Growing Reader

Tween

In Praise of Dog Man and Other Gateway Books for Children

by Laura Lambert

Photo credit: Stephen Simpson, Taxi Collection/Getty Images

For a lot of parents, there’s a clear moment in a child’s literary life — the time when reading was a challenge or a chore and then the moment after, when reading for reading’s sake becomes a thing. That moment is often triggered by what I’ve come to call the gateway book. (Okay, fine, I wasn’t the first).

For my son, the gateway book was Dog Man. A first grade friend hopped into the backseat of my car for a playdate and pulled Dog Man out of his backpack. My son was enthralled as his friend sounded his way through it. “Dog Man is go. That don’t make no sense. But we like it.” They cackled. I heard that phrase for days. It was the first book my son ever begged me to buy. It was the first series he tore through. And now we’re eagerly, impatiently awaiting the release of Dog Man #5.

But — like a good gateway drug — it didn’t stop there. We’re on to another Dav Pilkey series — Ricky Ricotta, and I’m pretty sure Captain Underpants is next. The fire has caught on. I keep looking at him and thinking, “Oh, kiddo, this is your brain on books.”

Gateway books can’t be predicted. And they come when they come, not on some pre-set schedule of precisely midway through kindergarten. I asked a smattering of parents about their experiences with gateway books and there were some common themes, familiar titles, and much-beloved authors in their answers. May you find your gateway book somewhere among these suggestions.

What was your child’s gateway book? Let us know in the comments below!

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