On Parenting: Scholastic's Maggie McGuire on getting kids reading during the summer

May 28, 2014

Maggie McGuire from Scholastic joins On Parenting's Amy Joyce to take questions about how to get your children reading over the summer vacation.

Amy Joyce: Good morning, everyone. We are here with Maggie McGuire of Scholastic to talk about summer reading, encouraging kids to read even (!) when not in school and, well, anything else reading and book related you would like. In fact, she wrote a great post for us detailing 5 ways to get kids reading. It's a good starting point for today's discussion.

I feel like since we're talking about books and reading today, we should mention Maya Angelou here, who died today. She was a big reason I ended up an English lit major and she's the only thing I really remember from attending the Clinton inauguration my first year of college here in D.C. (Yes, I'm that old.) I'm sure more than a few teens have "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" on their summer reading list. To that I say: You don't know what a treasure you have waiting on your shelf.

Okay, onward. Ask away!

Maggie McGuire: Good Morning, everyone! I'm thrilled to be joining Amy and can't wait to talk about how to get kids really excited about books and reading over the summer. I do want to take a moment to honor Maya Angelou and her incredible contributions not only as a writer and poet but as a role model for our kids - a creative force who used her voice in powerful ways. She is a true inspiration for us all.

So with that...let's talk about inspiring our kids!

I spent lots of time every summer plowing through piles of books. I don't see that same trait in my 3rd grade son. What's going on there, and what can you recommend so he can learn what a joy it is to get lost in a book? Any good book recommendations for this age?

Maggie McGuire: This is such a great issue to talk about. First, your role modeling is one of the most important ways to inspire kids to read...so don't stop pouring over books in front of and with your son. It does have a HUGE impact. But, you're asking how can you get him to want to plow through piles of books...start with tapping into what he's interested in and find reading material of any and all kinds. Magazines, graphic novels, news articles, websites with info and graphics that tap into his interests...they all count! Not every kid reads novels - at least in the beginning - but all kids have interests and passions. Love baseball? Grab baseball cards, bios on great players, read the sport page in newpaper...does he love Minecraft? You'll be amazed to know that kids who are playing Minecraft are pouring over the new books about secrets and game hints, strategies and building ideas. They are really well done. Hopefully this sampling gives you an idea of where to start. If you tell me what he's interested in -- even genres, I can give you a few ideas. To note, we know that 92% of kids who choose their own books are more likely to complete the book than those who did not have a choice.

My 10 year old is interested in science and engineering (but is behind in reading skills). Can you recommend any books for him, either to read himself or for us to read to him?

Maggie McGuire: I'd love to recommend some terrific space and science themed reads for your 10 year old. Check out the Discover More series -- there's a fantastic Technology edition that my boys (9 and 11) LOVE. It's goes through the decades of science discoveries in the field of technology. Here's a link to a list of great space themed reads http://www.scholastic.com/parents/blogs/scholastic-parents-raise-reader/parents-10-favorite-books-about-space-kids.

(Amy here)

So, Maggie, we have lots of readers and freelancers who offer up suggestions for children's literature and books that they think will keep kids' attention. What are some of your favorites? What would you suggest for a reluctant reader?

Maggie McGuire: Oh...this is one of my favorite questions but it is also SOOOOO hard to choose. I'm a huge fan of reading aloud to my boys (9 and 11) and here are a few of my absolute favorite read alouds:


You can also check out a list of 100+ read alouds that parents shared with us on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page. It's a super list and covers picture books, chapter series, novels, fairy tales, etc. http://www.scholastic.com/parents/blogs/scholastic-parents-raise-reader/100-books-parents-say-they-love-to-read-aloud-their-kids

What are your favorite children's fiction books? Can you recommend a book for kids in early elementary school, for upper elementary, for middle school and for high school?

Maggie: So many favorites. Here are a few for each age bracket:

Early elementary kids love series that follow or feature a key characters or characters. Try The Magic Treehouse Series (Jack and Annie go on amazing adventures all over the world and back in time), Henry and Mudge, June B. Jones, Gernonimo Stilton, A to Z Mysteries and Captain Underpants to name a few.

For Upper Elementary (4th-6/7th grade) the Percy Jackson series is beloved by most kids, Harry Potter series...for real fantasy lovers try the Redwall series, Artemis Fowl, The Underland Chronicles and The False Prince trilogy. My boys LOVED all of these. There's so many more...I'll try to get to them all in this hour chat!

My rising second-grader is anti-princess, but loves reading. She's been reading Katie Kazoo and the Fancy Nancy chapter books. Any other series you would recommend for her?

Amy Joyce: At OnParenting, we do a weekly book review by a parent called "What We're Reading." What you mention (about the anti-princess) is a similar sentiment to something Alison Klein wrote for us when she wrote about her daughter and the Magic Treehouse series. My son is really enjoying that right now as well (we're onto the Revolutionary War at the moment). Another very anti-princess series my nieces liked, and my son is getting into is Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke. My son is also a rising 2nd grader and he and I are reading the No. 1 Car Spotter by Atinuke right now. (It's been a fun read for me, which is a real treat!)

Maggie: If you haven't already read this, Pippi Longstockings, while not written recently, is an absolute must. She's got moxy. She's the coolest girl in literature. I'd also recommend The Little House on the Prairie series -- it's all about surviving, strong women, family and friendships.  More recent publications I'd recommend for her -- if she likes mystery, try the Cam Jansen books. If she's into fantasy, The Wings of Fire series (there are 5 now) is excellent. Not sure if she's at a reading level yet for Harry Potter, but she will love Hermione, Harry and Ron's adventures at Hogwarts. Also try Flora and Ulysses. I just finished reading Harriet the Spy to my boys (9 and 11) and the LOVED it. She's a classic.

Do you have any suggestions for a precocious 11-year-old? She reads at an adult level, is very much in to fantasy and horror, and is the type to resent anything labeled a "chapter book"--not because she doesn't like reading books with chapters but because, as she says, "books for adults are just 'books,' whether they have chapters or not--'chapter books' are for kids." But that said, she's still 11--a rising 6th grader--and stuff like Stephen King will give her nightmares. Do you know anything that's at her reading level but is appropriate for her age?

Amy Joyce: How about the Chronicles of Narnia? I got so lost in those as a tween. But I think there weren't all the other Twilight/Hunger Games type of options. The Chronicles can sort of be as complicated as a kid will let them be, but I wonder if she might think those too young. It's like you can't put the genie back in the bottle...

Maggie: I do! I have a voracious 11 year old reader who LOVES fantasy. Here are a few of his favorite reads lately:

The Beyonders series, Rangers Apprentice series, the Redwall series, Artemis Fowl, Fablehaven series and the Bartimaeus series.

A recent "spooky" read that's not quite Stephen King and is age appropriate but "cool" that he loved was Lockwood & Company, The Screaming Staircase. He loved it.

Why have some books, such as Ramona or Judy Blume, endured so well even though culture has changed (Ramona's father smokes--shudder!--but she is still as entertaining as ever)?

Amy Joyce: Remember how she left notes in his cigarette packs to try to get him to quit? And both Pippi Longstocking and Little House have references that would make today's parents shudder. But I guess that makes for interesting bedtime conversations. Maggie? Why do they endure, and how do you talk to kids about things that are really big no-nos now?

Maggie: Kids identify with these characters. These characters are living challenging, unfamiliar situations that in some ways our kids aren't familiar with in today's world and they have to figure things out on their own. They are from a different era when kids were much more independent and exposed to the adult world in ways kids today may not be. These characters are all independent and courageous - attributes kids aspire to. Kids want to be seen as being adventurous, courageous and independent. They live vicariously via these characters. They are enduring. It's a great idea to read these stories with or along side your kids and talk about what they love about these stories and characters - they make for great book group discussions.

My 7 year old is begging to read these books, which I think skew a little toward older children. What age range do you recommend them for (content wise, not reading level)?

Amy Joyce: I'm having the same issue. My husband's take was "He's reading! Let him." And so we rode it out. He got bored and stopped reading because he couldn't understand a lot of it. I heard Timmy Failure is a good alternative, but I haven't checked those out yet myself. Maggie? Thoughts?

Maggie: If you can give me a sense of what you think your 7 year old liked best about these books I can give you a few suggestions. Was it the graphic novel like feel? The diary format? Humor?

We understand it is a work to get kids reading during summer. How about suggestion to get bilingual kids to read different language books in the summer? any suggestion for time allocation?

Maggie: Can I ask...are you looking for ways to get your bilingual kids to read outside of their primary language or tips to get kids reading in a second language?

I feel as though I've tried everything to get my 12 year old to read. When he does love a book, he's all in but finding such a read is tough. Me, spouse, and 16 YO brother all love to read and do so frequently. Younger son, I believe, is asserting his independence by "hating to read." What do I do for summer? Leading him to the library and letting him pick his own books isn't sufficient - he'll need continued monitoring or.....something. Oh, he is smart and well above grade average.

Maggie: Sounds like the issue isn't about his capabilities in reading but more focused on his interest in it. Here's few thoughts. Sometimes I "plant" reading material in the house...on the coffee table, at the breakfast table, in the kids' rooms without letting them know that I put it there. I tap into their interests - got my son some books on WWII because he was obsessed with it for a while and just left them for him without making a big deal about it - letting him discover them on his own. I also advocate for magazines and news and reading material that is based on topics he's interested in...what are a few of his interests and I'll give you a book for that? Last thought - I talk to my kids about the books I'm reading all the time - not to get them to read those books, but to show them how entertaining reading can be and how it leads to all kinds of discussions. Try sharing your reading with him. Role model.

Well, I think it's mostly the allure of knowing all the other kids are reading them and she wants to be part of the crowd. And I think she likes the humor.

Maggie: Completely get it. I faced the same situation with these books. I agree that these books are geared more toward middle school themes - that said, I did let my boys read them when they were interested in them...because they were reading! I read them too and talked with them about the storylines along the way:) But, here are some other books that I think your 7 year old reader will like - and are very popular reads (making them the reading trendsetter): Babymouse graphic novels, The Strange Case of Oragami Yoda series, Spirit Animals series, The 39 Clues series (great adventure series that take kids all over the globe on a hunt to save the world) and Ivy and Bean books.

Amy here. Maggie, I've heard from teachers and people like the wonderful Mo Willems that graphic novels/books used to be so looked down upon, but now are a good thing for kids, particularly if they aren't necessarily into reading. Do you know many graphic books for kids and have a recommendation ... or several? And do you have thoughts on the graphic book as a revived genre for the younger reader?

Maggie: I'm a HUGE fan of graphic novels and my boys love them too. They count as "real" reading!! When I taught middle school, I had bookshelves of them too. Here are some fantastic graphic novel series kids love:


Missile Mouse


Silver Six

Indiana Jones graphic novels were a favorite of my boys

Star Wars graphic novels

Artemis Fowl graphic novels



Amy here again. It might be fun to end this discussion with this question. What were your favorite reads as a child, Maggie? Do tell.

Maggie: Oh my gosh...so hard because I loved so many books. Here are a few:

Winnie the Pooh books (still love them for their humor and wisdom)

Little Women (definitely a coming of age read for me)

Harriet the Spy (I wanted to be her!!)

The Little House on the Prairie series (read them all many times)

LOVED Nancy Drew (thought I'd be a detective some day)



Thanks for joining us today, Maggie and readers. Lots of good tips and good titles here. I can't wait to dig in myself.

For those of you who would like our parenting news delivered to your inbox, sign up for our new newsletter here. And check out OnParenting all the time for new stories, essays and yes, book reviews by parents, for parents.

Lots of fun talking to you today, Maggie! Thanks much, and happy reading everyone.

Maggie: Thank you so much for inviting me into this discussion. So many great questions and passionate parents who love reading. For more ideas on how to keep kids reading all summer long check out the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge (www.scholastic.com/summer) and whatever you do or wherever you go this summer bring the joy of reading along. Have fun and Happy Reading!!

In This Chat
Amy Joyce
Amy Joyce has been at The Post, well, for a long time. Her first foray in to online chats were related to work. Now she's happy to chat about fun (but would like to believe the two can be one). She has been a Business reporter, editor for Weekend and the Going Out guide, and is now editing and writing for OnParenting.
Maggie McGuire
Maggie McGuire works at Scholastic as the vice president for eScholastic, Kids and Parents Channels. She oversees development for Scholastic's kids and parent Web sites. She also spent eight yearsas a Language Arts and Literature teacher (grades 7 to 10) and as a teacher trainer and curriculum development designer. She holds an MA in Educational Theater from New York University and a BA in English Literature and Philosophy from Boston College and lives with her husband and two sons in Brooklyn, NY.
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