Updated: Mar 11, 2020
One of the key components in raising readers is interest, or to put it another way, reading books about topics that your child is interested in. Not only will this make story time enjoyable for both of you now because it keeps them engaged, but it becomes even more crucial when your child begins to read independently so that they will keep reading.
Kate DiCamillo, author of the beloved children’s novel Because of Winn-Dixie says, “Reading should not be presented to a child as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.”
By considering a child’s interest and offering choices in their reading material, you are giving them the gift of reading for pleasure.
How to Choose Books that Hold Your Child’s Interest
Choosing books that hold your child’s interest will look different depending on his/her age. You can read all about how I struggled to find books that kept my six-month-old’s attention in my post Raising Readers: It’s Never Too Late to Start. Suffice it to say that even a baby can express their interest (or lack of) in the books you present to them. When they enter the toddler phase, it becomes a little more straightforward since they begin to show interest in certain topics. If they are obsessed with sharks, find books about sharks and then maybe try to broaden their horizon to include books about other sea creatures. You’ll need to adapt as their interests change from dinosaurs to construction vehicles to astronauts to race cars (#boymom).
At some point the balance of power will shift from your choosing books for them to them choosing books for themselves. This is a good thing! It may mean that you have to relinquish some control over what you get to read at bedtime, but there is so much research about the importance of offering choice to keep them reading, especially when they reach the status of independent reader. (Side note: even when your child can read independently, it is still super important that you continue to read aloud with them. More on that later…).
A simple way to start to offer choice is to suggest two books and let your child pick the one they want to read. I keep a basket of "current favorites" in the reading nook in my toddler's room that I rotate out as he tires of them. He usually chooses one from the basket, but sometimes he peruses the bookshelf for something fresh. If I like it, it goes in the basket. If not, it goes back on the shelf. I'm only human after all...
Not sure what books your preschooler would like to read? Take a trip to the library and carefully observe what piques their interest. You (and your librarian) can help guide them to books that are appropriate for their age and ability, but it is a great way to follow their lead and witness the power of choice to engage a reader.
Offering choice is a method well-known for enhancing motivation. Allowing children a choice of tasks can increase interest and, as a result, their learning. One study found that “allowing students to make choices about their reading material increased the likelihood that they would engage more in reading.” -ReadingRockets.org
Types of Books to Consider
Picture books, easy readers and chapter books are great, but don’t forget to explore the non-fiction section if there is a particular topic your child is interested in. Even if they can’t read yet, looking at the pictures is an education in and of itself and still counts toward building positive associations with books! Also, if your child is ready to move beyond picture books (meaning they have the ability to visualize and imagine without the help of illustrations), don’t be afraid of longer chapter books, as these can make a great read-alouds for you to share together. You will probably enjoy the change of pace to a more sophisticated plot and your child will benefit from more advanced vocabulary and sentence structure without the actual work of decoding the text.
The Right Book Can Be a Game Changer
To illustrate the power of interest, as a middle school teacher, I observed that boys, in particular, were more resistant to reading independently. But putting the right book in their hands could be a game-changer. The athlete will read a novel about a basketball player. The gamer will read a science fiction thriller. The class clown will read Diary of a Wimpy Kid. You'd be amazed at what choice will do for building stamina in reluctant readers.
See Also: What Makes a Good Children's Book?
“Reading Motivation: What the Research Says” ReadingRockets.org. 2009. By: Linda Gambrell, Barbara Marinak. Retrieved February 6, 2020 https://www.readingrockets.org/article/reading-motivation-what-research-says
“The Top Five Reasons We Love Giving Students Choice in Reading” English Leadership Quarterly. February 2016 By: Keri Skeeters, Bridget Campbell, Andrea Dubitsky, Elizabeth Faron, Kelly Gieselmann, Deborah George, Brooke Goldschmidt, Erica Wagner. Retrieved February 6, 2020 https://secure.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/ELQ/0383-feb2016/ELQ0383Top.pdf