As writers of books for kids, we must understand why kids pick books up and why kids put books down. And as parents, we need to understand the enormous benefits books hold for our kids. Problem is, there are so many distractions for kids these days. And, so many options kids have when it comes to occupying their time, that picking up a book is not always high on their agendas.
But, for the sake of this article, let’s say that Netflix is on the blink, you’ve lost the TV remote, and the kids aren’t the slightest bit interested in their phones. Let’s say, for arguments sake, that our kids have picked up a book and decided to see what all the fuss is about. What would it take to keep kids reading and not put the book down?
Reading with a chance of tacos
I’ve done some research through my role at Reading with a chance of tacos: reviewing books, writing a blog on kids books, interviewing parents, teachers, authors, illustrators, publishers and kids over the past few years, and I’ve noted 5 main reasons kids might put that book down.
- Don’t relate to the characters
- It feels too familiar
- There is no tension
- It’s bad writing
- There’s nothing to get passionate about
Kids don’t relate to the characters in the book
If a child can’t relate to the characters, it makes it impossible for them to get into the book. The book must show a character’s complexities, strengths, weaknesses and struggles. They can’t be clichéd or didactic. And, most importantly, a character must be relatable, super interesting and striving toward a worthwhile goal. If you plan on writing a story for kids, you might want to introduce your main character early, especially in picture books. Because the sooner the reader connects with the main character, the sooner they’ll be invested in the story.
It feels too familiar
So many themes do the rounds time after time in all genres. We’ve all read about pirates and fairies, witches and wizards. And, I imagine these themes will still be coming out years from now. And that’s fine, as long as there is originality in each story. Kids know when you’re just rehashing some old story, and they’ll put it down straight away. Life is too short, even when you’ve got your whole life in front of you, and especially in the midst of so many other things competing for children’s attention.
There’s no tension
There is one thing every story in the world must have. It’s one of the first things kids are taught at school, and it’s something they’ll pick up on immediately. Conflict! Without some sort of tension, books can be yawn boring. Nobody wants to see their heroes face zero obstacles. They want the kitchen sink thrown at them and they want to witness their struggles. Heck, they want to be the hero and feel the struggles. Without realistic obstacles, kids aren’t going to be excited at all.
Children are some of the best judges of a good story. There are some lazy authors who still believe you can get away with writing any old thing for kids. But, that is so so far from the truth. Often, children’s books need to have a shorter word count, yet the story still needs to have characterisation, a story structure – a beginning, middle and end, tension, a hero, a villain, a beginning that wows and an ending that ties everything together, or kids will not be able to, or want to, follow it. This can take painstaking hours, weeks and even years for the conscientious writer and publisher to have every word earn its place, and make a great story appear so simple and easy to follow.
There’s nothing to get passionate about
Similar to no tension, Kids want to sink their teeth into a story that meets their needs. Stories must enhance their imagination or image of the world. If it’s just another basic tale of what people think kids get up to, then there is not going to be anything for these kids to get passionate about. Understand that children are complex people with a variety of interests, so do your research to discover what a good story should be about.
Why is reading so important?
When we offer kids the type of books they want to read and stick with, the benefits are as follows:
When children enjoy the experience of reading, their memory of the story, the comprehension of the story, and the world around them, becomes greater.
Reading can assist children in developing basic language skills and increase their vocabulary
The language we use in everyday life is often limited, but through reading and losing themselves in the pages of a good book, their language inherently grows.
Reading is a great way to inspire a thirst for knowledge and the knowledge to quench that thirst
This keeps going round and round, and with the world at their feet these days, the potential for learning is immense.
Reading develops imagination and creativity
We enjoy a good book when the author takes us on a journey. This stimulates our brain and requires we use our imagination to create the world in our minds. This can also be a great trigger for our own creativity at the same time.
Children read as a form of entertainment
We live in a very electronic, TV, video game focused world. Sometimes even kids want a break from all the go, go, go. And, the great thing with reading is that it can be an escape from all this, while also having a wide range of benefits.
To bond with others
Children are no different to adults when they’ve read something that has wowed them. They want to share it with others. Especially when those experiences are of a new world or adventure they’ve been lost in. And, of course, don’t underestimate humour here. Kids love to share a funny story with their friends and family. And, there’s no better way of bonding than through laughter.
So, there you have it. A list of why kids put books down and a list of benefits of reading a good book. I hope this helps you either as a parent to find the right books, or as an author to write the books kids want to read. Now, where’s that darn TV remote?
At Reading with a chance of Tacos, we aim to review the books kids love to read. And, our PODCAST endeavours to bring you interviews with the best in the writing, illustrating and publishing business.