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Parents as Reading Role Models: Modeling Book Selection

One of the most eye-opening facts in Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report was that 91% of kids ages 6-17 said that their favorite books are the ones they’ve picked out for themselves and 90% said that they are more likely to finish a book that they have selected.

Here’s what we make of this: we, as parents and caregivers (along with educators) need to do a better job helping our kids learn to pick out books independently, so that they, in turn, will read, enjoy, and finish more books. How do we do this? Just like any valuable life lesson, the approach with the longest-lasting impact is modeling what we do as real readers ourselves. 

Would you send a young child out into the backyard with a baseball mitt and ball, and provide no explanation? Of course not. You’d show them how to put the mitt on, how to toss the ball, and you’d model throwing and catching.

Just like kids need to see you read, they also need to see how you decide what to read.

Easy Strategies for Modeling Book Selection to Your Kids

1. Think out loud. Teachers know this concept well, but parents should too. You probably aren’t speaking openly in the middle of the library, bookstore, or as you browse online as to why a book has captured your interest. But as awkward as it may seem, it’s the best thing to do when your kids are around.

Here are some sample comments you can state out loud to your children:

“Hey, I’m going to finish my book this week. I think I’m ready for a break from the series I’ve been reading so I’m going to look for that biography that’s been on my list for awhile.”

“I’m so excited! The next book in my series is released this week. I can’t wait to get a copy.”

“I’m trying to decide what to read next. I’ve always wanted to know more about (insert topic), but I’m also looking forward to reading more by (insert author).”

“Oooh, this book is getting lots of great reviews and is #4 on the New York Times bestsellers list. I think I’ll try it!”

“I’m studying for my test over (insert topic). I’m going to download this study guide so that I’m better prepared and read it before bed this week.”

“My book club is reading this in March. I think I’ll pick up my copy now so I have it ready.”

2. Read book summaries. I recently asked my students to list how they select their next book. The third most popular response was to read the summaries. This is great: summaries not only help kids decide if the topic or story line seems interesting, but also if the text level is something they can handle independently. Maybe the summary sounds so good they they still select the book, but based on the difficulty level of the summary, they decide they might ask a parent to read it with them or to them. Readers can make a whole lot of choices based on the summary.

Make sure you model reading summaries, whether they are online reviews or on the actual books.

First, show them that summaries can be found on the back cover or inside and/or printed on the book jacket. I’ve seen students flip over a book, search for the summary, and then put the book back down when they see there’s not one on the back. Let them browse through Amazon or show them websites like Brightly.

After you read the summary, explain out loud how the book summary is going to affect your decision to read the book, such as “Wow, that sounds like a real page turner. I’m definitely getting this one,” or “You know what? This sounds a bit too technical for me, I’m looking for just some general information about (insert topic).”

3. Positive Peer Pressure. When I asked my students about book selection, the second most popular answer involved picking a book they’ve seen a friend read or heard a friend talk about. (Teachers and librarians, if you’re reading this, please make time for student-led book talks if you’re not already doing so.) Nicole spent a year trying to convince her 9-year-old to read the Jedi Academy series, and he rebuked her every time. Sure enough, a buddy of his told him they were awesome, and this was all it took. He devoured the whole series within a few weeks.

Do you discuss books with friends or family? If the answer is yes, try those discussions in front of your kids (even if it is just background noise as they play).

When we were growing up, books were a staple in the discussions between our mom and her sister (Hi Mom! Hi Aunt Lucille!), and we probably mimicked those conversations as we discussed our favorite Ramona books or the newest Babysitter Club release. Next time your child has a friend over to play, ask their friend what their favorite books or authors are, or what they’re currently reading.

4. Help them judge a book by its cover. Picking a book based on its cover was the NUMBER ONE response when I asked my students how they chose books. Now, it might not have been their only method used, because most kids wrote down a few strategies, but it was the most reported. I was shocked at first. This is something I have never modeled and if anything, I openly discouraged it. But, one of the best things about kids is their honesty.

If this how children are selecting books, let’s help them do it successfully.

We adults should be more honest ourselves. In a recent survey, 79% of adults said book covers play a decisive role in their decision to purchase a book. Saying things like, “this looks like a mystery, and that’s my favorite genre,” or, “the illustrations are so colorful,” or, “I wonder what this character might be up to?” can help readers make predictions about the story line, which helps determine likability. If it’s a nonfiction book, the photos or pictures indicate the topic. Fantastic cover illustrations are one of the biggest reasons the Who Was series has been so popular

When my students say they “look at the book” or “look at the cover” they are also assessing the length. My own daughter, a 3rd grader, will say “This looks like a good one. The length is just right for me.” Again, adults do this also. There are times when I’m in the mood for something short and light and other times when I’m ready to dig in to a long novel or lengthy professional book.

Finally, take pictures on your phone of books that catch your eye and allow your child to do the same. Or take screenshots of books you see online. My kids love to grab my phone in the bookstore and do this, especially before the holidays. Then when they make their lists, they can look back at their pictures for the titles. Relatives can be texted or emailed the photos of the covers, which makes for easy ordering.

Book displays in bookstores are often far more appealing to kids than the library shelves. Pulling up photos from the bookstore or screenshots of websites like Amazon while at the library can remind kids of books that caught their eye. (But here they’re free, so they can grab as many as they’d like!) Speaking of the library, now that my own kids are mainly reading chapter books, I allow them to check out a few at a time from the library. If they put others back on the shelf to read at a later time, we’ll take a picture so we remember what to check out next.

The first step to enjoying a great book is to find it. The more we can help our children select the perfect book by modeling our own decision-making behaviors, the more likely they are to find success themselves.

Interested in book selections and want to learn more?

Why You Need To Let Children Choose Their Own Books

How To Talk To Your Child About Reading (And Why Its Important)

Tips for Shopping the School Book Fair

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

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