Motivate struggling readers with joke books, comics and other “junky” reads

Motivating reluctant readers
Reluctant reader Wenxin loves a good joke book. Photo credit: Dana (used with her permission)

Learning to read is a big — and loaded — milestone for kids. So much academic focus gets placed on reading that when a child is struggling, parents and teachers naturally worry.

Dana's simple hack of using humor to dial down reading anxiety for her son Wenxin could apply to any struggling reader:

From "Motivating Reluctant Readers:"

Wenxin is learning that reading is fun. And I'm learning a few things as well. I'm learning that reading a joke book counts, and that reading a graphic novel counts, and that pushing a little isn't always a bad thing.

I encourage you to read the full post at Dana's blog because she makes moving and important points about confronting her inner book snob and knowing when to push a little.

I have spoken to so many friends whose kids pushed through the initial struggle to read because of funny (some might say "junky") books like the Captain Underpants or Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

In my opinion, all age-appropriate reading is good reading. Interest begets motivation.

Which books kicked off your child's interest in reading?

More "learning to read" hacks at Parent Hacks:


  1. says

    For my son, it was Calvin and Hobbes books. He wanted to read these *so* badly in first grade so we bought him a few of the bigger compendiums for Christmas and he used them to become a proficient reader.

  2. says

    My children are currently powering through the series including “Miss Daisy is Crazy!” by Dan Gutman. They also like the Geronimo Stilton series, and the Secrets of Droon (though those are more junky than funny). The Franny K. Stein series is all right.

    Dav Pilkey’s Dragon books are great. The Ricky Ricotta series, not so good.

    Am I right in thinking that this format is new, and Captain Underpants showed the way? Anyway I’m all for it!

  3. Jenn says

    My daughter fell in love with the Lunch Lady comics. She could read before that, but the Lunch Lady was where reading just “clicked.” I especially love that there are dad cartoonists who want better role models for their daughters and are writing awesome books like “Giants Beware” and “Zita, Space Girl.” We’re both eagerly waiting to see what happens next with both those books. I also used the comic version to introduce my daughter to the Wind in the Door series.

  4. Becky says

    I think the “Bone” graphic novels were the trick that catapulted my reluctant reader into books. He then went through a My Weird School phase, along with the A-Z Mysteries, and the next things I knew, he was tackling Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson books… although there are still the odd Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield books floating through the house. It’s all reading, and it’s all good. :)

  5. Betsy says

    I hate Garfield, but that was the magic breakthrough. Garfield is a mean nasty little cat, but he has moved my kids through the stages. Like the person above said : It’s all reading, and it’s all good. :) But Garfield needs some serious time outs.

  6. Erin says

    Betsy, I’m laughing at your Garfield comment! Both of my kids (boy and girl) went through a Garfield phase and I totally don’t get it. I’m definitely of the opinion that any reading is good reading. Tiny Toons and Franklin Richards are good comics (check for the collections on Amazon). Oh, and there is now a Spongebob comic book that comes out monthly. My husband takes the kids to the comic shop once a month to get the latest. My first grader LOVES it. And comic books are still really inexpensive so they can buy a few.

    For slightly older boys, Andy Griffiths has a series that starts with “Just Stupid!” that my nine-year-old has devoured.

  7. says

    I can relate to being a book snob, but I also know my husband didn’t really become a reader until after high school, when he was able to read things that he wanted to read. So as long as my kids are interested in appropriate books or magazines, I say let ‘em read!

  8. Sarah says

    When my 10-year-old cousin was interested in sports and not much else, let alone school or reading, my dad got him a subscription to Sports Illustrated (this was before there was a kids version) and that seemed to help.

  9. says

    Where the Sidewalk Ends got my kids super into reading at an early age. Every night it was “just one more, mom! Just one more!” Until they started reading it on their own. I love now hearing them memorize the poems the way I did when I was a kid.

  10. Asha Dornfest says

    LOVE THESE BOOK SUGGESTIONS! The problem for so many is that when reading fluency is slow to emerge, the only books around are for much younger kids, and are therefore BORING.

    @andibuchanan made the great point on Twitter that text-heavy video games are also great for emerging readers. My daughter practiced reading in the beginning (without realizing it) playing a simple DS game (not a “reading” game; a regular game that involved text instructions and character dialog).

  11. says

    this is a very valuable suggestion.. the so called “junky” books can at least get the child interested in reading and he can graduate to more “serious” books later..