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Engaging Reluctant Readers

Boy listening to audiobooks

This post discusses how to transform your reluctant readers into kids who read for pleasure. 

I did a social media post yesterday about the government scrapping VAT on digital books. This is brilliant news, mainly because it makes accessing books more affordable for blind and partially sighted people. It also means that reluctant readers can access audio books at a better price.

National Literacy Trust

I had a great response to the post, with lots of people relieved to hear that listening to audio books is a legitimate way of their children reading stories. And it is. The National Literacy Trust has recently completed a Literature review on the topic where they revealed that the same cognitive functions are used when reading a printed page as listening to a story. Great news for all.  From December 1st, if your child is struggling to read stories, you can download some onto a tablet or a phone through things like Apple Books, Google Books or audible, for 20% cheaper. It really is brilliant news.

While we’re on the topic of engaging children with stories, I thought I’d also share some tips on engaging reluctant readers in other ways.

It can be tricky…

It’s hard and stressful isn’t it. You know reading is the most important thing they can do, you know reading for pleasure is the biggest indicator of success in later life, but you can’t get them to pick up a book. You’ve tried bribery, sticker charts and forcing them and nothing is working.  

Here are a few other things to try…

Start them when they’re young. If you can at all just read to them from as soon as they’re born. I did an earlier blog about reading with newborns which might be helpful to you if you’re struggling. Having just recently emerged from the baby phase, I know there’s a lot going on during this time so please don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I found reading with my second so much harder than reading with my first and I run a children’s bookshop. Our reading life with our baby goes through peaks and troughs. At the moment I often find myself just shouting stories in his general direction as he runs off to do something else, in the vain hope some of it will go in.

For older children struggling to engage;

Take them to a library or a bookshop

Let them choose, let them decide what it is they want to read and then help them to read it. It’s hard not to judge them or guide them in their choices. But even if they take a book home and only read half or a few pages, acknowledge that they’ve learned something about themselves and what they like and celebrate that they’re progressing on their reading journey.

When they’re deciding, don’t tell them what they choose is too babyish, ask what it is they like about it, whether it’s the pictures, the colours, the blurb on the back. Learn what they enjoy so you can help them find others with similar themes.

Create opportunities to read and read around them.

Have specifically designated book or magazine time, instead of screen time. Invest in a magazine subscription if it’s something they’re really interested in. Make sure your screen is away and you’re modelling reading habits to them. I read a lot in the dark so have everything on my ipad. I think my 6 year old thinks I’m in the endless heaven of playing computer games so I have to make sure he knows I’m reading. The best way to do that is to read a paper book.

Let them read non-fiction if they want –

Football books, toilet books, history books. Some kids have pretty niche tastes and that’s ok.

And Graphic novels are more than fine…

This one often makes parents uncertain because how can it be proper reading when it looks like a comic? But it is and graphic novels can be as good as any other story.

Speak to the teacher

Find out what support is in place and how they’re encouraging your child to read. Watch out for anyone that suggests that boys don’t like reading or aren’t as good as girls. Studies suggest that being told this and feeling like they’re not as good as they’re peers based in gender is utter nonsense but can damage boys performance in reading.

I see me

Finding characters that have a similar skin tone, that show cultural similarities or feature family set ups like yours can really help children to engage in ways they may not have before. Recognising a family or a scene can draw a child into a book and before you all know it, they’re reading and enjoying it. We specialise in diverse children’s books and provide loads of different books for children of all ages and are always happy to chat about options.

Do your research, know their likes and dislikes

I look for ridiculous books that will make my 6 year old laugh. He loves mischief and naughtiness and he will read anything that has the word bum in it. I think I could get him to read a 500-word book if it said bum enough times and that’s fine. If you know what your child looks for in a book, you know the choices they make and they know they can choose books to read without being judged, you can build a picture of their ideal library and build it. I’ve done other blogs about how you make sure they still have a  balanced world view within that so check one out here.

Author Jen Carney has a blog on how her books engage reluctant readers. 


If your child has been diagnosed with dyslexia or you suspect they are struggling then get the appropriate tests done and see if you can get some certainty. New books have come that have main characters with dyslexia and Barrington Stoke are one company who print a while series of books to support dyslexic readers. Their production process helps readers decode text and we have a few of those in stock.

As usual if you have any questions at all, please get in touch. We are always more than happy to help.

If you are facing prolonged time at home with your children in the next few weeks and you are struggling with how you’re going to entertain them, we have big boxes of books that will keep you all busy for days. The 8-11 boxes are great for adults and children alike. Get in touch with any questions. For big boxes head here and for subscription and smaller gift boxes head here.