It’s a bookish parent’s worst nightmare – your kid comes home with the new book order catalog from school and, after you point out all of your childhood favorites, you realize that the book that your child is most interested in is based on a TV show. Or comes with a free bracelet. Or is primarily comprised of stickers.
Or perhaps it is a legitimate, actually-written-by-an-author book, but it’s something that you find completely confounding – say a 500-page encyclopedia of sharks – and you just can’t understand why your son or daughter would rather spend hours reading marine biology fact sheets than travel through Narnia or explore Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
I’m here to tell you all is not lost. If your kid’s reading choices make your eyes roll and your aesthetic sensibilities cringe in horror, here are some things to keep in mind:
Convincing any child to read independently is a victory. If your kid is seeking out books to read on their own, even if those books stink, you’ve already won the important battle.
There’s no accounting for taste. Ask yourself, “Is this book terrible or do I just not like it personally?” Parents have to account for personality differences with their children, just like they do with adults. It might not be a bad book. It just might not be your cup of tea.
It’s okay to say “no.” If the book is actually a terrible, socially reprehensible piece of reading material, it is totally fine to tell your kid, “No, you can’t read that.” That’s a parent’s prerogative and you should feel free to use it.
Everyone needs guilty pleasures. I have a teacher friend who calls certain kinds of kids’ books “Doritos reads.” That means that they’re the reading equivalent of snack food. They’re tasty and they satisfy cravings, but they can’t make up your whole diet. As a parent, you need to make sure that your kids have a balanced reading diet. Sure, they can have the occasional “Doritos read,” provided that the rest of their reading diet is a bit more substantial.
You should glean what insights you can. If your kid loves reading awful books about robots, search for critically acclaimed, librarian-beloved books about robots and share them. Maybe your child is embracing bad books about their favorite subjects because they simply don’t know that good ones exist.
They will come around eventually. Maybe you can’t change what your kids read, but if you keep exposing them to great works of children’s literature, if you’re initiating discussions about what they’re reading, and if you’re encouraging them to explore their interests through reading, they’ll have all the tools they need to become the amazing, engaged readers of the future that you want them to be. Even if you’re currently embarrassed to be seen with them at your local library.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2023.