7 Lessons for Parents of Reluctant Middle Grade Readers

by Laura Lambert

Photo credit: Westend61/ Getty Images

Something happened when my daughter was finally ready for middle grade books — namely, she wasn’t that into them. She’d get giddy about a title that her friends were reading, start it, then lose interest after a chapter or two — over and over again.

I guess I always expected middle grade to be the sweet spot of reading. Kids are skilled enough to read on their own and opinionated enough to choose their own genres and titles. This is when it was all supposed to catch fire. Independent! Reading! We started off strong with some Raina Telgemeier — a huge favorite. And then … nothing.

Frustrated, I sought the advice of a true middle grade book enthusiast — Karina Yan Glaser, a contributing editor at Book Riot, parent of a middle grade reader, and author of a middle grade book of her own.

Here’s what I learned.

1. If my 9-year-old doesn’t finish every book she picks up, so what?

Not finishing books isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world.

“As adults, we’re like that, too,” said Glaser. “Tons of adults, they’ll test the water with a lot of different books, start some and not finish some. I don’t feel like that’s a huge thing to worry about.”


2. My middle grade books won’t necessarily be her middle grade books.

The thing about middle grade books — for me, at least — is that I last read them 30-some years ago. And while some fourth graders might love a classic — I can still remember exactly where I was when I finished Where the Red Fern Grows — the literary landscape has changed. A lot. And most of us are woefully out of touch.

If you aren’t reading middle grade titles on your own, now might be the time. (See also tips 6 and 7.)

3. It might take your kid a while to learn to slow down.

Glaser explained that readers in the middle grade reading category, which is generally ages 8 to 12, want fast-paced and engaging — and that they enjoy books they can easily share with their friends and that talk honestly about their situations, whether in school, at home, or in their communities.

It may take time, says Glaser, to ease into books that are longer or mostly print. And that’s okay.

4. Let them read at the table.

Yes, yes, the importance of family dinner and all. But those windows of time each morning and evening are also ripe for reading.

Glaser says there’s always a stack of books on her dining room table. “If I want [one of my daughters] to read a book, one that she hasn’t really picked up on her own, I’ll put it by her breakfast” she says. “She’ll just read it while she’s eating.”

If you’re more grab-and-go in the morning, try keeping books in the car. (With snail’s pace traffic in Los Angeles, where I live, carsickness isn’t an issue).

5. Embrace picture books.

Don’t be ruled by age ranges or grade levels.

“Books are so categorized by age that kids that are older, say 9, might love the visual elements in a picture book, but might face stigma from their peers for reading to them, even if the book is age-appropriate,” says Glaser. “For me, I love it when my kids go back to picture books and notice new elements and meaning in them as they get older.”

6. Read aloud.

“I love reading books aloud to my children that they may not pick up on their own,” says Glaser. Her girls are now 7 and almost 9. “I think they just like that connection, even though they’re older.”

Without even really realizing it, I’d dropped the ritual of reading aloud together — and having that connection — the second my daughter could read reliably on her own — partly because, like the day the training wheels came off, I didn’t think she needed me anymore, and partly because it was around the same time she got a loft bed.

And then, of course, there’s the simple magic of hearing a story. Recently, Glaser and her girls read Tuck Everlasting, which she says was wonderful to hear aloud. “The language in Natalie Babbitt’s book is so beautiful” she says, adding that kids catch on to how writing can be different from what they are used to.

7.  Ask for recommendations.

The world of middle grade books is vast and ever-changing — we can all use a guide. Check out tons for middle grade readers from Brightly, here. For my daughter, she recommended The Inquisitor’s Tale, which just so happened to be the book she just started. So far, so good.

Next up?

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, and Chris Riddell’s Ottoline series.

Armed with a few new-to-me titles and a commitment to start reading aloud together again, it seems like middle grade ain’t so bad after all.