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A Librarian's Secrets for Hooking Kids on Books

Parents want their kids to read. After all, strong reading skills are the foundation for so much in school and life. And even more than the academic advantages, great books open up possibilities for children—to explore their world and the worlds of others; investigate life’s big questions; and of course, have fun.

But step into the children’s section of any library or bookstore, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. How do you help your child identify books that will capture their imagination? And what if you have a reluctant reader at home? What can parents do to help their kids expand their reading horizons?

To find out, we sat down with Philecia Harris, children’s librarian for the Boston Public Library’s West Roxbury branch. Philecia is an expert at getting kids hooked on books.

Here are some of Philecia’s favorite tips for turning every child into a book lover:

Offer your kids “book hooks.” 

Parents can go online or browse the library shelves to find titles their children might like. Give your kids a quick synopsis to draw them into the books. For example, "This one’s about a kid on a small plane that crashes in the woods. It’s an adventure story about how he survives." That's Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. Try to present your kids with at least three book hooks, and one of the should reel them in.

Encourage nonfiction. 

We see number of parents who think fiction is the only true form of literature. But kids have all sorts of interests in topics like sharks, space, history, the arts, sports, and more. The newest trend in picture books is biographies about diverse and amazing people. For 3rd -5th graders, I recommend the popular and goofy Who Was? What Was? book series.

For struggling readers, look for high-impact books you can browse and read at different levels.

Look for large books for kids like The Guinness Book of World Records, The World Almanac for Kids, and  Ripley’s Believe It or Not. These books fly off the library shelves. They have fact boxes with large, easy-to-read text paired with more in depth articles, so kids can pick and choose what they read by interest and reading level. For fiction, some really great writers are opting for the graphic novel format and classic titles are being revamped with graphics. For some kids, this can be a less daunting and more exciting presentation of a story.

Look out for your librarian’s recommendations. 

As librarians, it's our job to stay on top of what our library users are reading. We read tons of reviews and talk to people about what they reading on a daily basis. Ask your librarian for suggestions, but also look for printed booklists, bookmarks or book displays. Children’s rooms in the library usually have posters that list the covers of Caldecott, Newbury and Coretta Scott King award books.

Take your kids from the movie to the book.

Wonder, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter…almost every blockbuster children’s movie started as a great children’s book. After a movie, let your child know they can follow their favorite characters through their books. While some kids will develop the desire to finish a book before they see the movie adaptation, there are others who would never sift through 900+ pages of Harry Potter without the craze created by the films.

Follow their leads.

Research shows that whatever kids read—a repair manual, short story, a comic book or a novel—they are still learning. By reading different kinds of texts, they’re developing and exercising different parts of the brain. And don’t worry if they’re more interested in reading on a screen. These days, many young people would rather read on their phones, and even little ones get a kick out of reading on the computer.  If you go to your library's website, you'll find e-books at every reading level, and they don’t require a special e-reader to view them. However and whatever they choose to read, reading is reading. The most important thing in the end is to raise an independent learner with a lifelong love of reading.