In honor of National Read Across America Day (and Dr. Seuss’ birthday) on March 2, we asked three local authors how parents can inspire their kids to love reading.
How can parents best inspire their kids to read?
Sauer: When kids see their parents reading for pleasure they are more likely to be readers themselves. Have all sorts of reading material in the home – novels, picture books, comic books and cookbooks. I always have books in my car and bag. Make trips to the library or bookstore feel like an event. There’s nothing like the connection of sharing a book with a kid. It’s a great time to engage, ask questions and get kids to share.
Nhin: Even though I’m an avid reader, my three boys don’t always gravitate to it. But in my experience, if you can find a subject they are interested in and get them hooked, that’s the best motivator. Once they delve into a subject they really like then that love of reading can grow. You’ve planted the seed.
What about kids who just don’t want to sit still for a story?
Williamson: It’s more important that reading interactions are positive than that they are long. If your toddler is not having it, put the book away and come back to it later. The more you practice those behaviors, the longer they will be able to sit and the more they will associate those interactions of reading and snuggling and sharing books together as part of the love between a parent and a child.
When it comes to filling out reading charts and keeping track of reading minutes for school, how can parents still make reading fun?
Nhin: I remember those years of logging minutes! Books with dialogue help, and reading books with subjects important to the parent and child or practical to the child’s life can be another way to make reading fun.
Sauer: When my son was in first grade he was not into reading and it about broke my heart. He discovered the My Weird School series and he loved it because it was really funny and he related to the main character. Give them choices above or below their reading level so they’re exposed to all kinds of material.
As kids learn to read themselves, how can parents still encourage and engage with them when it comes to reading?
Williamson: Read a chapter book together as a family after dinner or before bed. My parents still read to me when I was in high school.
Nhin: One of the most difficult goals an author has is to write a book in a way that not only engages and entertains but leaves questions lingering. My goal with my books is that they inspire questions and thoughts so families can delve into deeper subjects, maybe the next day at dinner or when being tucked in a child asks those questions. That’s what a good book does.
Sauer: Through middle school, my sister and her kids would end their day by sharing a book together. It’s a great way to expose kids to a better vocabulary and different experiences. Parents’ days are so busy that it’s easy for reading to get overlooked. But make it a priority, just like brushing your teeth.
For kids who struggle with reading, how can parents encourage them?
Williamson: Many of our libraries have children reading to dogs programs. At our Midwest City library, we had a child who had a stutter and was really self-conscious about reading out loud, but the dogs are nonjudgmental. He came to the program every other week for almost two years. I ran into his mom who told me they didn’t need to come anymore because his reading had improved so much he’d increased his reading level at school, improved his self-confidence and gotten involved in other after-school activities.
People also forget that audio books are really great resources. It uses the same parts of your brain as when you are reading. It’s not like you are cheating! And it’s a good way for families to share books together, in the car or at home while cooking dinner. The library has apps where you can download ebooks and audio books.
How can books be a good way to inspire conversation, especially among harder-to-reach teens?
Sauer: When my daughter was in seventh grade she was really busy with other things and I was sad she wasn’t showing a love of reading like she previously had. I knew I just had to find the right book for her, so I gave her The Hunger Games and told her just to read the first chapter. She was back to being hooked on reading! She wanted to read the others, then other books like it. Her friends saw her reading them and she shared the books with them. If you’re reading the same book, too, later on you get to talk about it. It’s just like when you’re watching a TV series separately and you have that built-in conversation piece.
What are your favorite books for little ones?
Sauer: Press Here by Herve´ Tullet and Wolfie the Bunny by Amy Dyckman. The children’s books I like to read and write have heart and humor.
Nhin: I’m an avid reader of Mo Willems (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus) because he’s unique, he incorporates great dialogue and presents values and broader questions to bring up with children.
Williamson: All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, Dandy by Ame Dykeman and Ho’onani: Hawaiian Warrior by Heather Gale.
For new readers and elementary-age kids?
Nhin: My Ninja Life Hacks series helps kids develop growth mindsets, like Money Ninja, which introduces the concepts of investing, saving and donating.
Williamson: For beginning readers, I like anything by Jan Thomas because of the silly rhyming (Can You Make a Scary Face? and The Rhyming Dust Bunnies) and the Elephant & Piggie series by Mo Willems.
For tweens and teens?
Sauer: My daughter loved The Hunger Games series and my son was really into biographies. Mason was also on a big comic book kick in high school. Sometimes parents think that’s not “real” reading but it’s just a fun and different approach.
Nhin: Our boys really gravitate to business books, like the Rich Dad Poor Dad series by Robert T. Kiyosaki.
Williamson: My nieces and nephews like graphic novels, especially Marvel’s Runaways series. Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge is a newer series about being accepted and the family you create through relationships.
Editor’s note: Our panel of authors included Tammi Sauer, a full-time children’s book author who has written 29 books and presents at schools and conferences across the nation; Mary Nhin, an entrepreneur who launched her writing career in 2019 and has already written 20 children’s books, several in conjunction with her middle son; and Kristin Williamson, children’s services manager for the Metropolitan Library System and author of Our Day at the Zoo.