Kids reading is something to celebrate. But if your kid's an advanced reader -- a preschooler who’s already reading, or an elementary or middle school kid who’s reading way above grade level -- finding appropriate books can be a real challenge. Your kid may be able to read the words, but is she ready for the material? And what about keeping kids interested when they can blow through a stack of books in an afternoon?
Simply picking books targeted to older kids may not be the answer. Some of those books might be too complex for them or have mature content they might not be ready for. The key is finding a book -- or series -- that's engaging, well-matched to your kid's literacy skills, and on target with his emotional development.
Here are some practical suggestions to help you pick books to suit your super readers.
Feed their interests. The risk with precocious readers is that they'll get bored. But if you tap into what they love, they'll enjoy reading multiple books on that subject. If your child only wants to read books about dogs or chess or soccer this month, let her. If he's suddenly fascinated by graphic novels, that's great. Got a gamer who's hooked on Minecraft? There's lots of literature about it. Especially in elementary school, follow your kid's lead. These are the years when a lifetime of loving books begins. Let your children truly read for pleasure.
Ask the experts. If you're struggling to find books that fit both your kid's maturity level and reading capacity, head for the library. Librarians are stars at matching books to kids. Their specialty is "If you liked this, you'll probably like this." They know the buzzy new releases as well as children's classics and can recommend books for all ages and skill levels. Your kid's teacher also usually knows which books your kid tends to pick up during free reading time. Get that intel, and you're on your way. Independent bookstores with a substantial children's section also can be a great resource. Booksellers, like librarians, know the titles strong readers gobble up.
Go series hunting. Engagement is key with precocious readers, and series are a great way to keep them interested and anticipating the next installment. If your kid is a particularly speedy reader, you can get all the books in a series so the next one is ready when he finishes the previous one. Not all book series are as high-quality as Harry Potter, but there are some good ones, and once your kid's engrossed in a series, you're golden for weeks -- or months. Ask other parents which series or authors have clicked with their precocious readers, and share your finds with them.
Consider nonfiction. Strong readers enjoy digesting and retaining facts. History and biography are two options for keeping your kid engaged -- and informed! For kids age 4 to 8, there are stellar picture-book bios and informational picture books for every interest: animals, sports, cars and trucks, planes and rockets, knights and castles -- you name it.
Pick a genre.Fantasy books tend to be longer and have sophisticated vocabularies without getting into social and other issues that parents might not want younger children reading about. Or if a fantasy does veer into that territory, the concept's often masked in metaphor. Science-fiction books have thought-provoking themes and explore mind-bending possibilities. Mysteries keep kids thinking, guessing, and problem solving.
Consider the classics. Your school may not be assigning them, but classic children's books are beautifully written and have universal themes, memorable characters, and rich vocabularies -- without the swearing and mature content sometimes found in contemporary middle grade and young adult fiction.
Nurture a nose for news. Steer your precocious reader to kid-friendly news sites such as Scholastic Kids Press Corps and magazines with kid appeal, such as National Geographic Kids, which has a companion website. Older tweens and teens can go straight to regular National Geographic magazine, newspapers, and news and sports websites.
Read aloud to them. Parents of small children do this routinely, but once kids start reading on their own, parents often stop reading to them. Reading more challenging books to kids gives you an idea of what they can handle in terms of content, structure, and vocabulary. Ask simple questions along the way -- How do you like the story so far? Is it confusing? Is it too scary? -- and answer any questions your reader might have.
For kids age 8 to 12, try:
Read along with them. Exposure to the wider, messier adult world is part of what comes with the ability to read more challenging books. For tweens and teens, having a parent, teacher, or mentor to discuss with helps. You might try reading some of the same young adult books your kids read or rereading controversial classics.
Don't rush them. Just because they can read Shakespeare or Jane Austen at age 10 or 11 doesn't mean they should. Some books are best appreciated by a more sophisticated reader. If kids are ahead of the curve, they're already doing great, and they have a lifetime to read the Great Books.
Written by Regan McMahon for Common Sense Media.