic novels.”
Adults have been slow to come around to graphic novels. Notoriously slow. Many dismiss graphic novels as trivial or junk (not real books). This couldn’t be further from the truth! Frankly, this type of thinking is regressive.
These days, literary critics, librarians, and media specialists recognize graphic novels’ unique approach to storytelling. Graphic novels entice reluctant readers, motivate kids to read more, and coax kids into looking for deeper meaning within texts.
Reading comics and graphic novels 100% counts as real reading! The same goes for magazines and news.
The world is more visual than ever before. Doesn’t it make sense that kids would gravitate toward the visual medium of graphic novels? Besides, it’s time spent reading instead of staring at screens.
My oldest son was a reluctant reader until he discovered Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid. A light went on for him! Suddenly, reading was fun again. He LOVED these books.
From Diary of a Wimpy Kid, he moved on to cartoon epics like Jeff Smith’s BONE and Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet. Then, when he hit 8th grade, he delved into teen and young adult manga. We own every book in Yana Toboso’s Black Butler series.
What does my graphic-novel-manga-loving 15-year-old read today?
This summer, he finished Ted Gioia’s The History of Jazz and Frank Alkyer’s Downbeat: The Great Jazz Interviews Anthology. My teen obsesses over history and nonfiction. He reads in his free time [gasp]!
I wonder if he’d still be reading as voraciously for pleasure if all those years ago I had said, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid isn’t a real book.”
Letting Kids Choose Their Own Books Builds Literary Interest
How do YOU know what you like? You took the time to try different things in order to figure out what you enjoyed. Didn’t you?
Kids need that room to explore, too.
You can help your child explore their interests by asking questions.
- Do you want to read something scary or funny? Realistic? Adventure story?
- Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction?
- What DON’T you like to read?
- Do any book covers spark your interest?
Ask your child to read the book blurb. From there, they can decide if it’s something of interest to them. Choosing new books and trying new things help build literary interest.
Of course, you and your child can speak with librarians, media specialists, teachers, and other kids to get book recommendations.
A Note on Common Sense Media
Straight up, letting your child choose their own books doesn’t mean handing over all parental control. Obviously, it’s your job to set your own limits on age-appropriate content for your youngsters.
Common Sense Media “rates movies, tv shows, books, and more so parents can feel good about entertainment choices.” This non-profit rates entertainment products according to content categories with in-depth information on each title. Common categories are: educational value, positive messages, positive role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs, and smoking.
You can search any children’s book on Common Sense Media and get the lowdown on its content.
Let your child choose their books. Then, double check with a site like Common Sense Media to ensure the reading material your child chose is within your comfort level and limits on age-appropriateness.
If our goal is to allow our children to develop a positive relationship with reading, we need to step back and listen. Let kids choose their own books.
The freedom to explore empowers our children. When they choose a book, they practice decision-making.
Don’t go for the “that doesn’t count as reading” pitfall. Reading comics, graphic novels, and manga 100% counts as reading. (Note: Books about computer games are still books!)
Kids need room to explore. You can help them by asking questions. Giving your child freedom to choose their own reading material doesn’t mean handing over all parental control. Double check that your child’s independent reading selection meets your limits on age-appropriateness.
Make reading fun for your child!