How-To Tuesday: Raising Readers


I’m not one for giving advice– not because I don’t like to, but because I am afraid I like to proffer my ideas a little too much. Without restraint, I’d probably be offering my opinion all day long on everything under the sun. The same goes for yelling– I rarely yell, but not because I don’t want to (oh, I want to!) but because I’m afraid that if I let loose I’d never stop.
But sometimes people ask for advice, and one question I am asked almost weekly is, “How do you raise children who love to read?”

You might not like my answer.


For years I thought it was a matter of reading by example, visiting the library often and discussing books at the dinner table.

But the truth is, it comes down to buying books.

Yes, buying.

ECLS data confirms that with every other variable monitored the difference between kids who read and those who don’t is stacks of books at home without any due date (Ben found this statistic while reading Freakonomics).

And yes, buying books takes money, but there are so many great options for buying books cheaply: yard sales, library sales, 1 cent books on Amazon (my favorite), school book orders. Many Americans consider cable TV a necessity, but at the cost of $50-$60 per month, think of how many books that could buy (I’m not saying that subscribing to cable TV is evil- I’m pretty sure you could monitor it better than I can– but if you had to choose between the two, I’d vote for books every time.).

It made me laugh this morning to see Stefan perusing the first grade book order (he didn’t circle anything).


But the truth is, kids that love to read don’t ask for much– they simply want more books.

Hmm, I’ve said way more than I should. Don’t be surprised if this post disappears before dinner time. 😉

May 2, 2011
May 6, 2011



  1. Karey

    May 3, 2011

    I’m glad I saw it before the post disappeared. Good thoughts. I’ve found that a natural reader really doesn’t mind reading anything from anywhere, but if you have a child that drags their feet about reading, you need to let them choose books and then you need to offer incentives for actually reading them.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. martha corinna

    May 3, 2011

    Don’t erase it, it’s all good advice and so true! Thanks Michelle.

  3. jennie w.

    May 3, 2011

    I agree although it never occurred to me before you mentioned it.

    I have massive quantities of books and I have a houseful of readers. Even my 12 year old who has been somewhat dyslexic has ended up being a book worm. The only reason I can give is having lots of books around and the example of older sibs who recommend and encourage reading. When the younger kids hear the older ones talking about certain books, they want to read them too.

    But nobody cares about anything I recommend.

  4. Hot Hot JJ

    May 3, 2011

    Thanks for the post. I love it. I was never a very good reader as a child but I so want my children to grow up with the love.

    Leave this post up, and thanks for including Gabe’s messy bed head, it totally made me smile.

  5. Scrappycook

    May 3, 2011

    Great advice and proven true in our home as well. We have thousands of books in our home (most bought at yard sales and Half Price Books) and all three of my kids are big readers – as am I. It is only a problem when one has to move!!

  6. Amy

    May 3, 2011

    Love it! It makes so much sense! I’m glad you mentioned it.

    While we are on the subject of reading… what is your opinion about notating? I can’t read a book without circling the words that I do not know, underlining quotes, writing in the margins, etc. It helps me to be engaged in any book and it helps me to find what I am looking for quickly when I need to find a quote or an idea. Dean, however, is completely against it. Can you be our tie breaker? Do you have any ideas, thoughts, or research to backup either of us?

  7. jen

    May 3, 2011

    my mom read to us. it was that simple. after baths and before bed, we’d curl up with mom on the couch and read some books.

  8. Lisa

    May 3, 2011

    Oh I am totally with you on this one and you are absoutely right! And thanks to Ben for his departing book list…we are about halfway through it right now. I’m always asked the very same question…as my children are voracious readers. I would also add that it helps when your children see you devouring a book.

    A couple of weeks ago, Momma Cass mentioned to Chet that he should re-read all the Harry Potters, since he read them when he was so young. Becuase now that he’s a teenager he would grasp more. And so…he finished ALL of them in 2 weeks time. That’s devouring literature! Hooray for Harry!

  9. Kerri

    May 3, 2011

    TOTALLY agreed. And I wish I could get Dave to cancel cable. We just don’t need it. And I need the money to pay my library fines…

  10. Liz

    May 3, 2011

    Hi! I just clicked over from Christie’s blog and I have to say that I could have written this post myself (except for the portion where you actually cite evidence to support your claim.) I, too, have managed to raise a bunch of readers and am questioned about it often. You are right: the answer is buy books!!

  11. FoxyJ

    May 3, 2011

    I am a big reader, and so is my husband, and we have a lot of books in the house, we give books as gifts, we go to the library every week, and so on. There are many afternoons when I lie on the couch reading and ignoring my children. But, I admit to being stressed about my children being ‘readers’ because they still don’t really voluntarily pick up books and read them for fun. I probably shouldn’t worry about this too much since they are almost 8 and just barely 5, but I wish I could convince them that reading on your own is fun. Is there an age at which reading becomes a hobby for kids?

    Like I said, I’m probably ridiculous because they are good kids and they fill their time with playing outside and other things, but I wish they loved reading like I do. On the other hand, it’s probably good that they’ll do other things with their childhood rather than sit around and read compulsively for six hours a day like I did..

  12. Jeanelle

    May 3, 2011

    Yay – loved this! I prefer to own rather than check-out. Going to the library just isn’t fun for me (who wants yet another errand or stop on the way home from work?) and since I’m an electronics girl, I like to just find a book on my phone or kindle and click “buy.”

  13. Cares and Mimi

    May 3, 2011

    I totally agree with you. I have a 7 and 5 year old and both love books. They’ll even turn off the tv to look through and read books (gasp!). Books are at their disposal always and we made it practically a ceremony to go to the library and get their own library card!

  14. Tracy

    May 3, 2011

    We keep building more bookshelves. Pretty soon we’ll have to sell the rest of the furniture.

    From one non-cable owner to another…love this.

  15. Christie

    May 3, 2011

    I am so such a believer in this. I will always buy my kids a book, no matter what. They know this, and tend to stalk Amazon fiercely. I don’t care. If they will keep reading, I will keep buying. Love this. Please give your advice more!

  16. Lizzy

    May 3, 2011

    Keep the post! It is so true! I teach school and agree with you 100%!

  17. Jan Russell

    May 3, 2011

    Waaah! Why isn’t this working for me? I own more books then I can house and still I have reluctant readers on my hands. What else do you have up your sleeve?

  18. Ang

    May 3, 2011

    Hey, at least you’re making me feel better about buying so many books!

    I agree with you though. My kids get books for every major holiday and then they get them just because. And it helps when you have a bunch of kids so they can pass books down.

    I do think two other things are important, though. One is that kids need to develop the habit of reading on their own. As much as I love reading TO my kids, once they got to a certain age, nighttime reading was up to them. They could stay up pretty late if, and only if, they were reading, so they saw it as something of a treat.

    The last thing, though, is that some kids just don’t like to read. Some kids struggle with it. In the same way that some kids are just born with a desire to dribble a basketball, some kids are born with a desire to bury their noses in a book. I can help my kids appreciate sports and participate in them, but so far none of them are rabidly interested in sports, no matter how many “opportunities” we’ve presented them with (and there have been plenty!). But at least two of my four kids will choose reading above almost anything else, simply because they love it. That innate love goes a long way.

  19. Anne Marie

    May 3, 2011

    Thank you for this! I would love if you, magical mama, would do many more How-To Tuesdays. Seriously. There are many of us admirers out here who would love to hear more of Michelle L.’s secrets.

    I agree completely about owning books. We also have gone to the library weekly as a family for the past 13 years….in recent years, it has more often been me just going to pick things up, but public libraries are an incredible resource. Then, I have done nightly reading time ever since my oldest was 1 year old and haven’t stopped in almost 13 years. At different points, I have done picture books or chapter books, depending on the ages of my kids. And, when my oldest had the worst headache of his life a while back, I was so grateful that he wanted to lay on his bed, close his eyes, and listen to me read Harry Potter to him.

    I have four sons and am hoping that they can grow up to radiate half the goodness that your boys so naturally do. Thanks for your blog.

  20. Kira

    May 3, 2011

    Can you keep going? More tips on raising fabulous kids would be GREAT 🙂 I will pick up more books…stat!

  21. Kristin

    May 4, 2011

    VALIDATION! When we were first married I was studying elementary ed at BYU, teaching in the elementary schools, and working at a daycare. Book orders and book fairs were constant temptations.

    One month I spent more on books than on our rent and was subsequently placed on “book restriction.” Though I was a *bit* out of a control, I insisted that someday we would be grateful to have all of those books for our children.

    Fast forward 12 years and our older ones are huge readers and the younger children love to look at books and be read to.

    Great advice.

  22. Selwyn

    May 4, 2011

    I totally agree about having bought books in your home. Books are more important than anything except food and electricity in our house – and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

  23. Bonnie

    May 4, 2011

    I definitely think owning books helps, but I grew up falling in love with the library. Once I learned to read, I loved it – even though buying books was never a big part of my life. I will buy one worth rereading once in a while, but usually I just use the library and my friends to get books. Buying books may help, but I don’t think it’s always the bottom line for a love of reading.

  24. Michelle

    May 4, 2011

    Good point, Bonnie.

  25. michelle

    May 4, 2011

    “Many Americans consider cable TV a necessity, but at the cost of $50-$60 per month, think of how many books that could buy (I’m not saying that subscribing to cable TV is evil- I’m pretty sure you could monitor it better than I can– but if you had to choose between the two, I’d vote for books every time.).”

    AMEN. Although I’m like Jennie and have not realized it as explicitly as you have said it. It’s not just about the money, too. If you don’t have the distraction of TV, children are much more likely to turn to books.

    And I think you should give more advice, not less. 😉

  26. Rachelle

    May 5, 2011

    I agree with you completely! I’ve always made it my mission to collect books and build a home library. Plus, if it’s a book you love, well, you just need to own it. :o) I love this post!

  27. Mandy

    May 5, 2011

    Agree with everything said! I too want more advice from you, not less! Very inspiring!
    Buying books on Amazon is my little guilty pleasure.
    After reading this, I don’t feel so bad anymore.
    Thank you!

  28. Cath

    May 6, 2011

    Wow! The stats are in and the response is overwhelming. We want more advice! Where do you find one cent books on Amazon? Do tell!

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