What books should my child be reading? (Part 1)

backtoschoolIt’s one of my favorite times of the year — back to school! This is actually the first year I am not going back to school either as a teacher or a student, and as bummed though I may be, I am excited to celebrate the new school year by devoting posts to addressing questions parents at Gracepoint church ask me most frequently .

These questions often come in passing, while grabbing coffee or in the parking lot, but the answers require more than the 10-seconds we have. So I hope these posts will be helpful. Heads up, I’m going to put them under the category For Parents, so you can find them easily.

The first question is “What should my child be reading?” and it comes in various forms:

  • “Hey, my Reginald is going into 4th grade this year. What books should he be reading?”
  • “What should Maximilian be reading since he’s starting kindergarten? Do you have a list?”
  • “My Constance doesn’t want to read the good books, like classics. She only wants to read her fantasy books.”

My response is usually, “What does Reginald/Maximilian/Constance like to read?” That’s the super-simplified response, and what I’m proposing is a reframing of the question — to focus more on the reader, rather than the books.

If your child is school-aged, his or her teacher will be choosing books throughout the year they have determined to be appropriate or interesting for their class, and they will do a read-aloud or whole-class book study. In that way, your child will be reading some of the “should” books. And these reading experiences are powerful and necessary. But true love of reading is going to develop during your child’s independent reading life. And I believe the growing, thriving reading life is dependent on choice.

I want to encourage conversations with your child about books that he or she has enjoyed. Try to figure out what they liked about it. Was it because it was easy for them to read? Was it the type of story? Was it the pictures? And then you have some clues to help you in the adventure of finding the next book your child might be interested in reading. I always try to assure parents that it is definitely possible to find a book that will spark their interest. This is a great age in which to be a child or teen — there are so many awesome books out there. It’s not like “when I was young”! (you have to re-read that sentence in a granny voice!)

When I tell people I am was an English Language Arts teacher, one of the first questions is, “What books do you teach?” And I usually say, “I don’t teach books. I teach students.” Now, I know what people *mean* when they ask me, but you see my point. We often get stuck on lists of books, and, “Oh, you teach To Kill a Mockingbird in 9th grade? Isn’t that a 10th grade book?”

Don’t get me wrong; lists are helpful. And in fact, I’m going to provide lists for you all. But my lists are by themes/genres, so that you can find the book that your child will be interested in reading. I do have general age guidelines, but that’s mostly for thematic reasons (not unlike movie ratings).

I always try to get parents to think about books they loved when they were in school. What did you love about it? How did you find the book? Did you read it on your own or with your class? How did you respond when given a list of books you had to read? Did you ever re-read books? These are big questions that feed into a person’s reading life.

I know I’ve opened up a can of worms with this discussion, but I hope it will foster conversation. What questions do you have about your child and reading? I will do my best to group like questions and address them here.