fish in a tree - final cover February 20


10 Strategies to Help a Reticent Reader Love to Read by Susie Rolander

“Do we have to read?”  “I am bad at reading.”  “I don’t like reading!” exclaims my 9-year old daughter, Charlie.  Horror! I LOVE to read.  Reading is my life.  I am a reading specialist at PS234, an adjunct professor at Bank Street College, and a literacy consultant.  How could my own daughter have such negative feelings about reading?  First, my daughter has Dyslexia.  Reading has always been hard for her, no, excruciating for her.  Reading is where she doesn’t feel smart.  Now chess…that’s another story.  Reminds me of Ally Nickerson from Fish in a Tree.  (You HAVE to read that book, by the way.)

This fall I realized something.  Just because she has Dyslexia doesn’t mean she has to hate reading.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve read to her since she was 7 months old.  (Can you figure that out?  Why not since she was in the womb?  She was adopted!  Ha!  Did I stump you?)  But, understandably, she doesn’t like to read to herself.  So, reading specialist that I am, I decided to make it my business for her to start to love reading and to grow her reading muscles, her reading stamina.  Here is a list of 10 things I’ve done to help her.


  • Lots of BOOKS! Research shows that the more books a child has, the more likely they will become a reader.  (These can be books you own or books from the library.  I once had a friend who visited the library each week with her son and brought a carry-on suitcase to schlep the books back and forth.)


  • The RIGHT MATERIAL!  So Charlie is not reading at grade level.  At school she might be a “yellow, yellow,” but we need to break out of the idea that all reading needs to be in the form of chapter books.  Picture books are especially wonderful for her.  They serve as a type of connector  I have read them to her for many years and now she can decode enough that she can read them herself.  Also, they give her visual supports for comprehension.  Graphic novels are also amazing for her.  In Charlie’s school, the school librarian, Paula, does a fabulous job of playing with different types of texts.  She told me the other day that she had a student who loved reading magazines.  After a few weeks, she compared a stack of the magazines he had read to two chapter books exclaiming, “Look how much reading you’ve done!”  Beautiful!  Tons of research supports the concept that if kids choose what they read they are more engaged in reading and they actually read more, which makes reading easier…this brings us back to books…do you see a pattern?


  • TRADE OFF…Wait!  Don’t stop reading.  I usually tell parents that they should not trade off reading.  Let me clarify.  A parent’s time to read aloud to their child should be sacred.  So cuddling down before bed and reading from a novel each night is fabulous. (Right now we are reading Wonder…another book you have to read!)  I still stand by that.  But, I am talking about the additional time that Charlie needs to read for independent reading at home.  We started off reading every other page.  As she has grown with her stamina, now I read every third page.  This pattern will continue, her time increasing and mine decreasing, in order to help her increase her reading stamina.  As reading becomes easier for her, it will also become more pleasurable.


  • Pay attention to the PICTURES.  Charlie is a child who can put together a 1,000 piece puzzle.  Many Dyslexic children have this type of visual acuity.  Many books, such as A Sick Day for Amos McGee have tiny figures or animals that appear in almost every page.  Charlie adores having contests to see who can find the red balloon (in A Sick Day…)  (Inevitably, I lose!)  This isn’t necessarily increasing her decoding skills but is sure is increasing her engagement with books….which increases her desire to spend time with books, you see the cycle.


  • Create a reading NOOK.  Take a basket and have your child fill it with some of their favorite books.  (This circles around to the power of choice.)  You can put it right next to their bed or on the foot of their bed.


  • Let them STAY UP 10 minutes longer.  Gasp!  So, Charlie has her bin of books, and, a very important tool…a flashlight or a reading light.  (What kid doesn’t love a flashlight?)  The whole idea that they get to stay up later makes everything better.


  • Be a MODEL.  In the age of technology what often happens is as adults we read more and more on a device.  How many times do you check the news on your phone?  That is all reading but the problem is that it is virtually invisible to our children.  So make an effort to read an actual book or magazine in front of your child every day.


  • TALK about books.  Charlie has never read Fish in a Tree.  It is a bit too complicated for her at this point.  But she knows exactly who Ally Nickerson is.  (Did I mention that you should read that book?)  I’ve talked to her in detail about the book.  From these conversations she understands how books can actually help to redefine a person.  She has now started chess class and is actually a star.  As the new Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang says, “By reading…we gain knowledge and skills others don’t expect from us.”  Because Charlie has always had a hard time reading, and because she goes to a school specifically for children with language based learning differences, there can be a perception that she isn’t smart.  That couldn’t be further from the truth!  Seriously, you have to play chess with my daughter.  She is 9 and frankly, I’d place my bets on her!


  • Keep READING ALOUD to your child.  I still read aloud to Charlie every night.  Of course she has to read to herself for her schoolwork and hopefully, one day, pleasure.  But, by stripping away the stresses of decoding, Charlie can just relish in the beauty and excitement of story …here we go…you have to choose the right BOOKS!  (Nerdy Book Club is a great place to start if you don’t know what books to read!)


Susie Rolander is a passionate observer of children.  She is a reading specialist at PS234 in NYC, an adjunct professor at Bank Street College and a literacy consultant.  She is an avid reader and writer and a mother of three girls.