Fun with Learning Blog

What Books Should Kids Read?


What Books Should Kids Read?A while back, a mum wrote to me, worried that her daughter had suddenly begun to enjoy reading. That might seem a strange cause for concern, but the problem was that the books were targeted toward Grades 2-3, whereas the child was in Grade 4. Not only that, but the girl was capable of reading more difficult text. It’s just that these easier texts were books she WANTED to read, and enjoyed reading. Whereas the books she was supposed to read were not.

Where do these messages come from that we should “push” our kids, challenge them with difficult material, encourage them to read books that are branded with their grade level? Who says it’s the best thing for our kids? Is it any wonder so many kids think of reading as a chore?

Let’s look at how adults read. I’ve been a reader all my life. I enjoy reading and would suppose I am a “good” reader. Occasionally, I find a book that’s difficult for me. The text is dense, and full of scientific words I don’t understand. Sentences are complex. After two paragraphs, I feel like I’ve run the reading equivalent of a marathon. There is no doubt some would say I should persevere with such a book. It will do me “good”.

But do I? No. I slip it back on the shelf and find something I’ll enjoy. Am I lazy, unchallenged? I just think I’m being practical. I expect to enjoy reading, otherwise I won’t do it. The only times I read text that I don’t want to read is when I’m a student and it’s a course requirement. And then I employ all my wiles to ingest that information as easily as I can.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that all learning must be fun or we should abandon it. In our less-than-ideal world, there will be times in all our lives when we must knuckle down and learn something despite there being no perceivable fun or pay-off involved. When kids attend school, there will be books they are required to read. It’s very difficult for schools to tailor themselves to the needs and wants of individuals.

What I am saying, and I believe this with every fibre of my being, is that if we want kids to LOVE reading, parents should let them read what they enjoy, when they can, regardless of their perceived ability or grade level. There is nothing wrong with kids reading junior books when they are 16 or even an old chook like me.

The key is to let them choose books they want to read. Encourage them to borrow as many books as they want from the library, buy comics from garage sales, whatever they want. If there are books you think they’ll love, but they resist, consider sharing those books in a family read-aloud time. That way, you are widening the range of literature they encounter, but still giving them control over their independent reading.

When kids LOVE reading, it becomes something they want to do more and more. Books become their friends and open up new worlds for them. They learn to love words and what we can do with them, which in turn fuels their writing, and all their communication skills.

Sometimes it seems to me there are forces at work that want to rob our kids of their childhood. By trying to push them into learning they are not ready for, by making everything a competition and comparing our kids to some so-called norm, we are doing them a huge disservice.

I believe we must do our best to help our kids love reading. That is the number one priority in my mind. I urge every parent to make it a priority too.


  1. I’m with you 100% Susan, although I recently attended a workshop on improving boys attainment at school (aimed at parents), and the presenter there said something that has got me thinking. He wasn’t of the “let them choose anything” school – he argued that many boys would only choose Non fiction if anything, and that fiction was too important to let fall by the wayside. He argued it was essential for boys to read / be read fiction as it helps them (all of us in fact) learn about empathy and imagination in ways that reading non fiction doesn’t necessarily do. What do you think?

  2. Susan Stephenson says:

    Zoe, that has me thinking too. Thank you for sharing it! I do agree about fiction being really great for kids, and yes, we can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes via fiction, look at life through somebody else’s eyes. I would absolutely advocate sharing fiction with kids via read-alouds as often as possible.

    But if a child WANTS to read non-fiction, choose those books from the library, spend his birthday money on factual texts, then I believe we should support him. If I were his parent, I would take particular care to introduce books to him as well that might tempt him to fiction when he’s ready – a fiction pairing with a non-fiction subject of interest, say. I would make sure that the family serial is fiction of just the right sort to intrigue him, or take him to a movie based on a fiction novel. Devious? yes, probably, but for the greater good, I swear!

    Because I know that kids thrive as readers when they have ownership of what they’re reading, I think I will always be an advocate of choice.

  3. I agree with you on this, too, Susan. I wish we could put this post into all parents’ hands (or say it face to face). Let them learn to love books first. The more challenging books will surely follow.

    I think I would take your approach re: introducing boys to fiction, too. There are clearly bridge books, and this example is a great case for why parents should continue to read aloud with their kids.

    • Susan Stephenson says:

      Jen, I believe that generally the more challenging books will indeed follow. As readers, we all go through fads – reading perhaps only books about trucks, or recipe books, then one day switching to something completely different. I understand that parents get anxious about their kids too. But how I wish we could take some of the pressure off!

  4. Mel Whiteley says:

    A love of reading is one of the most precious gifts we can give our children. It opens so many doors. I took my 3 children to the circus. One fell in love with the ponies. One fell in love with the dancing acrobat and the third fell in love with the stunt motorbike men. There is 17 months between the twins & their elder sister. Their choice of books is just as different as the circus acts but they all love their own books and enjoy sharing them with each other. Reading is a time to talk, share and grow together and as individuals. Cherish it.

    • Susan Stephenson says:

      Thanks for those inspiring words, Mel! Reading should be cherished, especially shared reading. And ideas or play that spring from reading.

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