How do I get my smart-but-hates-to-read son interested in reading?

The trick to getting kids interested in reading is to build off what they already enjoy. The connection could be a hobby, a favorite movie, a favorite sport, video games . . . pretty much anything. After you figure out what your child likes, guide your child toward books that are either about that subject or incorporate it — but try to get the child as involved in the choice as possible.

Here are some suggestions:

  • If your child likes sports: Robert Lipsyte's The Contender (Boxing); Bernard Malamud's The Natural (Baseball); Timothy Tocher's Long Shot (Basketball)
  • If your child likes science or science fiction: Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles; any fiction by Isaac Asimov; Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash
  • If your child likes animals: Richard Adams's Watership Down; E.B. White's Charlotte's Web; Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park; Jack London's Call of the Wild
  • If your child likes the Harry Potter series: Apart from the Harry Potter books themselves, check out the works of Cornelia Funke, Christopher Paolini, and Eoin Colfer.
  • If your child likes movies: Many films have a novelized version created after the fact, but you'll be better off looking for novels that were turned into movies that your child enjoyed, such as Louis Sachar's Holes, Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ian Fleming's James Bond books, and Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia.

Of course, the right book for your child depends on his or her age and reading level; the children's librarian at your local library can help. And it doesn't have to be fiction — there's a lot of good nonfiction out there, including biographies of your child's heroes. Again, ask your librarian for help.

Choosing a book is the easy part. The hard part is getting your child interested in it. Here are a few ways to get your child's nose into the pages:

  • Read the book aloud with your child: Alternate pages; you read the odd pages, and she reads the evens. This is great for younger kids because not only does it bring the story to life, but you're there to explain any words or concepts that your child doesn't understand.
  • Read with your children: Set aside some reading time every day — for everyone in the family. Turn off the TV, the radio, the computer, and the video games and give everyone as little as half an hour to curl up with his or her own interesting tome.
  • Get your child "stuck" in a book: Challenge your child to read only the first 40 pages or first four chapters of a book, and then let him decide whether to keep going. This way, you aren't forcing him to read an entire book, only a few dozen pages. Often, this can get him deep enough into a book that he won't be able to put it down.
  • Let your child see you read: Actions speak louder than words. If you want your children to be interested in reading, you have show how interesting it is. Read in your spare time at home. If you read something exciting or discover something interesting in a book, share it with your family. Talk about your favorite books or about the books you loved as a child.

One thing you should not do is bribe your children to read. Offering money or other rewards to finish a book puts the emphasis only on completing the book instead of on actually reading it. A good book is like a yummy dessert; the joy doesn't come from cleaning the plate but from savoring each morsel.