I’ve always been a huge book nerd, so my dreams of parenting definitely included my kids being as book-obsessed as I am. I love the experience of the real world melting away as I lose myself in a story, and I want my kids to know that feeling too. But when my son Lucas reached age 8, about the same age I was when I began my love affair with books, he didn’t show much interest.
I’d read to him since birth, and though he enjoyed some picture books and non-fiction, I couldn’t get him to dive into an honest-to-goodness chapter book, no matter how much I promised him he’d love it. I didn’t want to keep pestering him about it because that would only make him more determined to dig in his heels. I needed to get creative.
I came up with a sneaky, multi-part plan. I had a strong feeling my son would love Harry Potter, so one night I snuggled up with him to read as I would any other night—with J. K. Rowling’s The Sorcerer’s Stone in hand. I read the first few chapters, and in the middle of chapter 4, right after Hagrid drops the bomb on Harry that he’s a wizard, I stopped.
“Ugh, my throat is hurting. I can’t go any further.”
“Aw, Mum, just a little more?”
“I’m sorry honey, my voice just can’t take anymore tonight.”
Ha! My plan was working. I told him if he wanted to read on a little bit by himself, I’d allow him to stay up a little past his bedtime.
He enthusiastically agreed, totally convinced he was getting away with something. And that was the night my son became obsessed with Harry Potter and fiction in general. I’ll never forget how, several months later, he came running into my room long after he should have been asleep and threw himself in my arms, sobbing because of that special character who dies in book 5 (I won’t spoil it just in case any readers have somehow managed not to read or see Harry Potter).
We’re pretty consistent with bedtimes, but when it comes to late-night reading, I tend to look the other way. Within reason, of course, but to me, it’s worth my kids missing few minutes of sleep if it means they’re developing their love of reading.
And, to further sweeten the deal, whenever my son finished the next book in the series, I rewarded him with a family movie night, complete with buttered popcorn and candy.
Today, at 13, my son is rarely without something to read within arm’s reach, and I credit it all back to that first night when I tricked him into falling in love with J.K. Rowling.
So, if you have a reader who doesn’t think they enjoy reading, I wholeheartedly recommend my little sneak attack. The key points to nail are:
Make sure to pick a genre and story you know they’ll love—ideally one that has a movie to go along with it.
Start out by reading to them (you’re doing the work here!) until you know you’ve got them totally, irrevocably hooked. Wide, glazed eyes and sagging-open jaw are clues that it’s the perfect time to complain that your throat hurts and you simply cannot read one more sentence.
Have a reward built in. A later bedtime is a easy one if you typically do your reading at night like us. A few sleepy mornings now and then are worth assuring your kid becomes a lifetime reader.
Offer them a book light. This is a necessity if they’re sharing a room with a sibling—and it’s somehow more thrilling to read with the bedroom lights off.
Build up the movie night as a major event. When he was first starting out, this was a big motivator for my son to keep going, especially for the thicker books. I wouldn’t cave in and let him watch it ahead of time, either. He had to finish the book first.
Watching the movie after reading the book is also fun because you get to compare the book to the movie with your kid, teaching them critical thinking skills they can use in school and life. And you get to prove to your kid that the book really is always better than the movie. A truth that every proud book nerd knows.