When a Book Bombs: What to Do When Your Child Hates a Book

a curly haired boy sits, head in hand, seemingly frustrated or sad

It happens. Not very often, but more often than I would like.

I notice a child is behind in his reading assignment, and I start to ask questions. Then, my child drops his eyes and mutters, “I hate this book.” Instantly, I’m a mess of feelings; I feel frustrated, maybe angry, and most of all disappointed. 

What do you do when your child hates a book?

It’s not the end of the world or the end of your homeschool curriculum when a book bombs. When one of my kids announces that they hate a particular book, I follow a couple of simple actions.

Step One: Identify the Problem

Is It Anxiety?

In our family of ADHD and dyslexia, “I hate [whatever]” is usually code for “I’m anxious.

We brew a pot of tea, snuggle together on the couch, and I invite my child to tell me about it.

I listen. I ask questions.

I’m trying to find out is my child anxious about reading the book by herself? Is he overwhelmed by the amount of reading I’ve assigned? Clarifying my child’s feelings is my number one step to finding the real problem. 

Is the Book a Slow-starter?

As I ask questions and realize anxiety is not an issue, my next step is to see how far into the book my child has actually gotten. Some books are just slow-starters. That's why I’ve instituted the “five chapter rule.” Because most books will pick up the pace by chapter five, I typically will insist my kids read at least that far into the book before we discuss quitting. In several cases, a book my child thought he hated ended up being a favorite.

Is the Book Too Challenging?

Keep in mind, there are a lot of factors that influence how challenging a book can be to read. I flip through the book and look at font size, line length and spacing, dialect, fantasy or unfamiliar settings, genre (informative non-fiction is actually much harder for my child with dyslexia than something that has a plot and storyline), and vocabulary. 

One tool that has been particularly helpful for me is the Lexile score of a book, compared to the Lexile measure of my child. If I know where my child is on the Lexile range, then I can look up the book she is reading on the Lexile website and determine the percentage of the book she is actually comprehending. When I look up a book she is complaining about and realize she is likely to comprehend only 60% of the book, it validates for both of us that there is a mismatch to be addressed.

If I realize my child has a legitimate learning challenge that is causing a problem with a particular book, we make adjustments. There are plenty of opportunities to teach my child character and to do hard things (like doing dishes); I don’t want to use my child’s learning difficulties to teach those lessons. Learning can be hard enough without forcing a child to read a book he detests.

Is My Child Simply Not Interested?

When a Book Bombs: What to Do When Your Child Hates a BookOccasionally, there is no absolutely nothing wrong except that my child isn’t interested in a particular book. It hurts this book-loving mom to accept, but it happens. Whether or not we press through and keep reading that particular book is a case-by-case decision.

  • Does this child need to learn perseverance by doing things she dislikes?
  • Has this child recently slugged through another difficult book that wasn’t his favorite and needs a break?

I have no hard and fast rules at this point. We read a lot of books, and every now and then, we skip books, too. Trust your gut on this one. You will know what to do.

Step Two: Choose a Strategy

Once I’ve had a conversation with my child to identify the reason why the book bombed, I decide on a strategy or two.

  • Companion read: This is a go-to strategy if I know that anxiety is involved. I read a paragraph, and then my child reads a paragraph. Or I read a page, and she reads a page.

  • Reading aids: When I’ve identified a possible reading challenge, I choose an aid to help us. It might be as simple as an index card or cut-out window reading guide to help with tracking. Or I may see if the book is available as an ebook so that my child can adjust font style and size.

  • Lexile Score: While our required annual testing provides a Lexile score for my child, I sometimes find these to be off base. Instead, I’ll go to the Lexile website and look up recent books that my child has read and enjoyed. The Lexile scores from those books help me to get an idea of where my child is at so that I can compare to the current book that's bombing.

  • Five-chapter rule: Sometimes, I’ll encourage my child to read to chapter six or another reasonable point in the book. Once we reach that agreed-upon point in the book, we have another conversation to determine what to do next.

  • Reading Assignments: If it is anxiety issue or a book that I know is pushing the limits of my child’s capability, I’ll shorten the daily assignments and give him longer to read his book.

  • New book: This is my last resort, but sometimes we just need to call it quits and move on. 

Sometimes we try a strategy and still have trouble. But that’s okay. The failures give me a clearer picture of my child’s abilities and what helps. We just choose a new strategy and move forward.

When my child admits he hates a book and that mess of feelings hits me, making me feel like a failure, I know to stop and take a breath. Just because my child hates a book doesn’t mean that he hates reading or hates learning or that homeschool is failing or that I need a new curriculum (or anything else my fears and insecurities are telling me.) Instead, it’s time to brew a pot of tea and ask a few questions. My child knows I’m listening, and I know we’ll either find a solution, or we’ll find a book my child loves.

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Tracy GlockleAbout the Author

Tracy Glockle lives with her husband in Oregon where she homeschools their crew of three kids with ADHD/dyslexia. She’s constantly making adjustments for her out-of-the-box learners, finding creative ways to use their strengths to teach their weaknesses. As the frontal lobe for her family of ADHDers, Tracy loves planners and systems and organization. But housecleaning—that’s something else entirely. She enjoys black coffee, superhero action films, and reading the end of a story first. Tracy writes about homeschooling ADHD and dyslexia for several blogs including her own at Growing In Grace.