As an author, I love writing middle-grade novels. This age group (9-13) is bright and funny and curious and sophisticated.
They will go with you into the unknown, on any adventure, as long as you give them a good reason to accompany you. They are also on the verge of the greatest adventure that we all go through – surviving their teen years and growing up.
When I write my middle-grade novels, including my new book The Fire Star (A Maven & Reeve Mystery), I try to keep the pace fast, the action exciting, the humour ever-present, and the characters vivid and relatable. I focus on friendship and puzzles and the kinds of twists and turns that I always loved in stories when I was that age – and which, frankly, I still do.
However, as a parent, I know just how difficult it can be to get them to actually sit down and start reading. This is the time when their social lives get busy (busier than mine, let’s face it), when what their friends think matters more than anything Mum or Dad can say, and when their mobile phone begins to run their lives unless we teach them how to manage it.
Reading can take a back seat, despite our best efforts.
But all is not lost.
These are my top three tips for keeping your tween interested in reading.
1. Make a time for it
I’m a great believer in routine. Just ask anyone who listens to my podcast or asks me for writing advice. You’ll never find time to write a book – you have to make it.
And it’s exactly the same with reading.
Even if your tween is a voracious, never-without-a-book type, you’ll find that the older they get, the more pull there is on their time. Particularly once they have a mobile phone or some other way to access social media.
So, make a time for it. My youngest son, now 13, would much rather run than read, and our fights over screen time are legendary.
So we have a deal. He reads for 20 minutes each night in bed. Sacred reading time.
And you know what, I think he quite likes it. Not that he’d tell me so.
2. Don’t pigeon-hole them
I know what you’re thinking: you know your kid and you would never censor their reading. But I think we’re all guilty of it, even on a sub-conscious level.
I know this because of how incredibly surprised I was when Mr13 arrived home from school last year with a verse novel. It is not a book that I would EVER have chosen for him – and I throw a lot of books at that kid – because I just never thought he’d be interested in poetry.
More fool me.
He loved it. Like, inhaled it. And then borrowed several more by the same author.
Let them read widely. Let them read books you think are too hard for them or that you’re worried they might not be ready for (they’ll put it down if they don’t like it, trust me). Let them read ‘books for girls’ and ‘books for boys’ and books with themes that might make you uncomfortable.
You never ever know which book will turn on that ‘reader for life’ switch.
3. Get some help
Obviously, finding the right book is the key to engaging kids of any age in reading. It’s getting to the bottom of what they really love about a story – is it the action, the adventure, the humour, the emotion, the friendship – and then finding other books that satisfy that need.
About four years ago, when I was trying to manage a 12-year-old boy who had read his way through the school library shelves and had moved on to Stephen King, as well as a 9-year-old boy who couldn’t seem to move past the Wimpy Kid series, I contacted the wonderful Megan Daley of Children’s Books Daily and we decided we’d create a Facebook community called Your Kid’s Next Read.
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what your child should read next, or how to find the perfect book to re-engage them in reading, this is the group for you.
Because we all need help. I’m an author and I’m very immersed in the Australian publishing industry, but I can’t read every single book that comes out.
As a teacher-librarian, Megan, the author of the book Raising Readers, has a vast knowledge of books for kids, but even she calls upon the wealth of experience contained in our community from time to time.
So, if you want to find a book to reignite your child’s passion for reading, or you’re just not sure if what they want to read is age-appropriate, join the group here and ask.
As Megan, Allison Rushby (the third member of our admin team) and I like to say, it takes a village to raise a reader. We’d love to have you in ours.
About the Author
A.L. Tait is the author of three series full of action, adventure and mystery for middle-grade readers, including The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and The Maven & Reeve Mysteries. Find out more at allisontait.com.