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10 Tips for Encouraging Your Tweens to Read
Written by
She Writes
February 2020
Written by
She Writes
February 2020

Today's guest post was written by Elizabeth Atkinson, the middle-grade author of Fly Back, Agnes (available March 3, 2020).

As is true for many writers, I grew up in a family of literary readers. With one exception: Me.

My mother read to us kids at bedtime, which I loved, but eventually we were expected to read on our own, which I didn’t love.

Our family visited the library regularly, so I knew the drill and chose the usual Beverly Cleary and Nancy Drew books, but never with any enthusiasm. I had to force myself to get through them.

While my older brother ate up Tolkien and later John Fowles novels, my little sister whiled away the hours under her cozy comforter reading James Herriot and Madeleine L’Engle, as my parents poured over thick novels and their subscriptions to The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and Harper’s Magazine. However, the only prose I sought to peruse during my middle-grade years was considered junk in our house and not allowed: teeny-bopper rags, like Tiger Beat, featuring my Hollywood idols Bobby Sherman, Davy Jones and the entire Brady Bunch. Luckily the TV Guide somehow arrived in our mailbox, but I knew if I was ever caught reading the columns, I risked being teased by my intellectual household.

Then one day, I discovered Judy Blume in the library stacks and my interest in reading magically blossomed. However, beyond Blume in the 1970s, contemporary novels for pre-teens (and naïve teens) were few and far between. So my thirst for reading “realistic fiction” was rarely quenched.

Consequently, I grew up to write that which I longed for… books with characters who understand how it feels to be an average, self-conscious, insecure, sensitive tween.

When encouraging your children to read – and I use the word “encourage” because insisting or nagging or forcing them to read for pleasure will backfire on you – I suggest these tips to get you started:

1. Don’t ‘shame’ your child into reading, just as you shouldn’t shame them into playing soccer or the piano or skiing lessons. In other words, don’t make them feel bad if they aren’t readers and don’t compare them to siblings who are.

2. Set an example. Let them see you reading books, but don’t rub it in.

3. Leave various reading materials around the house, especially in the bathroom which is where we always have an entertaining selection of catalogues and cartoon collections like Calvin & Hobbes.

4. For the most part, don’t judge what your child reads or select what they read, unless you believe it’s harmful in some way. If your middle grade son likes diving into DANCE Magazine, let him subscribe to it. If your 13-year-old wants to read Captain Underpants for the hundredth time, good for them. And definitely don’t make them read The Chronicles of Narnia just because you did when you were their age.

5. Let them know it’s okay to close a book if they aren’t enjoying it. Don’t force them “to finish what they started” when reading. As an adult, I give myself 50 pages – if I still don’t like the book by the 50th page, I stop reading it and start another one.

6. Let them experience different kinds of reading formats. If they’re into comic books, they may want to try a graphic novel. If they prefer having someone read to them, they might like listening to an audiobook. Or go ahead and read to them!

7. By their middle-grade years, my own kids didn’t want to go to the library anymore, but I didn’t make a big deal out of it. Instead, I would offer to check-out books for them or bring home a few suggestions. Often, they passed, but I always offered just in case.

8. Show them you value reading and quiet time during family trips and school breaks. Don’t feel you have to be constantly “on the go” to have a successful vacation. Let your kids know you need quiet time to read and they will see it’s valued.

9. Family Book Clubs: They're worth a try! I've heard of families who read one chapter a night together (or once a week) and then discuss the book at the end. Fun idea if everyone enjoys it.

10. Above all, reading is about quality, not quantity. And if you’re a super-slow reader, as I am, it doesn’t mean you’re less of a reader. I have to say, I really dislike those How Many Books Can You Read on Summer Break? type of contests hosted by libraries, as if reading is a sport. When I was a kid, if I spent the whole summer reading one, fabulous, delicious novel, that incredible book was my friend for life and made my summer special.

Of course, these suggestions won’t guarantee your kids will read, but don’t forget, the joy of reading can bloom much later in life for many people. The truth is kids are busier, distracted and more stressed than ever these days. Even though they may drift away from recreational reading in their tween years, there is a good chance they will drift back to reading in their adult years, especially if healthy reading practices were part of their childhood.

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