Ecouraging kids to read

10:03 AM

It is said that kids don't read books as much as we once did. That they prefer the TV, or the smart phone to a good old book. That they are lazy, unmotivated and un-keen to spend time engrossed in a story that happens on paper, the way we did.

No offence, but it isn't their fault if that is the case. They didn't simply choose TV over books on their own. Avid book lovers aren't born,they are made. To make a reader, you need to be a reader, and give priority to activities that do not involve a screen.
I made it no secret, I hate the TV. It is something I could actually live without, and have done so without feeling like I was missing on something.

I come from a family of bookworms, I grew up around books. Books found their way into my home liberally, there was no limit on the amount of books allowed in my room (barbie dolls and toys yes...not books). My parents let me choose, passed no judgement on my choices. And I remember asking my mom if I could go wait in the book section of the supermarket while she did her grocery shopping. Back then that section was always crowded with kids who would sit on the ground and leaf through books. People didn't freak out that much about kids being abducted either. The store had CCTV cameras, the book corner was manned by two staff member to make sure no kids broke the books.
The kids didn't feel like wandering around either, beside if we waited nicely enough in that corner, we knew our chance to have our mom buy us the book we just discovered would be big. We didn't really ask for candies or chocolate treats, books were enough for us "Book aisle kids". Those were the days...

So, how do you get a kid to like books? Or even get them to want to read them? Ishita has reached the early reader stage. That stage at which they can read simple sentences and sound out simple words. We spent the whole Summer vacation honing these early reading skills reading books together.

If you want a kid who loves books, you need to get books to them. That is the first step to creating a book lover. Don't wait until they can read on their own to have books around the house.
Start when they are little, baby little. I read books to Ishita when she was as young as 3 months. At this age, they don't really know what the words mean, or what you are doing, but they love the sound of your voice and the rhyming rythm the story makes. Plus, they start seeing colours and shapes, books are full of these.
As toddlers, get them sturdy books, that they can handle on their own. Don't drill words into them, first because this is plain old stupid, and then because you will only make them think books are for learning things. They aren't, learning is a by product, a side effect of reading, it's not the goal, never should be.

Books are for FUN, so let them have fun with them. Let them look at pictures on their own, without intervening, let them imagine a story on their own. You can and still must read to them daily, but do not go all "teacher" on them. Books are about wonderful stories, they are not an ABC drill manual.

When they reach the pre-primary school level, they will learn their ABC and phonics, quite naturally when they are ready. If you have or had a child that age, you know how that goes. The teacher start teaching them phonics, and then sight words which you need to know just by looking at them, and then families of words that can be sounded : bit, sit, fit and big, pig, fig...
Once they reach that stage, you can practice reading early readers books with them.

The market is flooded with such books. The best books I ever came accross are the Dr Seuss books. "The Cat in the Hat" alone has all the sight words and early reader words a 1st grader can read. But that is not the only one. Seuss managed to make reading fun, the rhymes are catchy, the stories entertaining and the rythm very addictive, even for adults. There are other authors and books series as well make no mistakes, never limit yourself when it comes to books.

When your child is ready to read, take them to the book store and choose a few books that are of their level. NOT the level you wish they were at, or think they should be at. Choose those books with them, leaf through the pages, and check with your kids if they can read some of the words. If they can, buy it. If they can't or don't even like the look of the book, leave it on the shelf.

Then, get a reward chart. There are many printables online. Or you could come up with your own system, which is what I did.
I bought an attractive notebook that we turned into a reading log. The inside looks like this :

On each page, I put a little square to accommodate a sticker, then put a section for her to write the name of the book she read, and the date.
The rules are simple, she can only log the books she read on her own (with my help for difficult words). She get to put a sticker each time she finishes a book and every 5 books she read, she gets a surprise. In this case book number 5 rewarded her with a "Frozen stamp" that she decided to use all over the page.

She didn't read that many books all on her own this past Summer, but we did a lot of reading practice and read a lot of books together.

Oh and if you are just about now itching to write a comment about how books are costly and how impossible it is to do that because of the cost involved. Don't even bother wasting energy telling me that.

I have one thing to say about it : "Haven't you heard of a library?"

We use our local one a lot...

You Might Also Like


  1. On encouraging children to love and read books- I always found books with interesting & beautiful illustrations held younger children's attention longer. It really piques their interest when they figure out the words on page relate to the illustration.
    Do they read books to the children at Ishita's school?

    1. I think they did read stories to the kids in school last year. The academic year has just started now, so no idea what will be on. But her school participate in the DEAR programme, which is "Drope Evereything And Read" they do it once a term for a week during which half an hour is set aside for kids to just read whatever they feel like reading on their own.

      Illustration is definitely something very important in Children's books. This is still how Ishita chooses which book she wants to buy or borrow from the library.

  2. Anonymous10:48 AM

    I read a lot of children books in my chidhood, Champak, Chandamama etc. I was reading fluently in Hindi and English when my class mates could barely read by putting words together. My father was an an avid reader of newspaper. He regularly read newspapers, underlined the difficult words and looked for their meaning in dictionary. That is how I got bitten by the reading bug. Amar Chitra Katha is also a wonderful comic for children depicting historical/moral stories with fanstastic art work.

    As a kid I particpated in the Durga Pooja competions of poetry and fancy dress and won prizes. The prize was invariably a book in Bangla (not bengali as it is commonly known, bangla is the language, bengali are the people who speak it). I had to ask my elders to read it as I could not read my mother tongue like many children who are raised outside Bengal. One day out of frustration, I started learning Bangal through comic books and lo and behold!! I could read Bangla. I read all the Bangla books and later started reading novels. I can now read printed Bangla but have difficulty with someone's handwriting. Quiet an achievement for me.

    Then I stated reading magazines for adults like Manorama and Grihashobha much to the annoyance of my parents. It is explicity written on the magazines that they are meant for married women. I was neither married nor women. I learnt a lot about adult life at an age where perhaps it was not meant to be. I also started secretly reading Mills & Boons novels, which are favourite of girls which my sister borrowed from her friends. Again, literature not meant for children. Then I also read "those maganizes" which enlightend me. All kinds of literature from good to trashy. I covered all the gamuts.

    In India often children are not encouraged to read. Parents can encourage them by giving children's books and then make them read news papers. In many homes only aduts read newspapers and sometimes even they do not. It is believed that young people and children have nothing to do with newspapers. In those days ofcourse we had more serious news and less bollywood/cricket. That surely helped. Acutally, literature was always looked down upon since writing was not a viable career in olden days. The real moolah laid with engineering, medicine, law for which great literaly knowledge is not required. Thus, subjects like maths, commerce and sciences were glorified and subjects like geography, history, literature were considered boring and useless. You will be surprised by how ignorant people are about their own history, culture and geography. Some of them cannot even tell the chronology of the mughal dynasty consering how much it has been covered in schools. Leave aside history Indians are ignorant about our own epics, mythology etc. considering how religious we claim to be.

    I remember you lamented the fact that India has not tradtion of children's literature. In Bengal there was a great writer Sukumar Ray who wrote extensively poems and literature for chidren. He is kind of icon as far as Bangla literature is concerned. Generations of Bengalis have been entertained by his nosensical and weird take on the society from a child’s point of view. He published book called "Abol Tabol" which is a legend as far as humour literature is conerned. 


    1. You, like me, are the living proof that readers are created from parents who love to read :-)
      I think I started showing an interest in the newspaper when I was 8-9 years old and this opened the road to magazine. Fortunately in Europe we have a lot of teenage girls magazines to bridge the gap, full of actors gossip, real life stories teens can relate to, and General health tips every girl reaching puberty should know, about periods, reproductive system and what not. And of course all the beauty tips and fashion. It was written in a sensible way and complemented the informations we were given in school when it comes to reproductive health, aka Sex Education. sexual education is mandatory in schools in many European countries, and as a result we have low rates of teen pregnancies and STD on the decline.

      Anyway, back to reading, my parents never discouraged any reading, and always were opened to discussion and answering questions. I remember getting my first library card at age 7 and I used to check out a lot of different books from the kids section (the State library issued kids card that could not be used in the adult section), when I turned 15 I was upgraded to an adult card there and kept on spending all my Saturday afternoon at the library, or the book store. I used to go downtown and the library on my own from age 10, because the mobile library that came near my place didn't restock books fast enough for my linking and my mom didn't have all Saturday afternoon to spend on taking me downtown to the library and wait for me to be satisfied with my book craving.

      Oh by the way did you know that when I first arrived to India 2003, the first thing I found after figuring out where to buy food was the second hand bookstore? I would visit that place in my neighbourhood two or three times a week. It took me longer to figure out where to get clothes and shoes :-)

    2. Anonymous11:47 AM

      It was not a concious effort on the part of my father. I read newspaper becuase he read them. Every year my father brought set of books and copies for the new class, I would grab the Hindi and English books and read all the poems/stories and never even look at the maths book which was my nemesis. Charles Dickens, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Munshi Premchand. Amazing writers, amzing stories. I was very fond of Enid Blyton but did not like Nancy drew, too adult for me. Have you read comics on Phantom, Mandrake the Magician?? Then I discovered Archies comics and the wonderful characters jughead, veronica, betty etc.

      There is such incredible literature in regional langauges of India. Each region has alteast five fantastic writers. Unfortunately, majority of the people have not read their works. They have not written in English so that literature is somehow inferior. These writers wrote about the rural life/man women relations/caste system/partition of India they are timeless classics. Forget English most people do not know how to read their native languages. Since Hindi is second class langugage in India, therefore, reading Hindi literature is not an "in thing". The quality of articles in Hindi newspapers are way better than what we have in English papers. The Hindi writers use local language, idioms and symbols and establishes relationship with the writer. He understand the country and the poeple. While an English writer writes articles which have a sermonizing under current. He estalishes himself as someone who is wiser that than the reader. His job is to sermonize and admonish Indians. Very elitist.

      However, people prefer a Chetan Bhagat and his choclate literature over them. No offence meant Chetan Bhagat is wonderful but not a patch on these great writers. Cant' blame the young people if they are not told about their literary past.

      If one tries to read only the books written in Sanskrit it will take a few lifetimes. This is apart from the ancient literature in local languages, urdu, persian, buddist/jain literature on everything from politics to sprituality.



    3. I read French language comics as a kid, so Asterix and Tintin were two characters I spent a lot of time with, along with the "Smurfs" which in their original French version are called the "Shtroumfs" (though right now the spelling eludes me).
      I loved Nancy Drew as a kid, in French curiously her name was translated as Alice. I never was much of a fan of the Famous Five though. I thought the whole dynamics was a bit too boyish and masculine for some reason. I really liked Nancy Drew because she was a smart detective girl solving great mysteries and being brave and strong and all. I like the French heroine "Fantomette" for the same reason. Funny how I was drawn to mystery novels from the start. I still love reading mysteries a lot, though of course I love fantasy, and Science Fiction just as much.

      I've always been the type of reader that have both been looked at by book snobs as a frivolous silly reader and the type of reader that many would consider a book snob. If the cover and the summary catch my fancy, I will read it, this is that simple :-)

    4. I also think that classic literature is better left to read as a mature adult. In Switzerland we had to read a lot of French literature between the age of 15 and 19 when in high school and these are a bit out of a teenager's grasp. The topics and question raised in these novels are strong, valid and beautifully written, no question. But a teenager who is at a turning point in their own life figuring who they are as an individual, and where they stand and what the world around them mean has way way too much on their plate to bother leave alone appreciate the story lines, style, and metaphors of the Renaissance and Classical literature. I think teachers should make a nice balance of classics and contemporary books in their classes, or even make a point of studying a classic along with a more recent more approachable contemporary novel that is going to be to the liking of a teen today.

      As an adult, I have read teen novels such as The Twilight Saga, or the Hunger games that make pertinent points in their less heavy writing style. Points that could be easily pitched against the point made by classical novels in a very constructive way all the while stimulating teens to want to read said classics.

  3. Anonymous12:15 PM

    Have you read the works of Indian writers like Rabindra Nath Tagore.


    1. No I haven't yet. I have little time left to read, and when I do find it these days I prefer escaping in fantasy and mystery novels rather than litterature. I might come back to that genre once Ishita is older though. For now my days are pretty full and at time emotionally and mentally draining. So much so I am not sure I could do justice to the poetry and style of classic litterature works.

    2. Anonymous10:30 AM

      There are short stories of Rabindranath Tagore and Munshi Premchand if you don't want to read llong novels.

      Here is an english translation of the urdu story "Toba Tek Singh" by the great writer Saddat Hassan Manto who wrote extensively on the tragedy of partition of India. Here, the author tries to capture the communal craziness of those times through a mental asylum. This craziness had engulfed the large parts of India and Pakistan. I had read the longer version and it is quiet poignant.


  4. Anonymous7:36 PM

    I have to disagree with the statement that avid readers are made. Not really. My parents never got us any books because hard bound glossy fairy tales or any good books were a pure luxury in the early nineties!. Only a couple of my classmates could actually afford them despite so many of us studying at a posh convent school. But fortunately my uncle worked as a teacher in one of the reputed schools in the city and provided the very same books which apple mentioned. So me and my sis read everything we could get our hands on. Old english text books, including back of candy wrappers sometimes we reread when we could find anything new.Finally in the fifth grade we were allowed to borrow from our school library so then the love of Enid blyton, Nancy drew grew so much. In high school we were allowed access to that huge shelf of mills and boons but I never took a liking to romance novels.
    One of my friends who is a preschool teacher and in charge of children's library in Hyderabad grumbles that her kids never took a liking to read inspite of her making so much effort. We never know how the child might turn out but I'll yes we do have to make an effort to try to make them to read for for their own good. Atleast we can convince ourselves later that we tried!.

    1. Nobody is born a reader, we all learn that along the path of life.
      What I have seen is that people who were taught that books are just learning tools tend to read less as they grow old than those who were always under the impression that reading, any reading is interesting and fun. As I said, it isn't tied to owning books but having access to them. I probably read more library books than Books I owned in my life. Though my parents had the means to ensure books found their way into our bookshelves. But I know super avid readers who just got exposed to books through libraries and school.

      I also know people who've been disgusted by the idea of reading, by being made fun of what they preferred to read, or how slow they read, or forced to read books they didn't care about "for the sake of their culture". Those usually grew up to be the one calling those who read "nerds".
      and there are those who became avid readers later in life, once free of the judgement of others or the constraint of having to learn a thing from books by default. In any case, being a book lover only happens one story, one book at a time.

  5. Anonymous3:23 PM

    Interesting take of yours on raising a reader. Many times I've wondered how much efforts of parents go in making their children a reader. Read this post below on a mom's efforts to raise her daughter to be a reader.

    1. I'd say her efforts are a bit too much, driving hours to go to a reading session? Only buying books for birthday gifts? Only doing reading activities. It's easy to cross a line when encouraging kids to read.

      I myself don't push reading over other activities, I simply make sure reading is a very available option and that should my daughter wish to buy books, the answer won't be No, but if she doesn't want to visit a bookstore, then it is no big deal either.
      These past few weeks. She didn't feel like trying to read a book on her own, no biggie again. It just means that there is no additional stickers earned in her reading log.


Blog Archive