How Do You Inspire Your Child or Teenager to Read?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

My 11-year-old nephew is reading War and Peace. How did that happen?

By Edward Nawotka

Kieran reading Tolstoy

Yep, that's him reading Tolstoy...

A few months ago my sister-in-law informed me that my 11-year-old nephew was reading War and Peace and liking it. (Don’t believe me? She blogged about it here.) How on Earth did that happen? Well, it probably helps that both of his parents are writers, his dad is published novelist, and the boy was given books on tape to help him fall asleep at bedtime. But War and Peace? It goes to show that the truly great books can travel across centuries and generations.

Turning a kid into a reader might seem like a daunting task in the age of Facebook, Twitter, video games and incessant digital distraction. But it’s not impossible. And there are some do’s and don’ts.

My parents’ plan, for example, was to try and entice me with books they thought would suit my interests. They presented me at a young age with biographies of Bernard Montgomery and Erwin Rommel, the two World War II generals who faced off in North Africa. (I was fascinated by the Battle of El Alamein as a result of watching too much The World at War.) I’m confident that plan backfired. The truth is that I seem to have gotten most of my early education from the Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook. It wasn’t until years later, while bored one summer afternoon, I picked up a copy of John Hersey’s A Bell for Adano and got hooked on novels.

With my own daughter, I’m trying to play it smart. She’s three-and-a-half years old and I’m delighted that she’s interested in Curious George and the Mr. Men books. I’m not trying to push her into reading Charlotte’s Web or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang until the time is right. But, I won’t lie, I have copies of them already waiting for her. I’ve also got a boxed set, still in cellophane, of the Harry Potter novels for the just the right, too-hot-to-go-outside boring summer afternoon.

It’s said that simply having books around the house is the best way to interest a child in reading. As we transition to e-books, it may be more difficult for parents to accumulate their own haphazard pile of books. I worry sometimes as I sit with my iPad reading an e-book that she sees me and thinks I’m playing a game. I’d much rather her know that I’m reading. But how do I show her by example when all the tools for reading start to look like tools for something else?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka is the Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. A former foreign correspondent, he has covered the book business exclusively since 2000, serving as daily news editor for Publishers Weekly and columnist for Bloomberg News.