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Growing a Reader: Pick Challenging Books

Growing a Reader: Pick Challenging Books

by Emily Ransom

When I married my husband, I inherited a three-year-old son. Although he liked me just fine, he already had his favorite people in his life. At first this was a struggle, as I wanted him to feel like I was family, too. I needed to find something we could bond over to make the relationship better.

As my stepson grew up, he was not automatically “into” reading. Like many boys, it just wasn’t something he found fun or easy. Now he is 14 and one of the fastest readers I know. We read and discuss many of the same books. He knows that getting to be the first one to tell me “The Hobbit” movie release date is a big deal. The library and bookstore are some of his favorite places, and he has a huge collection of books. How did we get there?

We ended up bonding over what became a Tuesday night ritual: reading at least one, but usually two chapters of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia before bedtime. Time spent snuggled together on the couch with a child and a book is a huge investment in your relationship and his education. Your child craves time with you. Given the choice, almost all children would rather read with you than watch TV because they are getting your attention. You cannot get those hours back. My stepson was five when we started, even though the review rates the series for grades three and up.

You may encounter roadblocks on the path to growing a reader. Be your child’s advocate. You must do this: you know your child better than anyone else, and have only his intention in mind. Don’t be afraid to talk with your child’s English teacher or librarian about letting him have the freedom to read outside of his “level.” Some children thrive on reading programs, but many feel like it is a punishment to have to test on each book read.

My stepson’s school library policy was one book out per child. Once he really got going, allowing him only one book out at a time was a punishment. After we inquired, the librarian was happy to allow more, but only with a note from a parent in her file. In my own fourth grade year, I got into trouble for reading ahead in the literature book. I was bored, having read the stories faster than the rest of the class, but the teacher didn’t want to provide different materials for me.

Some parents are afraid that they might be introducing subject matter that is too advanced for their child. Read ahead in the book! Many “scary” situations will be handled by your children in a much more comfortable way through reading than if they saw the same situation on TV.

As an educator and book lover, I want to share the love of reading with my children. We all know that reading to children improves their vocabulary and comprehension. Reading aloud adds a whole new aspect to their education. I don’t mean the usual pre-bedtime comfortable book your child always picks for you to read. Intentionally pick a book that is more challenging than she could read herself. Pick a book that will introduce more complex sentence structure, new vocabulary, unfamiliar lands and themes. This will lead to great conversations and inspire your child to find more books in which to lose herself for hours. Rich and well-traveled is the child who has a library card, no matter his circumstances.

Read Aloud Recommendations

The Complete Chronicles of NarniaThe Complete Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis


The HobbitThe Hobbit (or There and Back Again) by J.R.R. Tolkien


Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder


Farmer Boy

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder


Anne of Green Gables

See Also

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery


The Secret GardenThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl


The Borrowers

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

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