Family Connection: “Book holes” and Repeat Readers

Have you ever seen this viral Amazon commercial from 2015? If you’ve ever binge-watched a TV show (I’m looking at you, Gilmore Girls), then you know that yes, indeed, the struggle IS real. When you’re attached to a fictional world and invested in what happens to the people inside of it, it can be hard to shake that attachment and move on, even after the final credits roll. You start to miss the characters, their quirks, their catchphrases. You wonder, “What would Ally McBeal be doing right now?” or “I wonder how Olivia Pope would handle this?”

Just like your favorite TV shows, it can be so hard to leave your favorite literary worlds behind. Some teachers and librarians even go as far as to call popular, engrossing series addictive. Readers get comfortable with the repeating format and the author’s writing style, and refuse to try anything else. I have found that this is especially true for fantasy series like Warriors by Erin Hunter or the infamous Harry Potter books. Readers of all ages get completely sucked into the worlds created by these talented authors, which is a blessing and a curse – a blessing because they will read every book that the series has to offer without a second thought, but a curse because once that series is complete, they can struggle to move on and try something new.

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6th grade students model some of the most common read-and-repeat offenders – including Warriors, Canterbury Crest, Babymouse, Twilight, Percy Jackson, and Bone.

The other day I was chatting with my sixth graders about what they’re reading. It went something like this.
Boy 1: Oh, I’m just re-reading the fifth Harry Potter.
Fitz: Wow, you must have really liked it to be reading it again.
Boy 2: He’s read it like fifty times. He won’t read anything else!
Boy 1: I just can’t find anything else to read. (Blushing) Nothing else is any good.

That, my friends, is a book hole.

Just like your favorite TV shows, it can be so hard to leave your favorite literary worlds behind. This is especially common for reluctant readers or late bloomers that struggled so long to feel connected to a book – leaving the book that turned you into a reader can be very challenging. For some, it’s a deal-breaker. If nothing lives up to that one book or series, they’ll just give up. “I loved that book, but I’m still not a reader. It was just that one.” 

I get questions from parents all the time about how to get their children to move on from a certain series or novel. My response generally isn’t very popular: you can’t. Your child will move on to a new title when they’re ready, and not a moment before.There is something about the series in question that has captivated your child’s attention – and that is a good thing! Instead of feeling frustrated that your child won’t try anything new, try to focus on the good. They’re interested in reading, finding their identity as a reader, and they have made a strong connection to the text. These are great foundations to build upon. Pushing too hard can turn your child off from reading, cause them to hide their reading from you, or inspire them to give up reading entirely as an act of rebellion. Or, less dramatically, it can just make your little one feel bad about their still-developing reading habits. The only real cure for a book hole is time, patience, and a piqued interest in something new.

You may not be able to force your reader in a new direction, but there are some things that you can do to be a helpful part of their reading experience and help gently guide them in a new direction. Here are my top three suggestions for helping your favorite reader get out of their book hole:

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    A sample search for the phrase “Raina Telgemeier read alikes”. That’s more than 2,500 different options for graphic novel lovers looking for inspiration!

    Branch out with a “read alike”. My #1 suggestion is to find “read alikes” for the book that has them head over heels. A read alike is a book that is similar in style, format, or overall feel to a popular book. Talk to your child about what it is about that book that made them love it, and then use that knowledge to find a new book that will feel familiar and enticing. For example, readers obsessed with Kwame Alexander’s rhythmic verse will likely be drawn to other books with the same format (Inside Out and Back Again, Love that Dog, All the Broken Pieces). Kids struggling to leave Harry Potter behind might be willing to try another engrossing series set in a magical world based around a strong struggle between good and evil (the Inkheart series, Charlie BoneThe Unwanteds). Teens re-reading John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars might be interested in another romance with tragic components and modern, quippy characters (I’ll Give You the SunGoing BovineMe and Earl and the Dying Girl). Google can be a great tool (“harry potter read alike”, “diary of a wimpy kid read alike”, etc.), but your friendly local librarian is definitely your best resource on this one. Ask us, we love to help!

  • Read their favorite series with them. Show your child that the series that is important to them, is important to you too. Not only will this create a great opportunity for you to bond over a book that has clearly touched your child’s life, but it will make them far more likely to try a different book on your recommendation. “I loved reading this book with you! What will we read together next?”  This could be a great time to suggest a read alike.
  • Return to past favorites. Did your reader have a book that, as a child, they requested again and again? (Mine was Chrysanthemum!) One night, dig out the book that they couldn’t get enough of as a kid. Read it together and laugh over how they requested it again and again. It’s a great conversation starter. “Remember how stuck you were on this book? You refused to try anything else! The only thing that finally got you interested in something new was…” It could put them in the mindset to try something new.

It can feel frustrating to see your young reader buried in the same book day after day. But this repetitive slump is developmentally normal, a sign that they are exploring their identity as a reader, and – most importantly! – not a permanent problem. In my experience, no good can come from forcing or bribing your reader to try something new. They will move on when they’re ready. Until then, pat yourself on the back for supporting your child’s reading habits, being invested in their reading life, and overall being a great parent. You deserve it! Best of luck!

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