The Kids Are All Right

Tips for Engaging Reluctant Readers

Hi Kid Lit Fans!

It finally feels like summer in New York City and kids had their last day of school last week, so I thought for today’s post I would write about engaging reluctant readers. Reluctant reader recommendations are probably the question I get asked most (also my favorite question! I love a challenge!), so here are some of the things I’ve done in my literacy work in school settings and with my own family. See if any of these tips work for you!

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1. Continue to read out loud to kids even after they start to read independently. A couple of years ago, Book Riot managing editor Amanda Nelson and I spoke on her Get Booked podcast, and we got a question from a thirteen-year-old girl who talked about how her father still reads to her at bedtime. Not only was that so sweet, I have no doubt this girl’s love of reading was influenced by their shared reading time. My Book Riot colleague, Annika Barranti Klein, recently wrote a great post about Reading Aloud to Older Kids.

My kids are seven and nine, and they still love being read to even though they are both independent readers. Continuing to read out loud to them has been a great opportunity to share books I loved as a child but that my kids might not have picked up on their own. Right now, we are reading Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. The book is set not too far from where I grew up in California, so it has been nice to talk to them about that area and what the ocean looks like over there. It’s also a great opportunity to check for comprehension and clarify any confusing sections.

Reading books out loud at bedtime also seems to be a way to get my kids to talk. My older daughter doesn’t want to talk about what happened at school right after school (whatever I ask her, the response is, “Good” or “Nothing”), but she does open up sometimes at nights after we read.

If adding one more thing to the bedtime routine seems daunting, start small. Even just five minutes every night adds up to over half an hour of reading every week.

2. Audiobooks are excellent ways to engage reluctant readers. I check out our audiobooks online from our library’s website, which allows us to use OverDrive to check out books right onto the OverDrive app on my phone. We listen to audiobooks in the car, while my kids are bathing (using my trusty waterproof speakers), and sometimes during meals. It’s also fun to listen to audiobooks when the kids are drawing or cleaning up. We just finished See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng, a book that is perfect for audio since it is written like a series of transcribed audio files.

3. Let kids read what they want. (Even if it’s something you might not enjoy reading yourself.)

4. Look for books that still have graphic or illustrated elements in them. For younger readers (5-9 year olds), I love the Dory Fantasmagory series by Abby Hanlon, the Sidekicks series by Dan Santat, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger, The Year of the Dog series by Grace Lin, and the Phoebe and Her Unicorn series by Dana Simpson. For older middle grader readers (8-12 year olds), try Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, the Secret Coders series by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Mike Holmes, Frazzled by Booki Vivat (the sequel comes out in September!), The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz and illustrated by Hatem Aly, and Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham.

5. Try books with larger print. I recently met the publisher Thorndike Press, which prints bestselling books with a more readable format (fewer words per page, and more white space). I took a look at their Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which replaces the “handwriting” font of the original series with a more readable computer font. The books do not say “Large Print” on them and are designed to look like their smaller print counterparts, so there is no stigma attached to reading these books. There are lots of great titles in larger print, including I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.

6. Keep books everywhere. In the car, on the dining room table, and by the bed. Keep rotating books around so there are different choices to capture kids’ eyes and minds!

Lastly, I recently talked to awesome Laura Lambert about engaging reluctant middle grade readers on the Brightly website, which you can read here.

Picture Book New Releases!

Hattie and Hudson is Chris Van Dusen’s newest book, released last month. It’s a sweet story about a Loch Ness Monster-type creature that lives in a lake and emerges one evening when Hattie is singing. She names him Hudson, and they become friends until other people see him and want to rid the lake of him. Like all of Chris Van Dusen’s illustrations (he illustrates Kate DiCamillo’s wonderful Mercy Watson series), the colors are vivid, the scenes delightful, and the character’s facial expressions unforgettable.

Pass It On by Sophy Henn is a book bursting with color and a hopeful message about passing on the good things, such as laughter, a smile, good news, a sight of wonder, and a hug. It stars a multicultural cast of kids that you see hanging out in settings like a forest, an ocean, a rollercoaster, and a tree branch. Plus – there’s lots of colorful balloons in this book. Who doesn’t love balloons?

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry by Dana Smith and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, was published in April, and it was such a fascinating read. The author’s father practiced falconry, and there are such interesting details about how the equipment used; the difference between various raptors, or birds of prey; the specific training needed to train a raptor; and where the birds sleep at night. The illustrations, as you can see from the cover, are stunning.

Early Chapter Book New Release!

Early chapter books are those wonderful “bridge books” between picture books and middle grade, and I love recommending them! Wallace and Grace is a sweet new series by Heather Alexander and illustrated by Laura Zarrin, about two owls that solve mysteries. Their first case, about a ghost in the garden, is very funny and full of misunderstandings. The second book, Wallace and Grace and the Cupcake Caper, is about a cupcake that goes missing overnight.

Middle Grade New Releases!

Ten: A Soccer Story by Shamini Flint (Clarion Books, June 20, 2017), is a fresh new sports story starring Maya, a girl growing up in Malaysia in 1986. Maya is a huge fan of soccer, and when her parents give her a soccer ball she teaches herself how to play using a rose bush as a training prop. But during a time period and place where girls soccer teams didn’t exist, Maya has to use all her resources to create an all-girls team with no coach, no uniforms, and no other teams to play against. This was a fun, inspiring story!

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia, author of the award-winning book One Crazy Summer, is a wonderful new read that combines the rhythm of jazz with the challenges of familial disappointment, grief, and growing up in complicated times. I loved Clayton’s voice, and reading about his relationship with his grandfather and how music bound them together was very touching and sweet. The School Library Journal says, “This complex tale of family and forgiveness has heart.”

Backlist Recommendations!

I recently picked up a copy of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Catwings book, and it is so sweet and perfect for the early chapter book reader. It is about a family of kittens who have wings. They live in the country, but one day they decide to go and find their mother who lives in the city. What ensues is a harrowing journey as they retrace their foggy memories for where they used to live before they were moved to the country. A must-read for all fans of cats!

As I mentioned before, I’m reading Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell out loud to my daughters. This was a book I remember my fourth grade teacher reading out loud to our class, and I still recall when my teacher got choked up and had to leave the classroom after reading a scene in the book. I remember that moment so vividly even decades later, and I think it was one of the first times I realized how powerful a book could be.

Okay, last thing! I needed to sneak in one shout out to the very awesome NYC children’s bookstore, Books of Wonder, who announced that they are opening a second location in New York City on the Upper West Side of Manhattan! Hooray! Their first store on 18th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues is a treasure in children’s bookstores, and I’m thrilled they are expanding. Congratulations Books of Wonder!

The bookshelves inside Books of Wonder! It’s magical!


That’s a wrap for this week! I’d love to hear what you think about the newsletter, or about what books you’re reading and enjoying. Find me on Twitter at @KarinaYanGlaser, on Instagram at @KarinaIsReadingAndWriting, or email me at Have a great week, and happy reading!


My rabbit Izzy wants you to read ALL THE BOOKS!