How Can We Normalize Reading?

Lately, I’ve been struck by how society seems to assume that children do not read.  I’ve seen Bingo prize tables full of toys but no books.  Raffle baskets with themes like “Movie Night” and “Board Game Night” but no “Curled Up with a Good Book Night.”  Donation requests for movie theatre gift cards, school supplies, and games–but no books.  When adults think of “fun” things children like, books apparently do not make the list.

However, what if we could change that?  Instead of assuming that children do not like to read or will not read, what if we assumed that they do and will?  Simply acting like reading is an enjoyable activity that people naturally do could make it become so.  After all, children who live in a world where books are scarce and never presented as a fun option are unlikely to associate reading with pleasure instead of schoolwork.  But children who are surrounded by books and who see books placed alongside fun activities like sports or games may start to perceive reading as something that people do for entertainment–not just something students are forced to do.

Creating a culture of reading means bringing books to people.  And we already have many ways of doing just that.  Non-profit organizations hand out free books for children.  Schools sometimes mail home free books to students over the summer–books they can keep.  Little free libraries make books easy to access in communities where children may not be able to walk easily to the public library.  All these are wonderful, creative initiatives!

However, I think we can go farther.  The initiatives I listed in the above paragraph specifically offer only books and thus are likely to appeal mainly to already avid readers.  (Would a nonreader go to a book event to receive a free book?  Or be excited to receive a book in the mail?  Possibly not.)  I propose that we add books to events and activities not primarily about reading, so that children can see others assume reading is a fun pastime.

The possibilities for adding reading to fun events are myriad.  Books can be handed out as prizes for games or competitions–think festivals, community or church fairs, or family picnics.  Books can be offered as prizes at fundraising events–think door prizes for a fundraising night or raffle baskets.  Books can even be donated when collections are taken up for holiday gift-giving.  Simply think of “fun” events where games and toys are given out and add books!

Initially, adding books to different events may feel weird.  After all, we are not accustomed to seeing books make an appearance in many places.  We may fear that people will judge us or that no one will place any raffle tickets in a book basket.  However, real change takes time.  And, eventually, adding a book here and there may make all the difference.

Tips When Donating Books

  • Remember your target audience.  What ages will be present?  Do you know if they have a preference for a certain genre or type of book?
  • For wide appeal, consider current popular trends.  “Who Was” books, graphic novels, or authors like Rick Riordan could be safe bets.
  • If you do not have much money to spend, look for cheaper options such as chapter books.  Chapter books are not any books divided into chapters, but books for new independent readers, usually around a second to third grade reading level.  They typically cost under $5 per book.  Think Owl Diaries, Rainbow Fairies, Purrmaids, etc.
  • Consider the type of book appropriate for each event.  Parents, for instance, may be put off by covers depicting graphic violence.  The idea is to get other adults to encourage children to read, not to make a book selection an upsetting ordeal. So just use your best judgment about what types of book options will make a positive, welcoming experience for all.

Disclaimer: Yes, of course I realize that simply handing people books is not a cure all!  I understand that children need to be encouraged to read at home and to see examples of others reading. This post was never meant to imply that simply giving free books away is going to solve all of society’s problems.  Rather, it was meant to be a reflection on how we can encourage a culture where reading is seen as enjoyable everywhere, not just at home or in school.  It was meant to be a reflection on what could happen if children saw adults and other children excited about reading in everyday situations.  What if they met adults who could point them to good books or who could talk about their favorites or who, instead of spending any free time with a phone, would pick up a book?  What if reading were everywhere?

61 thoughts on “How Can We Normalize Reading?

  1. jenchaos76 says:

    I agree that books should play more of a role in children’s lives than toys and movies. I always bought books for my kids, since they were.toddlers. My daughters are readers. My son is a mathematical genius and computer whiz. In other words, he doesn’t read unless it’s about computers, science.or math.
    If the community started to offer more books, the literacy rate would go up. Kids would choose to read more than play. Libraries would be full.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think offering books is a great start, even if it’s not a complete solution. There are times in my city when there are fantastic literacy initiatives happening–but people don’t show up. Destruction of property has even occurred because some community members don’t value what’s happening. However, I don’t think this is a reason to give up. There are undoubtedly some community members who do value reading and who do need and want increased access to books. Starting small is okay! Reaching just those few people is still a success.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jenchaos76 says:

        Yes. Starting at a young age is critical, especially now. There is so much a young mind can learn just from reading. Even though fiction is my go to, I still harbor love for science and cultural heritage studies.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. CJR The Brit says:

    Books defo need to play a role in a child’s life.

    I really wish that my son loved reading, I mean I do so why doesn’t he 😂

    Maybe if there were more ‘reading prizes’ it may push him in that direction?! He can read, and reads well but his inclination is more outside. He prefers to be outside on bikes, scooters, skates etc so at the moment I just think it’s better than him being stuck on his computer game all the time so I go with it!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Ah, yes, the age-old dilemma! I don’t know why some children don’t like reading! Many of them have parents who love reading so they do have access to books and an example of reading being fun. And yet they’re not into it. Maybe they’re still waiting for the right book to come along.

      Like

            • spicejac says:

              Do you read books in front of him? Have you tried comics/graphic novels? My 11 year old nearly fell off the reading wagon, but we started bookclubbing graphic novels together – it worked. They still play outside, but they come back in and we read together.

              Liked by 1 person

              • spicejac says:

                That’s an idea….I started bookclubbing with mine – we’ve been reading Warhammer books….and I have to admit I’m enjoying them…and we get to talk about….so we’re sharing the love…..plus he sees his Dad and I turn off the tv and pickup a book and have quiet reading time…..

                I’m working at a high school where they’ve instituted 20 minute reading time for each English Class for the Year 7’s and 8’s. The class with the biggest uptake in reading, and improvement in their scores is the one whose Teacher gets out his book at the beginning of class and reads with them. These kids are the most frequent library users too….coincidental??? I don’t think so…

                Liked by 1 person

              • Krysta says:

                Those sound like good ideas, too!

                I will say, though, that sometimes parents do everything “right”–read in front of their kids, provide them with books, take them to fun programs at the library, etc. etc. etc. And, for some reason, there’s no connection! Or maybe one child will love reading and one won’t. Maybe they’re just waiting for their version of Harry Potter to open the way, but it can be challenging! And confusing for the parents who try so hard!

                Like

              • spicejac says:

                My niece is like that, she’s the non reader to a reader mother…..but she is picking up books now she’s become a parent. But that’s taken thirty years for the reading bug to hit. I always tried to get her interested in different books, and it was only the novelizations of the Buffy Series that she read for pleasure when she was a teen. I agree it’s a challenge but there are books out there – you’ve just got to be open to finding them….and that’s a journey too…

                Like

              • CJR The Brit says:

                That’s wonderful! School don’t help. They use staying in reading as a punishment to miss playtime. I told them that’s not the way to do it for my son as it makes him associate it with doing something wrong……but they still carry on.

                Like

              • Krysta says:

                That’s…possibly the worst pedagogy I’ve ever heard of. I understand they probably want the students to do something quiet, but…couldn’t the teachers let them get a head start on homework or help clean the room or something? I guess the punishment is supposed to be no recess and not that they have to read, but obviously children are going to now connect reading with negative feelings. :S

                Like

              • CJR The Brit says:

                Exactly. I said they can get him to tidy up or even stand by the wall and watch others play but please don’t force him to read or it will just make it worse. He actually doesn’t get into trouble that often so there’s that but what a stupid punishment! Mine would be making beds 😂

                Liked by 1 person

              • spicejac says:

                Do you have a school council you can raise this with? Or a school librarian? I agree here – but I do have the only child in their class who when silent reading is announced goes YES and gets out their two books…..

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              • spicejac says:

                It pays to mention these things, we had a parent teacher interview and I found it great to talk to the teacher and we exchanged ways we could extend my child….we’re a team and we’ve got to prioritise what works for our children….

                Like

  3. Kelly Brigid says:

    Wonderful discussion! I firmly believe that books need to be perceived as a more enjoyable activity for young readers. I think it’s a great idea you brought up about offering books as prizes. 💗

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I have been at events where books were offered as prizes and then rejected. XD So it’s not a complete solution. However, I do think it’s still important to reach the kids who do love, want, or need books. And I think that offering books can spark conversations. Maybe a book lover will take a book and share their excitement with a non-reader. And maybe that will spark a little interest that would not have been sparked otherwise.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Shealea says:

    According to a recent qualitative research, providing resources isn’t enough to get people to start reading for leisure. You can throw a million books in someone’s direction, but it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll pick any of them up.

    It was found that an effective way to get someone interested in reading, particularly children, is to read by example. Specifically, children who’ve seen their parents read for leisure tend to eventually start reading, too. And I’d like to think that reading by example can influence not just children but also other people across all ages. 💖

    Great discussion post!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      That’s really interesting, but it also kind of intuitively makes sense to me. I think reading can come across as one of those things that “we make children do because it’s good for them and related to school” instead of something fun that everyone does/should do. So many initiatives (even Summer Reading Programs at most public libraries) are geared at making kids read, and I think it sends the message no one reads of their own volition. My last library even had an adult Summer Reading Program. Everyone would come in, force their kids to join, and then refuse to join themselves.Their kids are going to wonder why they “have” to read when their parents never do.

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    • Krysta says:

      Good point! However, I think providing resources can tie into providing examples. For instance, if a kid is at an event and he sees other kids getting excited about winning books maybe he’ll wonder why. Maybe they’ll walk over and tell him about the cool prize they got. Or maybe he’ll see an adult get excited. For instance, I did bring a book for a Bingo prize. One man wandered over, saw it, and started flipping through. It was a children’s book and he thought it was interesting. Kids can see that. He may even have kids of his own who will ask him why he’s looking at that book or maybe he’ll go over and show it to them. Providing access to books is the starting point. What happens after depends on how people respond.

      Like

  5. booksofstatic says:

    Amazing discussion post!
    This reminded me of a school event way back in elementary where they were having a school fair. They had musical chairs set up(which didn’t even match the whole fair but I’m not complaining) and you couldn’t see the prizes until you won. I played a bunch of times waiting to win because I’m stubborn and curious.
    Eventually I ended up winning and the prizes were between movies and books. Almost all of the movies were gone but the bucket holding the books was still full. In that moment I was happy because I had a lot of books to chose from (and they even let me take two!) but now looking back I am pretty upset that no one seemed to gravitate towards books.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I’ve actually been to events where the coordinators tried to hand books as prizes to children and some chose to walk away empty-handed rather than take a book. I was confused! However, I still think that kind of initiative is important because it does normalize reading as fun, there are children who will take books and chatter excitedly to friends about why they love books, and there are children who need access to more books.

      It is concerning to me that many children see reading as a necessary evil for school, since they do need to grow in literacy skills to be able to succeed in school and even read textbooks about topics they are more interested in. However, I think that it’s also okay to start small and just try to reach the people you can at first, then expand.

      Like

  6. Bridget says:

    This is such a great thought! I was never interested in reading as a kid as it was not presented to me as a fun past time. Now that I’m older and am able to decide what’s fun, I love reading!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I don’t remember at all how or when I began to love reading! So I don’t know whose influence to thank! However, it is encouraging to remember that we can discover a love for a new hobby at any time, not just when we are very young!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. saraletourneau says:

    I LOVE THIS POST. 😀 And I agree with all of your points and suggestions. It makes me think back on my own childhood, since I’m the only reader in my family. My brother has always been a gamer, and neither of my parents spent their spare time reading (that’s still the case now). So I have to thank school (both assignments and book fairs during elementary school) and friends for spurring my love of reading.

    It’s funny, because I was looking at the list of presenters for this year’s Boston Book Festival. It’s an annual (and free!) event held in downtown Boston with events for readers of all ages, including kids activities, children / MG authors reading to children, etc. I usually don’t attend the children’s events, but I remember looking around each year and smiling at how many parents brought their kids and seeing them carry a canvas tote bag of books home with them. 🙂

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      That’s encouraging! It suggests that seeing other people get excited about books, even people outside the home, can be beneficial!

      Wow! That sounds lie a wonderful event! I’m sure some of those kids really love it, too. I like going to the library and seeing kids stagger out with ten or twenty books in hand. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Coffee Ring Books says:

    I am so on board with this! I never really thought about how reading could be made more appealing by putting it next to the usual things in, like you mention, raffle prizes, or something. As an English major, and even more specifically as a Secondary Education English major, it often comes up how people just… aren’t interested in reading. How we’d rather just watch the movie instead of the book. How many students come to college hardly even having read required reading, let alone anything for fun. Even sometimes English majors themselves.

    For me growing up, the main place our mother took my siblings and I to get out of the house to do something was the library. At least in my experience of public libraries in my area of PA/NJ, libraries offer so many amazing, free activities and opportunities that people just aren’t aware of. For me, books have never not been something I’m surrounded by. As you said, the change would take time, and I think we’re starting to see some more effort to put books out there more (ie. the little free libraries have only just started popping up where I live in recent years, but now they are everywhere!), but it’s entirely possible to get kids more into reading if we can normalize it and popularize it next to something like football or Fortnite, and stop making it simply boring and/or “nerdy.”

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I’ve given up on asking people what their favorite book is. I now ask about movies they’ve seen. I’ve had too many people fall into confused silence because they just don’t read!

      I agree! My library offers so much and a lot of people don’t know about it. Like there’s free tutoring available and I can walk by and no one is there! People will pay $30-$50 an hour for tutoring, but a whole city won’t take advantage of free tutoring? Of course, getting there might be an issue for some, but I would have thought this would be a really great service and that, considering the number of children around, SOMEONE would show up. Unless no one knows about this. My library primarily markets internally, so unless you show up there in the first place, you aren’t going to know about anything happening there.

      There is also a problem of accessibility. Statistically, the people who might benefit the most from early literacy programs and such offered at the library don’t show up. Maybe they’re working. Maybe they have no transportation. Maybe they view the library as a government entity and thus with suspicion. But I think that’s why making books accessible everywhere is a good first step.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Grab the Lapels says:

    I always get my nieces and nephew books as presents, but I just realized that I’ve missed an opportunity to get them books that tie into the event, which they’re already excited about. Maybe a Goosebumps book will have a big effect as a Halloween present. Something seasonal for Christmas, etc.

    Michael Chabon noted that people today think kids today are too sophisticated for comic books, but I gave my niece Lenore: The Cute Little Dead Girl, and now it’s her thing. It’s become OUR thing. You can get kids excited about reading if it’s attached to a person. For example, my great grandma got me the entire Anne of Green Gables series when I was a girl. I couldn’t get past that first paragraph, which I now see is one sentence, thus it is complex. BUT, I never got rid of that set because her giving it to me taught me that books are important.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Ooh! I love that idea! I don’t think I’ve ever given a thematic book…. But there are so many possibilities here! Cupcake Day? Cupcake book! Yeah, I’m just reaching here for reasons to give away all the books :b

      Yeah, definitely! I think the personal element is really important. I’ve definitely seen people suddenly read books because they had a crush on someone who liked it. But, there are other reasons a book might be special! I do associate certain books with friends and family and think about them when I read!

      And, what? Comic books are having such a resurgence! I’ve been seeing them on school reading lists. Even ten years ago, that would not have happened. Children love them and adults are finally noticing that comic books are sophisticated.

      Like

  10. spicejac says:

    I think it’s crucial that people see people read. You have to be an active reader to generate enthusiasm with reading. We can’t throw books at kids and expect them to read, when so many of the adult population have their heads burrowed into their electronic devices.

    I read everywhere -and have helped my 11 year old to win prizes for their reading at school – because we sit down and read together. We lay on a bed, a couch, a floor with our books and just read….for the enjoyment.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, that’s true! I see my suggestions as part one of a two-part approach. First we need to get books to people and then we have to make reading actually enticing! I know someone who suggested to me that it would be cool if kids could just walk around and see adults reading–in the cafeteria, on the bus, whatever. But you’re right. Most of them are on their phones and then they yell at kids for doing it!

      Like

      • spicejac says:

        Yep, and that’s the problem. So I’m working at a High School that has initiated a 20 minute reading time in the English classes for the Year 7’s and 8’s – and the class who has had the biggest increase in their scores is the class who has this amazing Teacher who sits in front of the class, opens up his book and reads while they’re reading. He’s actually out there reading alongside. I found the same thing, when I’m reading alongside my own child, they are more likely to pick up a book when they’re feeling bored then the ipad…..it’s like I’ve retrained the brain…..

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          Wow. That’s a pretty impressive thing to have on paper and be able to show the other teachers! Sure, it’s not a magic cure all, but it is still a very effective strategy!

          Like

          • spicejac says:

            I was so impressed when I heard it last night at the staff meeting, I was like this is epic, this shows that we can make improvements…..just by having a collection of books that engages with the students and teachers and makes them excited to come in and try a book today….

            Liked by 1 person

  11. Pumpkin von Spookypants 🎃 🍁🍃 (@ElleyOtter) says:

    We’ve just built books in as a part of our kids’ lives. At Christmas they get clothes and toys and books. Easter baskets come with candy, some small toys and sunglasses and a small book or two. Birthdays it’s a big toy, a new pair of jammies, and a book. BOOKS FOR ALL OCCASIONS! LOL It helps that my husband and I are both big readers, so the boys are just as likely to bring up a book as a video game controller and ask to read with us as to play a game. As far as normalizing reading outside of your own home/family, I love your ideas of making books an option for prizes right alongside toys and games and things. We have a block party every year and we always have books as prizes along with small toys, chalk, coloring books and crayons, and bubbles. The books are always a big hit. We also have a little free library in our neighborhood, and the people who run it have a list of the kids’ birthdays in the neighborhood, and put a small (dollar store) present in their for them on their birthday to encourage them to come to the “library” and “check out” a book while they’re there too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Those all sound like wonderful ideas! There aren’t many little free libraries where I live and sometimes it looks like people pulled old, dusty things from their attics that they want to get rid of–not very enticing for people to stop by! But I love the idea of adding books to holidays and events and, of course, reading with and in front of your kids!

      Like

  12. Annemieke says:

    Offering reading at events is great but it won’t be carried over if there is no room for it at home. Honestly a lot of this lies with the parents. If they don’t normalize it for kids than how can it become normal for kids in society? Here (the Netherlands) we can pick up a case with a few books when your child is 3 months old at the library when you sign them up for the library (up to 18 years it is free, after that we have to pay). They offer various events there with reading and playing. The program is called book start.

    Mine (2) got like 9 books for his birthday last month haha.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, of course! I envisioned this as only part of the solution, obviously not the magic cure all solution! But some parents don’t read at home. Some kids can still be inspired if they see other people they like or admire who read! There are in fact many hobbies and traits I’ve picked up that my parents don’t engage in and frankly don’t remotely understand.

      That’s a cool program! There are some programs where they send out free books to kids under school age, but they’re not available everywhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Charvi says:

    Oh my god exactly! Children need to be exposed to books as mucha s they are exposed to technology! They should be encouraged to read as a hobby, not a mandatory activity. Most people first read books within school where it is compulsory and the stories are boring or not really catering to their interests. This is definitely where the society need to change!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I think reading in school can be difficult both because 1) no one book will ever appeal to every single student, even if teachers chose a popular title and 2) reading with school will always be associated with work and the stress of a grade. So even reading a book someone likes could become a source of stress. So it’s good to see reading as something not solely done as work, but also for fun!

      Like

    • Krysta says:

      The events I’ve been to usually let people select their prizes or which prizes to put raffle tickets in. But I do think a gift card is a great idea!

      Like

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