"You can't read that."

More often than I would like, I have watched a child excitedly take a book off one of the library’s shelves only to be told by his or her parent (or other accompanying adult), “You can’t read that.” The adults in these scenarios don’t mean that the children aren’t allowed to read the books; rather, they mean that the children “can’t” read the books—the adults have decided the children aren’t skilled enough readers to get through the chosen books.

Watching this happen over and over makes me sad.

It may be true that the eight- or nine-year-old boy that picked up a copy of The Hunger Games from our free book bin earlier this week isn’t yet reading on a high enough level to recognize all of the words that Suzanne Collins uses or comprehend the text (the accompanying adult has a better idea than I do of what the child is capable of), but that doesn’t mean the child has to put the book down and choose something else. When a child is excited about a book that may be too difficult for him to read, instead of saying, “You can’t read that,” here are two simple things that parents, grandparents, and other adults can say instead:

“Let’s take the book home and read it together.”

“Let’s check out the audiobook so we can listen to it together.”

Reading the book aloud to the child or listening to the audiobook version with him is a far better option than denying the child access to the book he has chosen. What this means, parents and guardians of children, is: If your child wants to read a book that she isn’t capable of reading on her own yet, read it with her.

After all, reading together is important. In fact, children who are read to enjoy reading more. Consider this: Research by Scholastic shows that “only 35% of nine-year-olds report reading 5–7 days a week compared to 57% of eight-year-olds.” Also, “the number of kids who say they love reading drops significantly from 40% among eight-year-olds to 28% among nine-year-olds” (Source). This drop in the love of reading (Scholastic calls it the “decline by nine”) happens at about the same time that parents stop reading aloud to their children: “While a majority of families read aloud 5–7 days a week before a child enters kindergarten (55%), this percentage begins to decline dramatically with each additional year of age.” 45% of parents still report reading aloud to their six- to eight- year old children, but only 21% of parents report reading aloud to their nine- to eleven-year-old children (Source).

If you want your child to enjoy reading, let her read the books that she wants to read. If your nine-year-old wants to read The Hunger Games, but he is likely to be discouraged by the difficulty of the text, read it to him and explain it as you go. Find a time that works for your family: perhaps before or after dinner, during bath time, before bed, or while waiting for the school bus in the morning (and if you drive, you can play the audiobook in the car on the way to school), and read together!