Slice of Life 11: My Own Reluctant Reader

As an English teacher, I know all about irony. So while I can never find enough time to read all the books on my “on deck” list, my 9-year-old would rather do almost anything else but read.

Okay, that might be a little bit of hyperbole. It’s not that he won’t read. But unless I ask or remind him, reading a book isn’t something he’ll do on his own. He’d much rather watch YouTube videos, play with his Legos, draw, and even practice his piano (and that makes him cry sometimes, so…).

I’ve taken all the familiar steps. Careful not to take the joy of reading and discovery away by forcing him into it, instead, I’ve tried to fill our shelves with interesting books. Knowing the value of serial reading among lifelong readers, I’ve added Magic Treehouse, Hardy Boys, Beast Quest, Secrets of Droon, Time Warp Trio, Boxcar Children, Wayside School. Because he also loves to draw, we have books from the Diary of the Wimpy Kid Series, Big Nate, Percy Jackson, Middle School, and I, Funny. And because they’re classics, we’ve got Ronald Dahl, E. B. White, and C. S. Lewis on our shelves, too.

I’ve tried reading books together. For example, right now, we’re about 2/3 of the way through Charlotte’s Web, which I’m reading to both him and his younger brother. He seems to enjoy this, but when I suggest that he could always read something like Charlotte’s Web on his own, he just shrugs his shoulders and books go unopened. On long trips, we’ve listened to audio books like the first Percy Jackson book and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I keep hoping that something will “hook” him and he’ll want to read on his own. So far, not too much luck.

We’ve set aside reading time, and even got one of those timer bookmarks. I thought that maybe if I could just get him into the habit of reading 20 minutes a day that something would just stick. Instead, what I’ve learned is that he’ll read for 20 minutes exactly. When the timer goes off, he stops reading, sometimes mid-sentence.

All that said, there have been a few successes here and there. In second grade, he seemed to really like the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, which he used for a school project. In third grade, he read the part one of Mary Osborne’s Odyssey series for kids (he was really into Greek mythology for a while). And this past year, he’s read the first four books in the Middle School series by James Patterson and The One and Only Ivan (which was a struggle, but he enjoyed in the end – I think). But again, all this has been with my (gentle?) encouragement.

So I’m not sure what else I can do except keep trying to put books in his hands. He enjoys some non-fiction, but nothing that he’ll sit and read for any extended period of time. We take almost weekly trips to the library and bookstores, which he usually spends looking at the latest Minecraft manuals.

Because he’s already in fourth grade—fourth grade!—I’m starting to feel a little panicked that reading bug will never bite. Then I remind myself that I have 9th graders sitting in my classroom who never liked to read until this year and now actually enjoy it. I remind myself that it’s never too late for any reader, that all readers are reluctant readers at some point. I remind myself that he’s not already in fourth grade, but only in fourth grade. I remind myself that it’s just about finding that right book at the right time.

And I wait.

slice of lifeThis post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 250 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit


  1. Lisa

    This is interesting to me because I have been noting this in my own students a lot this year. In past years, the best readers were also the most prolific. But this year, my best readers just don’t want to read. I hand them books and they read those, but don’t pick up something new without my help. I have, like you, tried to hook them on series. I have allowed them to read non-fiction about scariest/grossest/weirdest things, and they like it, but what they really want to do is share the scary/gross/weird facts with each other during partner reading. I have a little theory that these readers are reading beyond the books that are aimed at their age group, but they aren’t mature enough for the books that would challenge them as readers. They do NOT want to read about kissing (the girls or the boys.) I think you are right when you say that it’s not too late! Some people don’t meet the right book until high school. At least you are giving him the skills, and the opportunity.


  2. Is there anything “written” about the history of “youtube”? that he could read? Or create his own YouTube videos around reading and writing – books he has read? Gentle encouragement seems VERY wise! What books would he recommend for friends?


  3. janiceewing

    Just wondering, does he like to write text along with his drawings? Maybe read some graphic novels or others that could serve as mentor texts for him to create his own books…


    • He does like reading graphic novels, and sometimes he will even draw comics, too. I guess I should be happy that he’s reading, period, but I want so much for him – and all my children – to be as deeply affected by reading as I have been. But I understand that’s not something you can impose. 🙂


  4. I agree this is frustrating, especially to an avid reader. Not everyone will become a reader, I learned from my own children. My youngest daughter never wanted to read. She used to say that she just hadn’t found an author she liked. Then one day in the ninth grade she came home with a book by Jacqueline Susann. That’s right, sort of smutty, pulp fictiony stuff, but totally compelling to her. After she read a couple of those books she began to read with pleasure. And every few months we’d go to the used bookstore and buy a couple of those books, just for a pick-me-up. You just never know what it’ll take. You’re doing all the right things for him, it sounds like. Time will tell!


  5. My mom read books (and still does) constantly when I was a kid, but the book bug didn’t really bite me until I was in my 20’s. And look at me now… I’m a certified literacy specialist. (And I don’t think my parents ever thought they’d willingly see me with a book, but eventually it happened and I wrote about it at

    That said, I do understand your concerns. You never know when the book bug will bite your son.


    • Thanks for sharing, Stacey! I know in my head that it’s never too late to become a reader, but it is frustrating. I figure the best I can do is keep as many doors to reading open to him.

      BTW, I read your post and want to say that The Babysitters Club was also one of my favorite series (that, and Sweet Valley High, of course). 🙂


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