Ideas to inspire reluctant readers – including dragon training!

You may have heard of the phrase “reluctant readers”. If your child seems to fit this description, you may feel worried that they will never be confident readers. But don’t panic. There are many ways to allow them to find the inspiration that will get them loving books. Often these can come along without any plan or intention, but there are some ideas you can try.

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It’s important to avoid putting pressure on your child to get into books. Instead, let them browse and pick books themselves that follow their interests. However, if you want to choose books for them too, look for ones which include lots of illustrations to break up the text. Another useful type of book for reluctant readers are those which provide random access. Encyclopedias, books of facts, statistics, guide books or illustrated dictionaries are great for this. The child can open them at any page and find a way in. Most importantly, find books which contain subjects the child loves. It could be real-life facts on space, cars or animals. It could be imaginative and fantastical subjects like monsters, dragons or Pokémon…


Find out which dragons to avoid…

At a time when my son was not a very confident reader, a friend gave him a particularly amazing book. This book inspired his imagination and interest. It was about dragons. The book contained all kinds of fantastic and incredible facts about them. Dragons were already of interest to him, but after reading this he wanted to read even more about them.

The particular book was The Incomplete Book of Dragons. Written and illustrated by Cressida Cowell, it is a handbook to the world of dragons from the perspective of Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon. He introduces himself and explains why he is writing a book about every species and type of dragon.

From Nano Dragons to Seadragonus Giganticus Maximus

As the reader turns the pages they can become immersed in the world of Hiccup and his life in the Barbaric Archipelago. He explains the habits of different dragon types. He tells us where they live and how friendly, useful or dangerous each is to vikings like himself. Hiccup tells the reader which dragons they must avoid or are not possible to train. He provides tips to work with dragons that can be trained to help vikings to hunt, travel or fight. The methods which Hiccup uses to train dragons are radically different from the time honoured traditional way of the vikings. Which is by yelling at them!

In The Incomplete Book of Dragons you will find hunting-dragons, riding-dragons and battle-dragons. You’ve got the tiniest – yet not to be under estimated – Nano Dragons; and the enormous Seadragonus Giganticus Maximus. You’ve got placid and gentle Zebramounts and then terrifying and dangerous dragons like Darkbreathers and Woden’s Nightmares.

Why a book like this can help build the confidence of reluctant readers

There are several reasons why this book was great for my son as a reluctant reader at that time.

  • The book contains lots of fantastic and imaginative illustrations . These are lovely to look at, plus they break up the text while keeping the reader interested in the text.
  • While you can read this book in order from page to page, you can also pick it up and open it at any page. The reader can find facts and statistics about a particular dragon at any point. This provides children with random access to the book – an easy way in.
  • It contains maps, charts, dragon statistics and facts. Many children love to access information through short lists of facts and statistics. These allow them to compare the characteristics of types of things in the same way they can with Top Trump type card games. This makes reading fun and game like.

Books full of stats and facts can help encourage reluctant readers.

  • It creates interest in, and opens the way to a wider narrative. In this case there is a series of books. The young reader, once captivated with the characters and the world of dragons, may wish to read further. The Incomplete Book of Dragons acts as a bridge to the full series of books. Once reading a series, children will often keep reading further and develop a greater love of reading and story-telling as their confidence in reading grows.
  • The captivating and funny characters and worlds described draw readers into the narrative. Dragons! Vikings! A small and annoying yet cute dragon called Toothless who loves to hear jokes and is occasional useful and heroic! What’s not to love?!


A bridge to further reading for reluctant readers

This book may act as a compliment to having already read and enjoyed the How to Train Your Dragon series of books for some readers. For my son it definitely acted as a bridge to further reading and developing confidence and a love of books.

As mentioned in a previous post, the How to Train Your Dragon series of books was a real breakthrough read for my son, (nicknamed Toothy). The Incomplete Book of Dragons – with brief chunks of text broken up by illustrations and easy access – served as a bridge to the more challenging chapter books. Once he got started on reading these books he was excited by the story and wanted to keep reading more and more. From that point he became a total book addict. So this book definitely comes highly recommended by our household.

If you have any reluctant readers at home this or other books like this could be a great place to start. Have a look for books full of stats and facts on your child’s favourite subject and you could find their reading interest and confidence growing quickly!

How about you? Have you found particular books that helped to provide a bridge for reluctant readers to build their confidence and delve into more challenging reading? Let us know in the comments below.

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Angela is a Mum who has had plenty of experience of worrying about reading! When she is in the mood for serious reading she loves dystopian and speculative fiction including the works of David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood. But secretly Angela enjoys borrowing all her son's books and shares his love for middle grade fiction, especially fantasy. She has a background in education & publishing and believes all children - no matter what holds them back or where their interests lie - can enjoy wonderful story-telling. Angela has created this blog to provide a resource for families to find great books for the whole family - parents included!

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How to train your dragon books were picked off the shelf by my older child who has a diagnosed reading difficulty … but her friend introduced us to the ‘Tom Gates’ books by L Pichon. The ‘handwriting ‘ is much tidier on the page and easier for children who have significant reading difficulties. My son who also has problems loves these books. They are the story of a boy who has a band and loves doodling and they make my boy laugh out loud


Thank you for the tip Anna. We will have to have a look at the Tom Gates books, they sound great!

I know the scrawly writing in the How To Train Your Dragon books can be a little difficult to read. The text is sometimes repeated in normal type and hopefully that can be helpful. Still, it won’t work for all children, and I suppose it’s all about finding what works for each individual child. I’m glad your kids have found a series they have really enjoyed! x

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