Tips and book recommendations that both you and your little ones will love
By, Melina Bellows,
Published May 03, 2023
Since my children were little, their grandparents have been sending them snippets clipped from magazines and newspapers in the mail. With headlines like “World’s Largest Snake” and “Chocolate is health food,” grandma edits the world’s news according to the changing interests of my now-teenage son and daughter. Not only do my kids delight in the strange and random tidbits, but the shared information gives our three generations fun conversation fodder when we all convene.
Inspired by my parents’ quirky curation, I wrote a series of books called Totally Random Questions, 101 Wild and Weird Questions and Answers. Just like it sounds, this eight-part, photo-driven series is a totally random curation of topics ranging from space and science to animals and sports. The content is purposefully high-interest for the 8- to 12-year-old crowd, but because it’s about the real world, adults have been finding it fascinating too.
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But it can take more than a fun book to encourage kids to read. I spoke with some experts about how grandparents can help foster a love for reading — and deepen their connections to their grandchildren in the process. Their tips include:
1. Don’t push your old favorites on them. “Don’t say ‘You will love this book I read when I was your age,’ ” counsels Donna Wells, director of the children and teens department at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC. “Rather than expecting them to like what you like, enter their world and explore their interests.”
2. Keep their ages and reading abilities in mind. Remember to meet your grandchildren wherever they are, in terms of reading interests and skills. Attention spans change rapidly as kids grow up, and keeping pace without adding the pressure of expectation can be tricky.
3. Make books easily accessible to visiting grandkids. Keep great reads “in every room of the house … even in the bathroom if potty training,” suggests Kit Ballenger, a youth services librarian and founder of Help Your Shelf, children’s literary consulting.
4. Let them know you’re reading if they see you doing so on a device. Many of us read books on e-readers like Kindles or iPads, but “when they see you looking at a digital device, they won’t necessarily know that you’re reading. It can look like you are playing video games,” Ballenger says. You want to model your love for books.
5. Maintain an attitude of joy related to reading. Taking grandchildren to libraries or bookstores, while emphasizing how they can be fun, is a wonderful shared experience. If you don’t live close enough to grandchildren for many in-person adventures, Ballenger suggests subscribing to library and bookstore newsletters in both their town and yours. “This can help you stay up on new series releases by a favorite author, which will also give you something to talk about [together],” she says. You can also find out if a favorite author will be in town for a book talk or signing that you can attend.
6. Don’t overdo it. Ballenger reminds adults to stop reading when the child shows signs of fatigue. “Be attuned to their endurance, which will vary,” she suggests. Some nights one short chapter is plenty. Try to figure out if the kid wants to quit because they’re tired, or it’s not the right book. “It’s OK to quit the book if it’s boring,” she adds.
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Book suggestions for babies, elementary school kids, and middle schoolers
Ages 0–5: Board books, picture books
Reading picture books to this age group can be a poignant way to reconnect with memories of raising and reading with your own children. Share stories about what your grandchild’s mom or dad was like at that age. Look for books with visually engaging illustrations, minimal text per page, an exciting story, and high-interest page turns. Kids love an unexpected ending or twist.
Books to consider:
Grumpy Monkey (books 1–6) by Suzanne Lang
Maybe by Kobi Yamada
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
Ages 6–9: Early readers and some middle-grade chapter books
At this stage, kids typically start reading themselves but still enjoying being read to. Books aimed at these early readers have more text and fewer illustrations. They might have chapters, a story arc, and be part of a series with recurring characters — helping kids build a level of familiarity and comfort with the books.
Books to consider:
The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne
The Imagineers (books 1 and 2) by Honor Raconteur
The Magnificent Makers (books 1–6) by Theanne Griffith, illustrations by Reggie Brown
A Boy Called Bat (books 1–3) by Elana K. Arnold
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Ages 10–14: Middle-grade fiction, graphic novels and young-adult adaptations of adult books
With graphic novels, it can be fun for the grandchild to introduce grandparents to their favorite characters and even take the lead in helping grandparents get the hang of moving panel to panel while reading aloud. “If getting dramatic is in your comfort zone, try out different voices,” suggests Ballenger. “Graphic novels cue how to emphasize the text.”
And many fantastic adult bestsellers have adaptations for young adults. The grandparent can read either the adult version separately or the abridged book along with the grandchild. “Typically, they are half the length,” says Wells. “Some, like Michelle Obama’s Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers, have added photos.
Books to consider:
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (a Newbery Award winner), illustrations by Dawud Anyabwile
Real Friends (books 1–3) by Shannon Hale, illustrated by Leuyen Pham
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
Young-adult adaptions of bestsellers
Unstoppable Us: How Humans Took Over the World, Volume 1 by Uval Noah Harari (adapted from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind)
Quiet Power: The Secret Strength of Introverted Kids by Susan Cain (adapted from Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking)
The Sum of Us: How Racism Hurts Everyone by Heather McGhee (adapted from The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together)
Melina Bellows is the author of the series Totally Random Questions, 101 Wild and Weird Questions and Answers, and president of Fun Factory Press, a publishing business specializing in children’s nonfiction content.