Try These Tricks for a
Family Reading Reset

by Lindsay Barrett

Photo credit: Inside Creative House, iStock/Getty Images

My five kids may not always have clean faces or matching socks, but I pride myself on raising a family that loves reading. Books occupy most surfaces in our house, and we drop references to favorite characters and scenes like some families quote movie lines. But… it’s not always sunshine and smiley-face bookmarks over here. There are plenty of grumbles about having “nothing to read,” and the lure of video games and TV sometimes feels stronger than that of a great book. Like eating, physical activity, or sleep habits, sometimes we need a family reading reset to re-energize our reading lives. If you feel the same, here are some tactics to try:

Try a new-to-you book format
Novelty is a parent’s best friend. We’ve been late to jump on the family audiobook bandwagon, but a recent uptick in backseat squabbling had me desperate for a distraction on our vacation car rides. I grabbed Roald Dahl’s Matilda, which has a terrific narration by actress Kate Winslet. It captivated us so well that we stayed in the car, still listening, after arriving at our destination — and it even led to an interest in other books by the same author.

If you’re a family that mostly reads picture books, you might try an illustrated chapter book read-aloud instead. For kids who feel lukewarm about stories, try some high-interest nonfiction. Graphic novels are an absolute goldmine for hooking many kids onto (or back onto) reading. Case in point: My first-grader doesn’t have the stamina to read Mary Pope Osborne’s classic Magic Treehouse books on his own yet, but the graphic novel adaptations were perfect for him.

Introduce your kids to an old favorite—but there’s a catch
I had no luck getting my kids excited about the treasured books of my childhood until I stumbled on a sly trick: swap out your older edition for a fresher-looking one. My kids dismissed my beat-up copy of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume as “so old-fashioned,” but guess what? After hearing one chapter of the more recent (but otherwise EXACTLY THE SAME) edition from the library, they were begging to stay up late reading — and continued to enjoy the entire five-book series.

Start a new book tradition
Book traditions are great for boosting your family reading juju. We created a family spinoff of the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” a few years ago and gifted each child a small collection of books on Christmas Eve. It makes them feel like they’re winning by getting presents early, but the real win is that they eagerly anticipate and enjoy their new reading material.

There are tons of other book tradition possibilities. Some families always visit a bookstore before or as part of a vacation. I know one mom and kid pair who have a longstanding weekend morning ritual of visiting a coffee shop with a stack of titles and a snack. Our local library marks Valentine’s day with a “Blind Date With a Book” offering every year, which would be fun to adapt into a family version.

Pre-order a new release
Pre-ordering a coveted title to arrive on its release day offers an unexpected bit of book fun. The last time I pre-ordered the newest installment in a favorite series, my third grader read straight through breakfast and then couldn’t wait to get to school and brag to his best friend about his new book.

Re-commit to your own TBR pile
Nothing feels worse than when I tell one of my kids to read a book instead of using a screen, and then they call me out for being on my phone. Like my kids, I go through phases of being more and less engaged with recreational reading. When I dive into a new book — and let them see me doing it — it helps set the family reading tone.

Take on a reading challenge
One friend and her daughter kept an ongoing stack of books they read during the 2020 quarantine months to see if it would reach the daughter’s height. (It did!) For my family, the library summer reading program and its trinket prizes guarantee a flurry of reading interest. Whether it’s a new year’s reading resolution, taking on a monthly reading challenge, or simply tracking the books you read on an app, tackling a manageable reading goal as a family can help get that literary energy flowing.