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Help! I Love Books but My Child is a Reluctant Reader

By Sally Collings - 10th October 2011

I’ve been infatuated with reading ever since I can remember. Not always fine literature: I had a drawer full of Phantom comics when I was about seven, which I would pore over by torchlight after lights out. Not long after that I discovered a book of Greek and Roman myths on my parents’ bookshelf and spent the summer holidays drinking in stories of Psyche, Hercules and Achilles. CS Lewis and Tolkien followed, then tacky bodice-rippers that I’m sure were completely inappropriate for an impressionable teenage girl.

Now I’m all grown up and I make my living out of books and words. I’m a writer, an editor and a publisher, and when I’m not putting the words together myself I’m teaching other people how to do it.

So how is it that my kids would do pretty much anything to avoid having to read a book?

When my first daughter was about three, she had some speech delays. The GP sat down with me and said, "You know, it’s really important to read with her. You should buy some books and spend some time each day reading with your daughter." I felt like choking her with her stethoscope. I had been dangling board books over my daughter’s cot since she was one week old; my sister-in-law laughed at me for suggesting that books would be a good first birthday present.

I can see why my girls might prefer to play games on the iPhone or watch a movie than labour over unfamiliar words. They have a screen-obsessed dad to emulate, but I’d kind of hoped that seeing me engrossed in a book might have some impact.

We’ve had some success with audio books. Stephen Fry’s renditions of the Harry Potter stories have kept us happy on many a long car journey. My eldest loves cooking, so she can be enticed into reading recipes and articles about Masterchef and other food-related matters.

This week, I’m starting a reading rewards chart. The girls will get a star for every quarter-hour they spend reading, and four stars earns a reward. I’m still deciding what the prizes will be, but there may be chocolate involved for the first round. I know it’s not always wise to use food as a reward – but I figure chocolate frogs will get their attention and then we can move on from there.

Anyone else struggling with a reluctant reader? I’d love to hear about your strategies and great ideas.

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