The Reluctant Reader

The Reluctant Reader

by Dan Rice

image of a boy learning to read

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My first grader is a reluctant reader. At times, he is even violently opposed to reading. He enjoys being read to, but ask him to read and watch out––cue long and dramatic temper tantrum.

Part of his reluctance stems from the fear of making mistakes. One of his earliest and favorite phrases is I don’t know. He often pulls out variations on this when asked to read or sound out a difficult word. We tell him that it’s okay to make mistakes, but he remains not entirely convinced.

Although he knows all his phonics, he struggles to put sounds together. This, coupled with his desire to avoid making mistakes, quickly leads to frustration and giving up altogether. Insisting he persevere often leads to a meltdown.

The Bob Books

At the recommendation of his teacher, we purchased him the Bob Books: 104-Book Deluxe Reader Collection by Lynn Maslen Kertell. At the time of purchase, it struck me as a little bit pricey, but knowing what I know now, I’d pay far more for these books.

At the beginning of first grade, my son seemed practically preliterate. I don’t know if it was indeed the lack of ability to read or just his violent opposition to it that made him so. Nevertheless, he reluctantly began to read by starting with the easiest of the Bob Books, which are straightforward stories with three-word sentences.

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. He still whined and cried about reading, but he could get through an entire book with some help. He still reads the Bob Books. Some are advanced enough to inspire temper tantrums, but now at the midway point of first grade, he’s on the verge of meeting grade-level requirements in reading. He still has other struggles, mostly with writing, but the recommendation by his teacher to try out the Bob Books was fortuitous.

Sparking Interest

My son has always enjoyed reading time, but holding his interest is a struggle. I think he enjoys the closeness of reading together as much and often more than he does the stories. The first time I recall him being enthralled by a story was when we read the Glitter Dragons Series by Maddy Mara. He saw the novel in a book fair catalog and insisted he wanted to read it. It looked far too advanced for him, but we purchased it.

The book was too advanced for him to read on his own, but it turns out it was perfect for being read to him. He loved the story of the girls traveling to the magic forest and discovering they could turn into dragons. Magic, friendship, and adventure––what’s not to love? I ended up reading the entire series to him, and he enjoyed each book. After completing the trilogy, I struggled to find more books to engage him. The same author has more dragon books, but those didn’t interest him.

Purely by chance, we stumbled upon The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey, a comedic series of graphic novels featuring predatory animals trying to be good. We’ve already devoured two of the books in the series, and he is still ravenous for more. Fortunately, there are 15 books in this series. I’m eager to discover how many we’ll finish before he tires of the tales.

You Never Know What Might Inspire a Lifelong Love of Reading

Aside from his fear of making mistakes, the reasons for my first grader’s reluctance to read remain largely a mystery. My wife and I have always been diligent about reading to him. He’s aware that his older brother reads by himself every day and that I do too. He even expresses the desire to read at a fifth-grade level so he can play Pokémon with his friends.

Screens have something to do with it, certainly, as they’re untaxing portals into fantastical worlds. Spending most of kindergarten doing remote school didn’t help, but I suspect he’d still have some problems, maybe not quite as pronounced, even if he did in-person school that first year.

Despite the challenges, and following his own timeline, my son is beginning to discover the magic of reading. As with many things in life, persistence, patience, and kindness are vital in encouraging reading. That and always being on the hunt for stories that will ignite the imagination, and hopefully, inspire a lifelong love for reading.

About Dan Rice

Headshot of Dan Rice, author of the young adult urban fantasy series The Allison Lee Chronicles

Dan Rice pens the young adult urban fantasy series The Allison Lee Chronicles in the wee hours of the morning. The series kicks off with his award-winning debut, Dragons Walk Among Us, which Kirkus Review calls, “An inspirational and socially relevant fantasy.”

While not pulling down the 9 to 5 or chauffeuring his soccer fanatic sons to practices and games, Dan enjoys photography and hiking through the wilderness.

To discover more about Dan’s writing and keep tabs on his upcoming releases, visit his website: and join his newsletter.


Review: Nobody Knows How to Make a Pizza

Nobody Knows How to Make a Pizza
by Julie Borowski
Illustrated by Tetiana Kopytova
Published by Liberty Junkies (September 17, 2019)
Ages 3-8

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This blog features Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Click here to read the full disclosure. This blog post also features affiliate links for Liberty Junkies. If you make a purchase at the site after following my link there, I will receive a 10% commission. I was not paid or given free materials to write this review. Opinions are my own.

If you’re looking for a children’s book that introduces the economic concepts of money and specialization, Nobody Knows How to Make a Pizza by commentator and political analyst Julie Borowski is a fun choice. It playfully shows preschool- and kindergarten-age learners why money is used in the modern economy and how it allows people to specialize in different employment activities to achieve things they could never achieve on their own.

When we sat down to read this book, my preschooler was immediately intrigued by the title. A title that challenges your assumptions is usually good for that, right? As a family with a homesteading bent, we often make pizza from scratch and use sauce that’s made with tomatoes and grown in our own garden. So, hearing this idea that there are usually many, many people involved in the chain of producing a single pizza was challenging to his understanding of the way the world works, and that’s exactly what makes books worth reading. We had to keep coming back to this book for days, as he’s just learning to cope with why Mommy works to earn money.

The illustrations by Tetiana Kopytova are colorful and delightful, which, combined with having the story told by the pizza as she explains how she’s made, makes the story very approachable for little ones. We’ve read Nobody Knows How to Make a Pizza several times, back-to-back over the past few weeks. It has helped my kid understand what money is used for beyond the idea that it gets you things you want. I recommend Nobody Knows How to Make a Pizza for its ability to teach an economic principle in a relatable way.

You can find Nobody Knows How to Make a Pizza and Julie Borowski’s other picture book, The Peaceful Porcupine, at Liberty Junkies or Amazon.

More Thoughts on Children’s Literature and Learning

The Reluctant Reader

Dan Rice, author of the young adult urban fantasy series The Allison Lee Chronicles, discusses what it’s like and what it takes when your child is a reluctant reader.

The 5 Most Unexpected Things About Writing a Children’s Book

The 5 Most Unexpected Things About Writing a Children’s Book

by Desiree Villena

This blog features Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Click here to read the full disclosure.

Whoever you are, chances are high that you can fondly look back on certain children’s books from your early years. If you’re reading this now, you may be a reader who was so enchanted that you actually want to write a children’s book of your own. Congratulations! You’re going to play a part in encouraging and educating the next generation of readers.

That said, writing for children brings obstacles and rewards in equal share. Children’s literature is often thought of as “easy” to write, but writing a children’s book is actually a complex (though enjoyable) journey that requires as much effort as other genres. This post will make sure that this genre is no mystery to you by unveiling five of the most unexpected things you’ll realize in the course of writing a children’s book.

1. Your book’s scope may be different than you think

The first unexpected thing about writing a children’s book is the breadth of subcategories and age groups that you can write for. You will need a keen awareness of your target audience — after all, a board book for toddlers will look very different from a middle-grade bestseller.

Additionally, everything is fresh, new, and exciting in a child’s world, which tends to make them picky readers. You have to make your book seem like the most interesting thing that they can get their hands on. However, you will also need to grab the attention of adults, as they’ll be the people actually buying your book.

This might seem overwhelming, but with the right info, you can easily manage. Here are the main categories of children’s books to know so you can cater your story to the correct audience:

  • Board books are for children aged 0-3. Needless to say, you’ll want to include simple language and bright colors. These books usually have a durable surface to withstand biting, throwing, etc.
  • Picture books are for ages 3-6 and tend to be 500-1,000 words in length. They’re chock full of pictures, but that doesn’t mean they’re no-brainers to write! On the contrary, with so few words to tell your story, you need every sentence to count.
  • Early readers are for children aged 6-7. They range from 2,000-5,000 words and are designed to help young elementary school children learn to read on their own, though you’ll still want a healthy number of illustrations.
  • Chapter books are for ages 7-9. They can be 5,000-10,000 words and often serve as a child’s first opportunity to narrow down which genres they really enjoy! From children’s classics to slice-of-life adventures, this is where kids’ books start to focus more on story.
  • Middle grade books, for kids aged 9-12, make a big jump in length and sophistication — these books can be 30,000-50,000 words, are much meatier in prose and story, and often involve darker themes.
  • Young adult books are for ages 12-18, and can be up to 100,000 words with complex stories and advanced themes. In other words, well-written YA books are basically at the same level as adult books, presenting profound and genuine stories to their readers.

2. Children’s books are not always faster to write

The next unexpected thing about writing a children’s book is the sheer size of the project. Besides demographic considerations, there’s a lot that goes into writing (and illustrating) a children’s book.

Indeed, one of the great challenges is that it needs to tell a gripping story and (ideally) teach something while also taking up less physical space. We’ve all had the experience of writing an essay and then struggling to cut it down; as a children’s author, you will be doing this with a whole book. To help with this task, it’s important to find the perfect children’s book editor for you. They’ll keep your word count concise yet effective, getting your key points across even in minimal space.

If you want to include pictures in your book (particularly for middle grade books and below), then hiring an illustrator will also be high on your priority list. This is best done in coordination with your editor, as the text that you end up with will affect your illustrations. However, don’t include your own sketches if you’re planning to hire an illustrator or go through a publisher, as your eventual artist will have their own ideas — and they’re the expert, after all.

While children’s books are widely considered to be faster to write, most people don’t expect or account for the additional time and costs involved. But don’t worry, because in this case, the larger task definitely reaps a fulfilling reward.

3. Good protagonists follow a formula

Many of the most popular children’s books can be identified by their well-loved protagonists — think Harry Potter, Matilda, or Tracy Beaker. However, it may surprise you to know that there is a common formula to creating beloved children’s characters.

This is simply that children love to read stories about other children who are a) a bit older than themselves, and b) going through similar things. For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter is eleven years old and attracts a readership of around nine — and though these readers won’t be going to Hogwarts anytime soon, they are experiencing a time of increased independence and are eager to strike out on their own, just like Harry and his friends. 

To be sure, don’t worry too much about your fantasy or sci-fi characters being “unrelatable.” You can absolutely still explore human themes like family values and ethics, while giving your characters magical abilities like moving objects with their minds. As long as you link your story back to a theme or lesson that’s grounded in reality, feel free to make your story as fantastical as you like. (And don’t hold back on account of the publishing industry, either — many authors self-publish their children’s books precisely so they can tell the story that they want to tell.)

4.Children can spot poorly written characters

Speaking of characters, this might sound obvious, but you need to make your characters and their conversations believable. Think of it this way: a child trying to imagine how you talk at work would inevitably miss the mark. Likewise, you need to get to know your target audience a little better — if you haven’t already — in order to write a realistic, interesting conversation between the young characters in your book.

This might mean volunteering to be a children’s reader at a library or helping out at your local school. If your friends and family have children, ask them to read your book too. With their seal of approval, you’ll know that you’re on the right track to making your target audience feel listened to and accurately represented.

5. Your book will last for generations

While there are many unusual challenges that come with writing a children’s book, the best unexpected thing is undoubtedly the lasting impact that your writing will have. Again, we all have a book (or several) that made us fall in love with reading as a child; many people cherish their favorite childhood books and return to read them often even into adulthood, eventually handing them down through generations of family.

This is a huge reason why some of the best children’s books, like E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Katherine Peterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, are still popular after decades. Adults love those books too! So, if you expect your book to only last for one generation of readers then you are very happily mistaken — and with any luck, this news will encourage you to finally get working on a children’s book of your very own.

About Desiree Villena

Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. She’s very passionate about helping authors reach their dreams, and enjoys reading and writing short stories in her spare time.

Autumn Picture Books for Preschoolers

Hello colorful leaves, pumpkin-spiced everything, and cooler weather! Autumn has arrived, and I can’t stop thinking about making up a batch of hot apple cider and cozying up under a blanket to read a good book. These days, to make that happen, I have to invite my preschooler in under the blanket and read his books, not mine. It’s a different experience. No getting lost in another world for an hour or two by myself. Instead, it’s rapid fire reading of children’s books that we’ve read a hundred times. Of course, that’s okay. The contentment of being together is enough to make these moments special all on their own. I am content to be by his side as he explores new worlds through books. But, if you’re like me, you’re probably ready to read something new for a change. Here are a few fall-themed book suggestions to help you and your little one transition into the autumn season.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

Apples and Pumpkins

Biscuit Visits the Pumpkin Patch

Autumn in the Forest (Lift-a-Flap Surprise)

We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt

Hello, World! How Do Apples Grow?

The Busy Little Squirrel (Classic Board Books)

Awesome Autumn: All Kinds of Fall Facts and Fun (Season Facts and Fun)

You’re My Little Pumpkin Pie

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Six Tips to Make Your Young Adult Story Sparkle

Six Tips to Make Your Young Adult Story Sparkle
by Eliza Brooks


Did you know there are on average more than 30k young adult or teen fiction books published annually? This category is supposed to cater to 12 to 18 years of age. But despite its labeling, 55% are purchased by adults or those over 18 years of age. Even though this genre saw an increase of up to 120 percent between 2002 and 2012, successful teen fiction book authors claim that writing for this category is the same as writing for anything else. It all boils down to how good the writing and story are.

When was the last time you read a book you couldn’t put down? They say you can tell if you’ve read a good book when you get absorbed in the story. It’s when you get to see yourself in one of the characters and be carried away with the surge of emotions the main character gets exposed to as the story unfolds.

It is every author’s dream to create an experience like this for their readers. The greatest compliment a writer can get is to be appreciated for the way they write and tell a story. It takes skill and knowledge of writing techniques to write a great story that makes a mark on its readers. If you aim to reach your young readers in this way, here are six tips that can help you make your young adult story sparkle:

1. Stay True to Your Character’s Perspective

This seems simple, but in reality, could be quite challenging. The characters’ perspectives should remain in their young adult years. So regardless of how old you are at the time of writing, you need to make sure it doesn’t influence your characters. They are not supposed to display any wisdom of an adult. It requires extreme concentration and focus to make sure you don’t slip. It’s also a good idea to specifically look for problems with the perspective when you reach the stage where you’re self-editing your writing.

2. Be Sure Your Descriptive Language Focuses on the Right Elements

Young adult books often have illustrations in them. So instead of describing how the characters look, write about their emotions or actions. Describe what they see, what they feel, or how they move throughout the plot. How they react is an apt way of introducing a character’s personality or purpose in the story. Make sure that you invest time and effort in describing them through your character’s eyes or perspective.

3. Write “Genuine” Emotions

You want the reader to relate to what the main characters are going through. Make sure they can see themselves in one of these characters. According to John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, he gets several emails a day from readers who claim that they are like the female protagonist in the story. What makes teen fiction books entertaining to read is that they do a great job of detailing teenage or pre-teen experience. By effectively doing so, one gets to genuinely relate to these feelings, which makes the story palpable.

4. Let the Story Flow

As cliché as this sounds, it holds true – let it go. When you allow the characters to decide how to reveal themselves, writing the story can be a magical process. Authors will often tell you that each story has a way of unfolding on its own. Don’t attempt to control it. Let the story flow.

5. End Your Story on a Hopeful Note

Give the readers something to look forward to. Teen fiction books often end the same way. The main character may not have become victorious beating the challenges in the end, but he/she has evolved in a way that made him/her better. It offers the reader a chance to realize that no matter what happens, even when all seems lost, there is something bound to happen that will give meaning and drive change, despite how nominal, in one’s life.

6. Follow the Rules Regarding Word Count

Be mindful of the word count that’s typical for your genre, especially when you are just starting out. Remember, industry standards are often formed because trial and error has taught the experts what works and what doesn’t. Plus, you’ll have a better chance of being published when you follow the rules. After editing and cutting through unnecessary words or phrases, your story will come out stronger.

About Eliza Brooks: 


Eliza Brooks is a passionate blogger who loves to write about travel, books, personality development, lifestyle, productivity, and more. She is currently working with CreedGriffon, which is an incredible book for tween and teen girls and boys. She spends her spare time hiking, camping and reading adventure, fantasy, mystery stories, and teen fiction books. Everything she talks about ends in books!

Review: After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)
by Dan Santat
Published by Roaring Brook Press (October 3, 2017)
Ages 4 – 8

My Rating: 5 Stars


The original Humpty Dumpty story, like many old nursery rhymes, came about because of an historical event. It wasn’t really written for children at all, until Lewis Carroll adapted it, giving us the egg character we know today in Through the Looking Glass. Luckily, talented writers these days have more freedom than ever before to put new endings on stories of old to give them true relevance in our time.

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)
, by Dan Santat, takes a nursery rhyme that could be viewed as a cautionary tale (don’t take risks, you’ll probably fall and hurt yourself beyond repair) and gives it a new ending with the opposite message (conquering your fears, especially after failing, is the only way to live freely and reach your potential).

Written in the voice of Humpty Dumpty himself, we get to know just how the fear of falling again makes him feel and how it holds him back from doing the one thing he loves most: bird watching.

When I think of great children’s books, they all have one thing in common – the ability to convey the essential parts of the story, like a conflict that pulls you in and resolution that is emotionally satisfying, with just a few sentences and images. After the Fall moves effortlessly through the stages of a great story with emotional resonance and relatability.

After the Fall is a gentle reminder that when fear is allowed to rule, it prevents us from becoming who we are meant to be, whether that’s a soaring bird or simply a happy human being. It’s a terrific message for preschoolers, kindergartners and parents.

Other stories by Dan Santat:

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Review: Quantum Physics for Babies

Quantum Physics for Babies
by Chris Ferrie
Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (May 2, 2017)

My Rating: 4 stars


While I am a writer and lover of words, my husband is decidedly a science and math guy. Yin and Yang, on so many levels. When I first saw an article about Quantum Physics for Babies and the entire Baby University series by Chris Ferrie, I had one of those ah ha moments. I thought, this is what’s missing! Our book collection is comprised of stories about dinosaurs, farm animals, stuff animals and a few counting books, but nothing comes close to covering a topic like quantum physics. Why shouldn’t a baby’s book be about scientific concepts? And surely my husband would get a kick out of it.

Quantum Physics for Babies was certainly a novelty when it was delivered to our door. We had several conversations about the quantum physics because of it, and baby seemed to like it, too. He appeared to be intrigued by the pictures. Baby doesn’t have a real understanding of what I’m saying when I read this book, but seeing that he’s only 9 months old that’s true for most books. At this age, his language learning is all about exposure.

Baby’s just now beginning to show us his opinions, so we’ll have to wait and see if this one is a go-to book. Me, I’m looking forward to the conversation my husband and I will undoubtedly have when we pick up a copy of one of the other ‘for babies’ books, like General Relativity for Babies or Optical Physics for Babies. I’m bound to learn something, and something tells me the baby playing over on the mat, listening to mommy and daddy, will be learning something, too.

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Hot Item: Solar Eclipse 2017: The Complete Kids’ Guide and Activity Book for the Great American Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse 2017: The Complete Kids’ Guide and Activity Book for the Great American Solar Eclipse
by Science Across America
Designed by J.G. Kemp
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 7, 2017)

In a little more than a week, on Monday, August 21st, the United States will experience a total eclipse of the sun – something that hasn’t happened in the U.S. in 26 years. It’s an event that has a lot of people excited, especially those who live in states that are in the path of totality where the sun will be completely covered for about a minute or two depending on exactly where you are located. If you don’t live in the path of totality, you’ll still see a partial eclipse – still really cool!

NASA has a dedicated website that provides information and will have live video stream from different locations during the eclipse.

To make this rare event even more thrilling and educational for kids, former science teacher turned author, J. G. Kemp has designed Solar Eclipse 2017: The Complete Kids’ Guide and Activity Book for the Great American Solar Eclipse. It’s a handy guide to the basic science of a solar eclipse plus a bunch of activities and games that will make waiting for the eclipse to happen fun (it does take hours). It has maps, word searches, a mad lib, coloring and drawing activities, story starters and more. The book says the activities are geared toward children ages 5-11, but with a little help from parents or other adults, they can be fun for younger kids, too.

There’s still time to order this entertaining little guide and activity book, but don’t wait too long – the total eclipse happens in just 9 days. And don’t forget to pick up a pair of approved eclipse viewing glasses. The sun may go dark, but the light that escapes around the moon will still damage your unprotected eyes.

Happy Solar Eclipse 2017, everyone!

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We’re back!

You may have noticed that it’s been quite a while since my last post. A little over five months ago, our baby boy came into the world and turned our lives upside down in the best of ways.

Baby boy already loves being read to, especially at bedtime. When he was about a month old, I started reading a few of the best stories on our shelf. It didn’t take long for him to show that he had favorite pages, smiling in anticipation of some of them. Books with great rhythm and rhyme are the ones that really capture his attention.

Baby boy’s favorites:

Pirasaurs! by Josh Funk, Illustrated by Michael Slack

Read my review of Pirasaurs! here.

Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker, Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Read my review of Steam Train, Dream Train here.

I’m looking forward to writing reviews of great new books again and getting back to the conversation about children’s literature and learning.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.

Reading Resource: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Reading to a child regularly is known to improve his or her kindergarten readiness by increasing vocabulary, comprehension and a host of other skills. On top of that, reading to little ones supports their social and emotional development.

An at-home library, however small or large, is one way to encourage a love of reading at an early age. But, developing an at-home library can be difficult, especially for parents simply trying to put food on the table and provide basic care. 

I encourage parents to check out Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The program delivers a free book once a month directly to your child. Children love getting mail that’s just for them, and this mail is a gift that can last a lifetime.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.