Managing the kid TBR lists

Thanks to everyone who has been downloading my TBR lists! If you have friends who would also appreciate some reading suggestions, please send them over here to get the list from yesterday's blog post. NOTE: In some browsers, you can't see the letters when you type your name and email, but please be assured, it is registering them, and when you hit that you're done, the TBR list PDF should actually open in your browser. If you can't access it, feel free to email me (lvanderkam at yahoo dot com) and I will email it to you directly. You can also leave comments on that post (which I am monitoring closely) and I will try to trouble-shoot for you.

Now on to today's topic: managing my kids' TBR lists.

Like many parents, I am trying to encourage my kids to spend more time reading, and less time looking at screens. In particular, I am trying to help them develop the habit that reading is just what one does before bed. In my recent time perception survey (which will become part of Off the Clock), I found that people who read before bed are more likely to have an abundant perspective on time than people who watch TV or surf the web before bed. Same time, different activity ā€” different feeling about life.

My pre-literate younger children get read to at night. The older two can read on their own. Getting them to read involves two things.

First, structurally creating time to read. I am doing my best to make sure the two older boys are in their room (they share) at 8:30 p.m. I generally don't turn off the lights until 10:00, so they have this 90 minutes specifically as reading time.

Second, making sure they have good stuff to read. Their definition of "good" is a wee bit different from mine but I feel like if reading isn't fun, they won't do it, so I encourage them to think about what they enjoy reading. I'm also a wee bit less frugal in this department than in other places. We'll go to the library more this summer, but if they tell me a book they really want that's a new title, I'm highly likely to just purchase it on Amazon.

That's how we just wound up getting 5 more books in the Gameknight 999 series, by Mark Cheverton. My 7-year-old is really into Minecraft, and these are novels set in Minecraft worlds. Since they're "Age 9 and up" they're not really beginning reader books, and I'm quite proud of him that he's challenging himself this way. I really hope Cheverton (or his team) can write some more books quickly. At this pace we will run out of them pretty soon!

The 10-year-old is a bit more complicated. He has had some real difficulties with reading comprehension this year. As we've talked about it (and he sometimes reads this, so I don't think I'm saying anything he wouldn't agree with), we've realized that if the literature bores him, his mind wanders off somewhere completely different. Currently, the place of that wandering is to the top grossing movies of all time, and if current rates continue, how long would it take for Beauty and the Beast, or Wonder Woman, to pass Jurassic World, or what have you. But it's been other places, like how long each of the oldest living people in the world held that title. If the literature excites him, he races through it, and doesn't remember the details that get asked in reading comprehension tests. Anyway, we bought him two titles off the suggested summer reading list from school that he chose, and then two other fantasy-type books that he likes (I welcome other fantasy suggestions). Iā€™m trying to ask him to report each morning on what he read the night before. He would rather make his own timelines and create make-believe lists of the top grossing movies of all time in some alternate universe, and we're leaving time for that too, but when he gets into a book, he does enjoy the experience, so sometimes it just takes a little nudge.

Curiously, the 10-year-old has also really started getting into People magazine and Us Weekly. Maybe it's related to the interest in top-grossing movies. I'm repeating to myself that reading is reading on that one.

What are your kids reading this summer? Do you have times set up specifically for reading? I have some hope that the 5-year-old will be able to start reading to herself by the end of the summer -- she is close -- but we shall see.

Photo: Book tornado in the boys' bedroom

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22 Responses to Managing the kid TBR lists


  1. Jennie says:

    My youngest son,9, does not enjoy reading. My oldest son, 14, no longer does either. Too many other distractions at that age I guess. My daughter, 12, reads all day. To encourage more reading among the boys I use an incentive (bribery). We have reading challenges fairly regularly with the prize being earned. Our last 1 was a 9 week challenge. The prize was a day at the American Pizza Co. with the full package of go karts, laser tag, unlimited games… They had to read 9 books on their level to get to go (easily done with 30 min of reading a day) If they read 14, they could take a friend and I would cover that child’s day as well. Sadly, only my daughter made it to 14. (She made it to 23) Her little brother made it to 9, but big brother only read 2. He once loved to read, but now it’s friends, games, and girls.
    Suggestions for books: Diary of a Wimpy Kid is great for distracted readers because it has pictures. As well as Geronimo Stilton–maybe 3rd/4th grade level reading.
    Warrior Cat series was a big hit around here as well. Has fantasy elements.
    Peregrin’s Home Series

  2. My 9 year old just devoured the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull. It’s about a brother and a sister who discover that their grandparents run a secret preserve for fantastic creatures (fairies, satyrs, giants, golems and even demons) and have to defeat a plot to release the evil creatures into the world.

    There are 5 books in the series and they are pretty long, but my daughter loved them. She’s super into fantasy right now, so it might be a worthwhile recommendation for your son. Also, Storybound and Story’s End. I can’t recall the author and haven’t read them personally, but they were recommended to us by a friend and she liked those as well.

  3. beth says:

    My boys are 5 and 7 and currently still like reading (or being read to). I wish I could say that this is because of wonderful things I did but truly I think it is just luck and could change at any moment.
    My 5 year old is just finishing kindergarten and can read some easy readers. He reads me a Fly Guy, Robin Hill School or Bunjitsu Bunny at night and then I read to him from a book he can’t read himself (currently James and the Giant Peach).

    My 7 year old (just finishing 2nd grade) likes to read book series and usually goes for ones that are easy for him. He likes My Weird School, Wayside School, Magic Treehouse, A to Z Mysteries and Capital Mysteries). I read him things he would be unlikely to choose for himself. Mary Pope Osbourne’s Odyssey for kids, Indian in the Cupboard, Judy Blume’s Fudge series, Frindle). We also listen to audiobooks in the car (cuts down on the backseat fighting). We are currently listening to the Alvin Ho collection.

    I know it is probably atypical to read to older kids who can read easily themselves but I find it is a good way to get quality time with each of my kids every day. One on one outings are not possible on a daily basis but one on one reading time in the evening works for us. Of course, I only have 2 kids.

  4. Calee says:

    I read every night to both kids, sometimes together, sometimes separate. I highly highly recommend the app Epic with 20,000 excellent kids books for something like $7.99 a month. Right now I’m reading Swallows and Amazons to the 10 year old and a variety of picture books to the 7 year old. The older one just finished the Magyk series by Angie Sage and loved them. The little guy is more of a captain underpants fan.

  5. Maureen says:

    My 10-year-old daughter prefers to read over watching morning cartoons. She’s into The Mother-Daughter Book Club (which I think is awesome too) and the Betsy-Tacy series (which is among my sister’s favorites). The latter gained more interest after the MDBC had it as a focus.

    As for the 8-year-old son, I too would buy whatever book he says he wants to read. It’s a challenge to find something that he wants to read. As a result, he’s reading Lego books about characters, and they just came out with a Nexo Knight chapter book series. I haven’t given up hope yet. The Ralph and the Motorcycle series still sits on his shelf. Someday….

    I’ve used Kindle with a public library account for my daughter. This has helped her try out new books and get her motivated. It hasn’t work for the son though.

    • @Maureen- Just reading between the lines on a lot of these comments, this may be an issue where little boys and little girls face different headwinds. I think there are fewer young reader books oriented toward boys; I know I have been at publishing conferences where editors have spoken of their desire to have more series that appeal to young male readers, but there are more Sweet Valley High and Babysitters’ Club type books in the world than boy books. My current experience is that young male relationships are also more centered around video games. That’s how the boys interact, so they need to spend time mastering the games and keeping up with them and the like. It just tends to crowd out other things. I do what I can by protecting time for reading at night and making sure I buy what they ask for. Understanding that a video game *is* a playdate has been helpful for me too — the kids will get off the bus with appointments for when they plan to meet their friends online.

  6. Debra says:

    I read to both kids at night, even thought my 11 year-old is perfectly capable of reading to himself. I count it as family togetherness time, and we discuss it during the day. We just finished Swiss Family Robinson, so we are renting the movies and making root beer floats this weekend. My oldest is encouraged to take a book everywhere we go – if we are in the waiting room at the allergist he is reading his book. If my non-reading daughter gets up early, (which hurts since I do the bulk of my work before she is supposed to wake) we read books together. This means that we may have 3 or 4 books being read at the same time, but it is fostering habit to go for a book instead of a device.

  7. Gwen says:

    When I was around 10, some fantasy books I loved enough to re-read were: The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander (The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King), based on Welsh mythology; Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series, also based on Welsh mythology; all the Children of Green Knowe books by L. M. Boston (historical fantasy based on the actual history of the author’s house, which happens to be the oldest continuously inhabited house in England); all the Wolves of Willoughby Chase chronicles by Joan Aiken (historical-fantastical), who also, incidentally, has the only website I’ve ever found to be designed in such as way as to make looking at it more enjoyable than tiresome ( http://www.joanaiken.com ); Half Magic and many other books by Edward Eager; The Big Joke Game by Scott Corbett; The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; lots of books by Michael Morpurgo (mostly historical with some fantasy); the Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle; the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

  8. patty says:

    Maybe a way to appeal to the 10 year old would be to buy more books of lists and facts– there are lots of great kids’ history, science, and pop culture books that would help him learn even more about movies and things that he is interested in. I remember reading (parts of) the Guiness Book of World Records as a kid– I was fascinated by the tallest and oldest person categories. Also, Ripley’s Believe it or Not (I think I had old copies from my parents) were really interesting, and suitable for a shorter attention span. Of course, these aren’t a replacement for reading longer fiction, but a way to bridge the gap between interest and activity a little.

    • @patty – we are big connoisseurs of the Guinness Book of World Records around here. We’ve gotten editions from the 1970s and such just to see how the records compared to now!

  9. Jeff Heath says:

    I’ve found that my five-year old son, although predisposed to the standard 5-year old fare, will also intently listen to really well written (and classic) books with no pictures, like Anne of Green Gables and Charlotte’s Web. My perception is that these books are very descriptive but sufficiently “fast moving” that it keeps his attention. I’m trying to come up with others that are in the same vein, and if you have any ideas, I’d welcome them!

  10. Margaret says:

    I just want to pass on some parenting advice my teenage students gave me 15 years ago- set strict rules about the time spent on video games. Our family rule is no video games on weekdays and we have two middle school boys who are voracious readers. Additionally we refused to buy a gaming system. They had to save and buy it themselves.

  11. Patricia says:

    Has he read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman? Fantasy, kind of creepy and very well written.

  12. Mary says:

    With my three kids (9,6 and 21/2) we read together every night ( when feasible). Each kid gets to pick a book or a chapter of whatever book we are reading together. They can listen to the other stories or read/look at something else while I am reading to the others. It’s not always easy but I think it’s a good way to ensure reading is seen as just something you do.
    My nine year old would spend all his waking hours reading if he could. He will read anything and everything and I often have to tell him to turn off the flashlight and get to bed. I don’t think it’s anything I did, rather some people just have the reading bug and others might not. Personally if I am reading an engrossing book I will forgo many responsibilities, sleep, etc just to read a little bit more. I devour books but my husband will slowly read a book over a period of a month or so. To each their own.
    My son loves the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. It’s about mice, rabbits, badgers etc who must defend themselves against invading armies of rats, stoats and ferrets. If your son ends up liking them I think there are 22 in the series so it could keep him going for a while.

  13. Nadia says:

    The 11 yr-old is reading book 5 of “The wheel of time”. He’s the type of boy who started reading Harry Potter on his own in the summer between kindergarden and 1st grade, and we have no merit in that. He just did. We don’t have specific times for reading but we have screen free time both for kids and adults (the whole family): weekdays after school / work is screen free until the 11 yr old gets to bed, then the adults can use phone, ipad, tv…). This results in reading after dinner, or board game playing, or instrument playing or language learning, the only screen time allowed (rosetta stone or duolingo). It’s radical but works for a family of 3 because we always had someone looking over him when he was young. Now its just how our family works. Will change with high school coming and the new laptop and phone he will get then (yes granola mom agreed).

  14. Omdg says:

    If it makes you feel better, my parents were absolutely freaked out that I didn’t like to read when I was 10. It probably didn’t help that I wasn’t allowed to read what interested me (for instance: sweet valley high), but I just wanted to throw it out there that I still graduated from an excellent college and medical school. It’s going to be ok guys, you can’t always control everything your kid does.

  15. Cate says:

    My son and daughter both love the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, and also the Jedi Academy books. Both of these have enough comedy and pictures to make even my youngest and less-keen reader pick them up out of choice. (Also, if you like reading out loud with silly voices, Jedi Academy is great for that!) They are great for non-stretching but enthusiastic reading. Recently my daughter (11 and an avid reader) found “Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier”. She read it to herself and then asked me to read it to her also. I LOVED this book. To me it was refreshingly different and very moving compared to other children’s books I’ve come across recently.

  16. Marci says:

    Any time my son recommended a book, I read it and we had the best time comparing notes. My younger daughter didn’t want to be left out, so she read the books too and so our very loose book club was born. We highly recommend the “Gregor the Overlander” series, an adventure tale set underground. This was my kids’ first book in which lovable characters die. There’s also a little love story, along with battles and morality choices. It was a great series to discuss Big Ideas. I think schools focus too much on Tiny Details — my son got frustrated when reading comprehension focused on things that didn’t matter to the story, like a character’s eye color, of all things — instead of exploring themes and connecting stories to life choices.

  17. I’ve always been an avid reader but I had similar issues with your ten year old that if literature bores me (especially classic lit and chemistry), my mind just wanders right off the page. One of the things I would do to combat it, when I really NEEDED to get through the reading, was trade myself good reading for interesting reading – one chapter of fun reading for every chapter of interesting reading I get through! I don’t know if it’s worth sharing that with your son at this early stage but it’s something that took me a while to figure out by the time I hit high school.

    • @Revanche – yes, the ability to read stuff you don’t want to read, because you know you’ll need the information, is a developed skill for many people. What I’m worried is happening right now is that my 10-year-old is telling himself he’s not “good” at reading, which is just an incredibly self-defeating concept. And it plays out in various ways, like he doesn’t test as well as he could.

      • Oh I missed that detail! You’re right, that’s a very self defeating definition. If you haven’t tried them before, comic books are an amazing way to kindle a love of reading in a wide range of ages. I have a subscription to Marvel Unlimited as one cheap way of accessing an archive of comics, though that’s a bit more focused on the superhero genre. There’s a wonderful variety of comics to be found from Vertigo, First Second, and Image that span a wide range of topics. I’d be glad to collect some age-appropriate suggestions if you wanted.

  18. June says:

    This is a topic that has been on my mind, particularly as summer vacation descends upon us. I was surprised to hear that the 10-year — the author, I recall? — is causing worry. (I’m sure you’ve already thought about this, but . . .) Can you tie the subject matter of books he writes to novels/books to read and go from there for suggestions?

    My 9.5 year old daughter does not enjoy fiction generally let alone many of the series aimed at young girls, which sets her apart (and not necessarily in a good way because it lowers overall volume of reading, which is important at that age). So for the summer, I’m trying to find her narrative nonfiction, as a step in that direction, such as the kids’ version of Boys in the Boat.

    Have heard good things about the Lightening Thief and other Percy Jackson books.

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