It only takes one perfect book to get a child hooked on reading. I like to call this book the gateway book. I recently talked to the Parents’ Council group at my school about helping a child find that one special book that gets a kid excited about reading. Typically, kids won’t find this starter book on their own, so parents, teachers, librarians, or friends have to get involved.
- Bookstores and libraries are big, overwhelming places. Before you enter, create a short list of possible book titles to avoid wandering aimlessly. At school I have a student book recommendation board in the classroom that the students and I review before heading to library class. We have a quick “book suggestion” chat before leaving the classroom.
- Think about books you loved as a child and recommend those titles. Often, older books get overlooked, but don’t hesitate to offer books published when you were school-aged to students today.
- Read current juvenile literature to find books students might like. I believe teachers (and parents, too) have to get involved in the process if they want to build a love of reading in their children. You will need to actively read and discuss books with your students and always be ready to offer a book suggestion. A teacher has to say, “I think you will like X,” not “Go pick any book.”
- Recommend free reading books at the lower end of a child’s reading range to keep frustration low and enjoyment high. Children need to keep a steady pace while reading a book, and books that are too difficult will slow the reader. If they are moving through a book at a halting pace, the child loses the story and will lose interest in finishing.
- Encourage kids to read at least 1/4 of the book before putting it down. Many children read one chapter and quit. My gateway book as a child, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, has a slow start (in my opinion). If I had put it down after chapter 2, I never would have discovered the amazing Whangdoodleland. Enlist the help of a parent (if possible) to read with the student to get over the hump. Establish a book buddy at school — maybe in an older grade level — to partner read, so the students get to a point in the story where they are excited to find out what happens next. They will be more likely to finish the book independently.
- Build a book trail. Once the reader has found his or her gateway book, a path of book choices can be created. This my favorite part of the perfect book search.
- Make a list of any companion books or books in the same series (if available).
- Make a list of other books by the author.
- Make a list of books that have a similar plot line. This is where reading a ton of juvenile literature comes in handy. There are so many “read alikes,” particularly in recently published books. Every time I read a new book, it usually bears a resemblance to something I have read before. To see some ideas, visit my Read Alikes book list and my Recycled Stories book list.
- Make a list of books that have a similar style. For example, the journal “voice” book is hot right now. These are books like the style of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. If a student loves that kind of book, offer suggestions like Justin Case by Vail, Wonkenstein by Skye, My Life as a Book by Tashjian, or Naked Mole-Rat Letters by Amato (for girls). For more journal-style books, click here.
- After I offer this starter list, I begin looking for related books from the read alikes and style alikes by following the steps again.
One additional strategy that has been successful in my classroom is an author letter project. Students write an author of a book they recently completed. We hear back about 50% of the time. When we do get a reply, it immediately spurs students into wanting more books by that author. After the first wave of author letters is mailed, I use this as an early-finisher activity for the rest of the school year (the free Author Letter lesson plans are available at my TeachersPayTeachers store). What is your best “hook” to help students discover a love of reading?