Last year, my kid was going gangbusters on the whole reading thing. He read comic books before bed every night and everything at school. He devoured every single one of the books from “The 39 Clues” series I brought home. One weekend, he even shut himself up in his room and read all day. His father and I were so impressed that when he finally emerged from his bedroom, red-eyed and sleepy, that we let him go downstairs and play Minecraft until his brain rotted.
So imagine my surprise when later in the school year, his Lexile level turned out to be much lower than the rest of his class and his teacher suggested he join the reading club because he was showing a significant lack of practice.
Uh… what now?
What about all the books he brought home? All the books we went to the library to borrow? What about the weekends in his bedroom reading?
"Which ones didn't you read?"
"Well, I read part of the first one …"
Turns out my son had figured out that if he hid up in his bed "reading" (aka playing Legos), Mom and Dad would let him go downstairs and build his Minecraft empires without guilt.
Now half of the school year was gone and I was facing the equivalent of fourth-grade parenting midterms. Surprise! You have three weeks to motivate a 9-year-old screen addict to read chapter books! #SOGREAT.
I'm proud to say I didn't yell. I wanted to but that wouldn't solve anything. Instead, I used my son's own tactic against him.
He'll do anything if it involves a screen so first I got an old e-reader. Then, I did a bit of research on what to download. That's when I clicked on something that changed my world forever: Minecraft fan fiction.
Yes, it exists. And for the parents of a Minecraft-obsessed kid who hated reading, it was like the universe had just handed me a get-out-of-jail-free card. I had him.
I started by downloading “Diary of a Wimpy Villager 1” by Cube Kid and “Diary of a Minecraft Wolf” by Books Kid. Then I left the e-reader next to my living room chair. As soon as I turned my back, my son popped by, picked it up, and started fiddling with it. I pretended not to notice and guess what, you guys? It worked!
For the parents of a Minecraft-obsessed kid who hated reading, it was like the universe had just handed me a get-out-of-jail-free card.
He read the first book in one sitting. The following week he tore through “Diaries of a Wimpy Villager” books 2–11, then had a meltdown when he realized that the 12th book wasn't available yet and then shook it off to read “Diary of an Ender Chicken.” At least that's what I think it was called. I really can't remember, not that it matters because he was reading.
As a bonus, my 5-year-old daughter also started reading more too because if there's one thing she can't stand, it's her brother doing better than she is academically. (Sibling rivalry is horrible but sometimes it helps.)
Now we just needed to turn this new love of reading into a daily habit. Unfortunately, the only way to make a daily habit is to change the routine. For the record: I hate changing the routine. It sucks. In my house, changing the routine means that I have to start doing things differently — and I have to remember every time. And I hate that part. But I do like reading so I figured we'd all sweat it out together.
On the day we started, I told my kids that after we got home for the day, everyone was going to walk in, grab a book and get comfy. They didn't like the idea. They wanted to play Minecraft like "normal kids." I upped the ante: If they read with me for 30 minutes and then got their homework done, they could do whatever they wanted with the rest of their free time that evening.
"Like play Minecraft?"
"Yes, whatever you want."
It's been a few months now. E-readers have been replaced by library books (no one has to remember to charge a library book) and when my kids are done with all of their work, they get to do whatever they want. Some days that means running downstairs to play video games. Other days it's Lego crash cars or mud chemistry. And some days it's staying with me after the timer goes off to finish their books.
Those are my favorite days.
Recommended books to get your Minecraft fans reading:
“Diary of a Wimpy Villager” by Cube Kid
“Herobrine Goes to School” by Zack Zombie Books
“Diary of a Minecraft Zombie” by Zack Zombie
“Minecraft: Battle of Legends Book 1” by Alex Anderson
“The Obsidian Cube (Book 1): An Unknown Past” by Mark Mulle
“Minecraft: Diary of a Minecraft Kitten” by Books Kid
“Minecraft: Diary of a Minecraft Squid” by Books Kid
“Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain” by Richard Roberts
“Ninja Farts: Silent But Deadly...” by J.B. O'Neil
“The Booger Book: Pick It, Lick It, Roll It, Flick It!” by J.B. O'Neil
“My Monster Farts” by Cate Clary
“Classic Goosebumps #1: Night of the Living Dummy” by R.L. Stine
“The Mardi Gras Chase (True Girls Book 1)” by Maggie M. Larche
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone” by J.K. Rowling
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in April 2016, and updated in May 2021.