Winning the Reading Battle

So much of early reading success is about confidence and enjoyment.

Everyone likes to be good at things and no-one likes to be reminded about things they can’t do.

If we have have trouble doing something, our confidence sky-dives and our reluctance to keep trying soars.

It’s the same with reading. It’s like riding a bike, the more you do it, the better you become.

But, if there are too many hard words, the reader stumbles through the story, continually stopping to tackle tricky words. The attention wanders and before you know it, the book has been put down and the chances of it being picked up again are low.

If it happens with too many books, reader confidence is shattered and books become the enemy, something to be battled with, not enjoyed.

So you need to find the right books. Books that will build, not erode reading confidence. Books that will be enjoyed, not endured.

A good book for your child is a book they can read and a book they want to read.

But how do you find that?

Finding a book they can read – The Five Finger Rule

A good way for parents and kids to see when a book is too hard to use the five finger test.

Ask your child to start reading aloud a page of the book they think they want to read. If they stumble over a word hold a finger up. Hold a finger up for every word they find tricky. If by the end of a page five fingers are up, the child has spent more time concentrating on difficult words than on reading the story and will have lost the storyline of the book. The book is too hard, at least for now.

Using the five finger test is quick, easy and can be done without drawing attention – important if your child is embarrassed about their reading.

If they really liked the sound of the book, note the title so you can come back to it once their reading has developed a little more.

Finding a book they want to read

What do they want to read about?

What are they interested in? What do they do when they are not reading?

There are books about adventure, sport, beasts, dinosaurs, outer space, warriors, computers and many of their favourite TV shows and games. Go to the early reader section of your bookshop or library and see what’s there. The following tips might help.


Judge a book by its cover

We all do – and the covers are designed to help you know what kind of story is inside. Lots of glitter and pink is probably a little girls’ book while darker colours perhaps with blocked foil is more likely to be for boys (looking like the books older boys and dads read)! Everyone has their own taste – let your child pick the ones he likes the look of.

A cover needs to engage the boy – and be something that he is happy to be seen reading. Books that look too ‘baby-ish’ don’t get picked up even if they are the perfect reading level.

Even young boys want something cool, something that speaks to them, not their teacher!

Look under the bonnet

Check out the interior of the book - the layout and design of the pages is just as important. Look for the things that make for an easier read –

  • larger type
  • lots of small chapters that allow for a sense of achievement
  • illustrations that provide reading breaks (but not so many that the child doesn’t think he is reading a ‘proper book’
  • small number of words on the page
  • Remember to do the five finger test!

Click to enlarge

Heroes, jokes and gross-outs

Some of the most popular books for boys star heroes and humour, sometimes both at the same time! You mightn’t want to read a book about someone called Captain Underpants but thousands of boys do!

When you are on a good thing …

Boys like collecting stuff and many books are published in series. Once he likes reading one book, he can return to other books in the series knowing he wants to and is able to read them. A series can be collected, shared and swapped with friends. The repetition of characters, themes and settings in series are also comforting and provide an easier read for more reluctant readers.


The Educator’s Story

Boy vs Beast co-creator Louise Park talks about her passion for getting kids to read

I’m in love with the magic of seeing children crack the reading code! My first teaching position was a Kindergarten class and the kick I got from seeing them begin and then take-off with their reading has fueled me for a life-long passion for literacy. At the other end of the scale I’ve worked with older children who had somehow fallen through the hoop and missed getting on that reading train altogether. Believe me, there is nothing more life-transforming than that moment when a struggling reader gets it! They are completely empowered. And you know that as a result, doors that might have remained closed to them throughout their lives will open. A truly priceless moment.

I remember teaching one child who was in Year 5. She struggled terribly with reading and despite being an intelligent student was slipping in most of her other subjects because of it. I used to work with her one on one. And she obviously put in the hours at home too. Suddenly it all just came together for her. We’d have a short read-aloud session each day where I and anyone else who wanted to could take over from whatever book we were reading at the time and read a bit aloud. The book would just get passed to whoever asked for it. This student never ever read aloud. Then one morning she took the book from a classmate and just read a few paragraphs aloud. When she’d finished everyone clapped her and I can still see that massive grin on her face! She’d made it and she knew it! It was just such a fantastic moment.

Years of helping children learn to read has made me critically aware of that perfect match between reader and text. If the book grabs them, engages them irrevocably, if its content gets them right where they are at, if the readability is just right; If all those things come together in one package then a child cannot help but succeed.

We need more books and plenty of them–Books that offer more than just a method of decoding. Books that ignite a love of reading and make these children want to read more of them. Reading is the key to many, many doors!

Louise Park
Boy vs Beast co-creator

Louise Park Photo

Big Boy Books’ for new readers

When they are just finishing early school readers, they need books especially made for new readers. There are lots of great picture books to enjoy but kids also enjoy feeling they are reading ‘real’ books. They should be about 2000 words in length and use the simple, high-frequency words and the short sentence structure used in readers. These books are the perfect way to begin ‘big boy book’ reading.

Check out -

When they are more confident, they can start on longer books. These are all about 10,000 words but with easy to read pages and still quite simple sentences. They are the perfect next step up.

And once they have enjoyed some of those, a whole world of wonderful books awaits them!

Useful Links

Where to find out more about making reading fun:


My First Bookshelf

National Library of Australia

Children's Book Council of Australia

MS Readathon

SA Premier's Reading Challenge 2010

VIC Premier's Reading Challenge 2010

NSW Premier's Reading Challenge 2010

Young Australia Reading:

From Keen to Reluctant Readers national research project conducted by the Centre for Youth Literature and the Australia Council available hereĽ

Teachers' Resources

Download Teachers Notes for Boy Vs Beast series 1 – 4
(PDF 2.72Mb)

Jennings, Paul. The Reading Bug…and how you can help your child to catch it.

Penguin Books, 2003

Moloney, James. Boys and Books Building a Culture of Reading Around Our Boys.

ABC Books, 2002

Reading tips for boys…

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