Parents with avid readers often find themselves with a dilemma: after my child has read all the age-appropriate books, where do we go from here? Progression to the next reading level adds to the scramble at the bookstore or library. What author should I try next? How can I get my child interested in a book I suggest? What if I don’t like the ones they pick out? Just because they can read it, are they ready for it?
I have suddenly found myself in this situation. My first grader has leaped from looking through picture books and reading by compulsion to devouring Calvin and Hobbes and reading Star Wars. While I am personally a fan of Calvin and Hobbes, we have a house full of books. Somehow I want to steer his choices in directions that are better for his maturity level and that will nurture his literary taste. I know that this stage of reading is delicate. I want to entice him with stories that will engage his interest but not stretch him so much that he is discouraged. As his mother and lifelong librarian, I want to be an ongoing resource for him. How do I start? (In this post I am primarily thinking of my emerging reader who is reading above his grade level, but not yet delving into really thick books. I’ll address that situation down the road when we get there!)
Janie, Emily, Betsy, Hayley, help!
While we cannot yet customize lists for every reader (but hope to offer that service in the future!), I can still browse Redeemed Reader and find recommendations old and new. I can also ask my local librarian if she has suggestions. (“These are some books my child has enjoyed. What else do you have?” Feel free to express your preferences, but also encourage your child to communicate with the librarian directly.) Also refer to lists like Honey for a Child’s Heart, and ask friends whose children with similar challenges because none of us have read all the books out there!
2. Give him room to choose.
I’m not a big sci-fi fan, so the Star Wars book doesn’t appeal to me personally. But from what my husband and I perceive from the book, I can’t raise any real objections, and I want to give my son opportunity to make choices. Sometimes I will have to say no to something inappropriate, but I want to say yes as often as I can, even if the book is not in my scope of interest.
3. Keep your expectations realistic and low.
By this I do not mean lowering your standards of what you want your child to read, but remember that just because he CAN read at a higher level, he will not necessarily have the attention span to take on challenges yet. Keep reading light and fun, and there will be plenty of opportunity to grow when he is ready.
This point was emphasized by my husband: don’t underestimate your children’s ability to absorb language and vocabulary. We are very annoyed with the easy reader simplifications of Thomas the Tank Engine, because they are pathetic compared to the original stories (look for a collection at your library!). Thomas Goes Fishing is uninspiring compared to the descriptions and details in the original (including the fate of the fish that were clogging Thomas’s boiler!). Better to read the original aloud than settle for a mediocre imitation easy reader. (Note: there are some used copies of the complete collection available on Amazon; otherwise you can still buy many of the original stories together in one volume.)
5. Remember that predictable series fiction has a useful function.
While the “Children’s Literarian” in me winces at the thought of recommending formulaic series like the Magic Treehouse books, I remember the comfort of reading Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and re-reading some of the same books over and over (and over and over). Familiarity builds confidence.
6. Train his literary taste buds.
When he first made his own choices in picture books, we read a lot of Curious George and Amelia Bedelia. Classics, but tiresome. So sometimes I let him choose, sometimes I chose, and even if he wanted something else, he never turned down the chance to hear a book. Here’s the key: DON’T STOP READING ALOUD!!! Like learning to enjoy any new food, especially more nutritious varieties, literary taste buds must be developed. You may be able to read the first couple chapters of a book aloud while your child draws or plays with Legos, then stop and leave the book out when you reach a captivating part.
I told my son that I wanted him to read any book besides Calvin and Hobbes or Star Wars for ten minutes a day, and gave him a punch card with two hours divided into ten-minute increments. When that is full, I will be happy to treat him to our favorite frozen yogurt place! What was his first choice? The New Way Things Work by David Macauley, which is highly visual non-fiction about inventions, perfect for a budding scientist. (Librarian’s note: Non-fiction is another approach to broadening a reader’s interests.)
Comics and graphic novels offer visual reinforcement of the story to aid a young reader’s comprehension. Since I started writing this post a week ago, my son has discovered a classic Peanuts collection. What else is out there? I have a copy of Tintin on hold at the library that I think will also be a hit.
9. Leave magazines on his level in the bathroom.
Okay, I admit it. That’s where I like to snatch a few minutes to read, too. Since I don’t want books getting wet and germy, I’m willing to risk a few magazines like God’s World Early Edition and Kid’s Answers.
10. Make alternatives readily available.
Covers are more interesting than spines, so leave a couple books tantalizingly face-up on the coffee table or in the van. I know from personal experience that a bored reader will try almost anything!
Now I’d love to hear from our readers. What has enthralled your emerging readers? Any suggestions for a first-grade boy with an active imagination?