Kids + Media | Parenting | Education | Parenting Tools

How to Make the Gift of Reading Even More Fun

Having trouble getting your child to read? A teacher shares her secret weapon

As a teacher, I am always finding new ways to trick my students into reading. Often this includes giving students a tangible thing that goes with the required text. For example, when we read about Galileo, I give them each a glow-in-the-dark star to stick on their ceilings. I once gave each kid a handful of gummy bears right before reading the part of Animal Farm when the horse gets taken to the glue factory. I might have created some vegetarians that day.

I've developed another go-to trick. A long-time fan of giving books as gifts, now I often give the book and additional presents designed to be opened while reading. Each additional wrapped gift I label with a page number. That way when the reader reaches a particular page, they get to open the corresponding gift. Naturally, each present relates with what is going on in the book.

Hopefully the pages and presents below will provide you some novel inspiration but no promises. I tried this last year on my (adult) brother. After the first chapter, he ditched A Walk in the Woods, opened his presents and will spend the rest of his life wondering why I got him bear spray, mouse traps, a Snickers bar and a National Parks Pass.

The Day the Crayons Came Home

by Drew Daywalt, illustrations by Oliver Jeffers

This picture book is a collection of postcards from crayons that have been broken, misplaced or stuck in undesirable places. The story and accompanying artwork makes for a hilarious collection of tales. Page numbers are not printed on the book, but each page has its own crayon that can be assigned to a corresponding present.

Age recommendation: 5 to 8

  • First present for the first page: a box of crayons, of course!

  • Tan (or possible Burnt Sienna?) Crayon: This crayon doesn’t remember his original color, but he certainly does remember been eaten and subsequently puked up on the living room floor. Present: a lump of fake puke

  • Glow-in-the-Dark Crayon: This crayon was left in the basement after drawing scary ghosts and monsters on the wall. Present: a not-too-scary monster toy

  • Gold Crayon: This “pointless” crayon was worn down after a challenging coloring book page. Present: a crayon sharpener

  • Brown Crayon: The brown crayon ran away after mainly being used to color, well, poop. He will only return if he gets to color chocolate bars instead. Present: a candy bar

  • Final present: Cap off the whole story with a pack of postcards or the companion book, The Day the Crayons Quit.

The Blackthorn Key

by Keven Sands

Set in 1665, this book stars 14-year-old orphan Christopher Rowe as he trains to be an apothecary under the kind and brilliant Master Blackthorn. But when an underground cult captures and kills his master, Christopher must track down the secret that Blackthorn left behind (trapped in a complex code, of course).

Age recommendation: 9 to 14. Particularly great for a kid who loves potions, secret codes and explosions.

  • Page 56: Christopher gets a silver puzzle cube. Several pages later, he solves it and opens the cube, revealing a shilling (that's 12 whole pennies!). Present: a puzzle cube. Bonus points if you can get 12 pennies inside. Bonus bonus points if you have a shilling on hand.

  • Page 134: Christopher makes his first attempt to decipher a coded message scrawled by his master before his death. Present: a cryptogram book (KLOOTO Games has several good options).

  • Page 204: Christopher and his friend enter a dark, skeleton-filled chamber. Present: a flashlight. Something skeleton-related would be appropriate too.

  • Page 264: After a night of setting fires, blowing stuff up and narrow escapes, Christopher's friend brings him a box of sticky buns. Present: cinnamon rolls (best if the gift recipient is a quick reader)

  • Page 301: Christopher finds a secret alchemy lab. Present: a chemistry set

  • Final present: The end of this book has a lot of London references, so try a Lego set of the Tower Bridge or a puzzle of a famous London scene. 

Saint Anything

by Sarah Dessen

Buying young adult books can be a bit tricky and depends on your tolerance for edgy content. Expect Dessen's stories to be light on alcohol, drugs and sex — not to mention wildly popular with teen girls. Saint Anything follows 17-year-old Sydney, who feels invisible after her brother goes to jail. 

Age recommendation: 14 to 18

  • Page 8: At the start of the book, Sydney watches a lot of really terrible reality television. Present: a DVD of a favorite reality show (you know, to break up the reading stints)

  • Page 94: Music appears throughout the story, bluegrass in particular. Present: a bluegrass CD

  • Page 140: A few cute boys stop by unexpectedly, which means a quick makeover by Sydney. Present: Hairspray, mascara, etc.

  • Page 191: This is the first scene that hints at the title of the book. Sydney’s soon-to-be-boyfriend talks about why he wears a certain pendant. He later gives a similar necklace to Sydney. Present: Necklace with a pendant of a saint
  • Page 208: The bf-to-be likes fixing old clock radios. Present: a small radio

  • Page 330: Sydney is caught doing something she shouldn't be and her mom condemns her to daily SAT prep. Present: an SAP prep book (if your reader needs one)

  • Final present: Pizza — eating it, making it and delivering it — all figure prominently in the story and particularly at the end. Present: a gift card to a favorite pizza place, preferably one that delivers.  

Read Next