Let kids read what they like

NEW YORK • In an age of so many distractions outside of demanding school work, is reading an endangered habit among children?

James Patterson, 70, the best- selling American mystery writer and now children's book author, knows the demands on kids' time and wants to arrest any slide in reading.

The author, who is teaming up with former United States president Bill Clinton to pen a novel, has walked the talk by donating US$1.75 million (S$2.4 million) to support classroom libraries around the country.

Here, he gives some tips based on his years as a father and as a writer to fan the reading interest among the young.

Tell us about your son and trying to get him to read. When Jack was eight, he wasn't a big reader. He's a bright kid but wasn't a big reader.

That summer, we said: "You're going to read every day." He said "Do I have to?"

They can read fun stuff. So much reading they are forced to do is just tedious. That is not the way. It should be more of a joyful experience.

AUTHOR JAMES PATTERSON on encouraging children to pick up a book

And we told him: "You have to, unless you want to live in the garage. But we're going to go out and find books you really enjoy."

So we looked for books he would like. They ranged from Percy Jackson to A Wrinkle In Time.

By the end of summer, he had read a dozen books and his reading ability soared. It got him going.

For kids who are going to be pretty good readers anyway, you want to broaden their interests.

They will be better citizens, voters and spouses. Which is really important, we are finding.

But even more important to me are the kids at risk.

You have come out as a bit of an advocate for younger readers. Why did this start? The big stimulus, my agent just said, you are really good at getting people to keep turning the pages.

And that is so vital for kids.

They have got to keep turning the pages.

So we started the (children's book) imprint at Little, Brown, called Jimmy Patterson.

When a kid finishes a Jimmy book, he says: "Please give me another book" as opposed to "I don't like books". What should parents and educators do to help kids be engaged during long school holidays and get reading? The key is kids just need to read a couple of hours each week. And they can read fun stuff.

I spoke at a conference for middle school principals in New York City and I said: Convince these kids to read more for fun.

So much reading they are forced to do is just tedious.

That is not the way, especially with little kids, to get them to read.

It should be more of a joyful experience. Why is it important for kids to be readers? I tell parents that you teach your kid to ride a bike, catch a ball. That is good. But keeping them reading, that is the most important thing.

Why? Because you are building their character, preparing them for school, for life.

Preparing them for choices.

They are going to learn about the other way people think.

If they do not become a competent reader, their choices will be limited.

You also have something called Read Kiddo Read. What is that? The whole spirit of that is to provide book suggestions at various levels that will turn your kids on.

You can pick out with your kids 10 books that might be interesting, go online or whatever and you have a head start.

A lot of people are intimidated by book stores.

So for any upcoming long school break, what should parents do? Just enforce it.

It's tough love a little bit. The important thing is getting them books that they are going to love.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 21, 2017, with the headline 'Let kids read what they like'. Print Edition | Subscribe