Tips from author mums on how to raise young readers

Growing up, I devoured books. Reading opens your mind and fuels your imagination and sense of wonder; there really is no other joy like it.

In this age of everything on screens and resulting low attention spans, I’ve been wondering what more I can do so that my children enjoy physical books, and are encouraged to read.

One of the huge benefits of starting Working Mums Club has been connecting with some inspiring mums and learning from them. By tapping into this community, I managed to get some great tips from two incredible mums:

(L2R: Polly Phillips & Payal Doshi with their daughters)

Polly Phillips: Polly Phillips is an author, journalist, avid reader and mum to an 8-year-old. Her debut novel My Best Friend’s Murder won the Montegrappa Writing Prize at the Dubai Emirates Literature Festival in 2019. It is a superb book if you are looking for a fictional page turning murder mystery, you can check it out here. She used to live in Dubai where we met, and currently lives in Australia, although she is originally from the UK.

Payal Doshi: Payal is an author who writes books for age group 8–12. She noticed a lack of Indian protagonists in global children’s fiction and hence was born Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, the first book of The Chronicles of Astranthia trilogy and also her debut novel. Payal was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and 3-year-old daughter.

Here are their tips on how we can raise young readers:

Payal: No matter how young your child is; books have a huge positive impact on their development. Introduce your kids to books as early as 3-months old. The tactile act of turning pages, and seeing shapes, colours, and words together can go a long way in the cognitive development of their little minds.

Polly: As a baby, I read to my daughter constantly. I would sit down with her multiple times a day on a special chair I called “the story time chair”. It didn’t matter what I read — though I chose the usual “that’s not my…” series as well as traditional fairytales, books from my childhood and bright books with lots of pictures. It became part of our routine and very normal.

Payal: With toddlers and younger kids, it’s important for them to see books as their ‘friends’ and as objects that bolster their confidence. If a child is given a book that is too difficult to comprehend, chances are they will not want to engage in reading because they feel too challenged by it. If you find that your child barely shows interest in reading, choose silly or funny books, or books on their interests (like for e.g. trains, princesses, etc.) that might help draw them in.

Payal: Reading aloud to your child is one of the best ways to bond with them. As a parent, you can dramatize your voice to add more interest, intrigue, and even silliness to the story being read.

As your child begins to read, role playing with books is a great activity. My 3-year old and I love reading aloud the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. My daughter will pick either character to voice and I the other. Not only does her reading ability improve, but we have a great time acting out our voices and all the silly things the characters do.

Polly: Books by Julia Donaldson for example, that have such a great rhythm to them, are fun to read and I think kids really enjoy the way our voices go up and down as we read them.

Polly: I think one of the main things that helped my daughter become a reader is seeing me devour books. Like every mum, I’m guilty of spending too long falling down Instagram holes on my phone but I also spend a lot of time reading. I always have a book in my hand. I think she saw that as normal because I was doing it all the time.

I always have a book in my hand. I think she saw that as normal because I was doing it all the time.

Payal: Once your child starts to show an interest in reading, get them a library card! Make going to the library a part of your routine and visit bookstores to browse the latest releases and have them pick a book or two! This will continue to foster their love for books.

Polly: I really enjoy taking my daughter to public library and bookshops and letting her touch and feel books. Giving her that autonomy and letting her feel like she was actively choosing things as a toddler really helped. It felt grown up and exciting to her.

Payal: This is probably the most important of all tips. Don’t force your child to read. If they are reluctant to read, find other ways to introduce books and reading into their life. Look at magazines, e-readers, graphic novels, encyclopedias, or try listening to audio books with them. Remember, not every child turns out to be an avid reader no matter how hard we try as parents, and that’s okay!

Polly: I kept reading I guess. Lightbulb moment was Harry Potter — we’ve read all of those together and now she’s a bit older, we’re reading classics like Ballet Shoes, which she enjoys and I loved from my childhood. Again, seeing my enthusiasm I think helps keep her interested.

AND, a wee tip from me, if I may:

We have a small book rack of only children’s books in the kids play area that they often reach out and grab a book themselves. We also keep books in the car; my daughter often asks for a book if she sees it in the holder behind the driver seat, and will flip through it for a few minutes before we start driving.

Happy reading!

Polly and Payal have recommended a whole list of books they love to read with their kids, you can see them here.

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If you like what you read and are a working mum, maybe you will like my newsletter on Substack — The Working Mums Club. Goal is to bring together working mums to learn from each other as we strive to have better careers and be better mums. Sign up!

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