My daughter is in fourth grade, and by the grace of the book gods, she really enjoys reading. For the past year or so, if she’s not reading for school, she’s been reading—and re-reading—a few series; Dork Diaries and Diary of a Wimpy Kid being the two main ones.
I know what the experts say: let a kid pick their own books for fun. They’ll develop as readers and their tastes will evolve in their own time. I know! I know! And I had no problem with her book choices. She was happy, she was reading, I’d overhear her giggling from the other room. It was all good.
Except, I admit that there was a part of me that wanted her to try something new. Why? I’m not sure, exactly. Maybe I was impatient for her to read the books I’d devoured as a kid or I thought she “could” read harder books and would be happy if she made the leap. Mostly I worried that she’d get bored of the same thing over and over but blame it on all books and not on fatigue over these particular titles, and then she’d stop liking to read and then what?!?! (I have an active imagination, in case you’re wondering.)I worked really hard not to say anything—no “Don’t you want to challenge yourself?” no “There are so many wonderful books out there, are you sure you want to re-read Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Talented Pop Star again?” Nothing. I don’t always do this as a parent, but in this situation I was actually smart enough to keep my mouth shut, trusting that either she’d move on or she’d be an adult who read Dork Diaries every night before bed. Hey, there are worse things.
I made a few stealth attempts, like taking The Phantom Tollbooth out of the library and reading her the first few chapters, but after that it sat sadly on her bed, gathering dust, while she revisited Greg, Rowley and Rodrick’s exploits again. Ditto Brown Girl Dreaming.
Last week, I was at the library with her and her brother, and off she went to search the stacks. She returned with The Mysterious Benedict Society. She’d mentioned that a few friends in her class were reading it. It must’ve grabbed her—she’s been tearing though it every morning when she wakes up and again every night before bed, and she made us bring her back to the library today to borrow the second title (The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey) so when she finishes the first book she’ll be ready to dive into the second one.
She may wind up reading—and re-reading—this series for the next year now, too. That may be her way. Fine. There’s a reason experts tell parents not to rush reading and not to push “harder” books or “better” books or whatever it is we think is best for them. Because somehow kids will figure it out on their own, so long as they’re allowed to do so.
I struggle with this, too, especially knowing that research proves literary fiction is better than bestseller-type fiction in terms of brain development and personal growth. But, like you, I don’t want to be too pushy about it, so I generally leave my daughter to her own literary devices. I did throw down the gauntlet last summer, though. She’d been reading a string of books that did nothing to help her develop as a reader, so I gave her a challenge: for the library summer reading program, she was free to stay on her existing track, or I could help her pick out a good, challenging book. If she read it all the way through and gave me an insightful report on it, I’d take her out for ice cream. She actually jumped at the chance, completed the challenge–and, what’s more, has been reading less junk ever since. She still busts out the Wimpy Kid occasionally, but that one experience seems to have helped her appreciate that good books are just better.
I too, have wondered about this for my granddaughter. As a MG writer, I loved the 39 clues series…and have read it twice…but she didn’t get into it. She just finished Tiger Rising…and Holes…and enjoyed them both (I did not) so her taste is a little different than mine. She is reading more upper level MG (she is almost 14)..but I check out what she is reading…and why. It gives me a feel about the market she and her friends are in. And she is still reading, and loves it. So I just follow her lead, and let her tell me what is drawing her interest now…I hope she continues reading.
As for all great parenting, it must begin at birth. First reading to a child with enthusiasm all kinds of fun and interesting books gets the child aware of your care for the book and subject… you, the parent choose these. Then, bringing the child to the library (get them their own library card and let them check out the books on their own, no matter how long it takes). What I did was always check out ten, my daughter chose five and I chose five. By the time the child is reading on her own she should be well rounded. It helps tremendously to converse about great literature at every opportunity, visit museums, watch masterpiece theater, listen to NPR, etc.
I read this post with a smile, because I’ve had the same feelings before with my kiddo. I too thought they would get bored of re-reading the same book series over and over (Fabelhaven by Brandon Mull). I even bought Five Kingdoms thinking maybe it would pique some interest, well I enjoyed it 🙂 In the end, I’ve determined that as long as they are reading, I need to step back and let it happen.