Growing a love of reading for reluctant readers

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

We are delighted to host a guest post from Kate at Beanstalk, a children’s literacy charity that recruits, trains and supports volunteers to provide one-to-one reading support to primary school children to improve their reading ability and confidence.

In this blog post, Kate discusses some of the strategies and resources that Beanstalk volunteers use and suggests five books that are great for engaging reluctant readers .

What does it take to help inspire a child who doesn’t want to read?

For parents and teachers there is such an enormous amount of pressure to guide every child successfully through the process of learning to read, while making sure it’s fun, enjoyable and a learning journey which will lead to a life-long love of books.

As teaching and literacy professionals, however, we know that there’s no winning formula and what works for one child won’t work for another. It’s also particularly challenging in the classroom to dedicate one-to-one time with children that struggle with reading or with children that get very little reading time at home with an adult. This is where Beanstalk volunteers provide much-needed support.

Together with schools, Beanstalk believes that every child should be able to read, grow and thrive. That’s why we recruit and train volunteers who are then placed in schools to work one on one with children. The reading helpers (volunteers) receive support from the local Beanstalk team and become part of the community in the school in which they volunteer. Three children are supported twice a week by one reading helper. This focused support has a huge impact on the children who are supported.

Beanstalk volunteers are sought by schools for a number of different reasons, one reason being to support children who lack reading confidence and have perhaps become reluctant to read. Beanstalk’s sessions are therefore very child-led and our volunteers are equipped with training and fantastic resources to enable them to adapt their one-to-one sessions to each child.

Many of our volunteers tell us regularly how much they enjoy seeing the children improve, not just in their reading ability, but in their confidence and willingness to read. This is often the ‘key’ to opening up the world of books for a reluctant reader.

Anne, who is one of our volunteers in Northampton, said that having the same three children twice a week means she can build up a good relationship with the children. “I get to know their likes and their hobbies and can incorporate this into our sessions to make them enjoyable and fun. The more interesting and fun you can make it the more the reluctant readers will find it less of a chore.” So often Anne’s Beanstalk sessions will involve a combination of reading books and playing word games to help build the fun into the time spent together.

As part of the Beanstalk service we now have wonderful starter book packs which we provide to all the schools we work in. We were really lucky to work with Marilyn Brocklehurst and her team at The Norfolk Children’s Book Centre to handpick Beanstalk’s ‘Top 40’ children’s books that currently make up the resource. The packs will develop and evolve over time to adapt to the needs of the reading helpers and children, but it’s a really great starter resource to provide all of our schools with so that the volunteers placed in those settings are then ready to go from the moment they begin reading with children.

The books in the packs represent a great range of choice from picture books to non-fiction, to books that help prompt thought-provoking discussions. For example, Eric... the hero? by Christopher Wormell is one of the newest additions to the starter pack and was chosen as it is a great book to engage children in talking about what makes a hero, and how a little person who is considered a 'twit' and a 'nitwit' can find self-esteem. Starting a conversation is often the key for many children.

Below are a few of the other titles in the starter packs and why we chose them, with ideas for how they can be use with struggling and reluctant readers:

Press Here

Herve Tullet

This isn’t just a book – it’s a GAME in a book that entices even the most reluctant of readers! One of Beanstalk’s reading helpers was working with a child who wanted to read it again and again – they couldn’t figure out how the magic worked! It involves the reader carrying out different tasks in order for the pages to turn. It can be a lot of fun to read together and carry out the ‘instructions’ with a child and can provide endless enjoyment over and over again!

You can order Press Here online or from your local bookshop or library.

You're A Bad Man, Mr Gum!

Andy Stanton (author) & David Tazzyman (illustrator)

Beanstalk reading helpers have had huge success using this in schools for many years. It’s a really very funny book which children and adults will have a great time reading together because of the author’s wonderfully funny characters and hilarious way with words, including phrases such as: "The truth is a lemon meringue!".

You can order You're a Bad Man, Mr Gum! online or from your local bookshop or library.

The Big Book of Magical Mix-Ups

Hilary Robinson & Nick Sharratt

This books uses spells as a fun way of telling stories. This book is great to encourage children to write down or think of their own funny spells to turn their siblings into toads! The book also mixes up lots of different scenarios, another exercise you can carry out with your child. Making them mix up well-known stories or nursery rhymes, such as Humpty Dumpty with ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’.

You can order The Big Book of Magical Mix-Ups online or from your local bookshop or library.

Lottie Potter Wants An Otter

Jeanne Willis & Leonie Lord

This was read aloud to Beanstalk staff at a recent conference and there were people crying with laughter! A wonderfully funny rhyming book filled with plenty of tongue twisters which children and adults will love trying to read out loud together. Practice also makes perfect with this and often children will refine their technique first before their reading helper. A great book for adults as well as it shows you how many words rhyme with ‘otter’!

You can order Lottie Potter Wants an Otter online or from your local bookshop or library.

The Wolves in The Walls

Neil Gaiman (author) & Dave McKean (Illustrator)

A perfect picture book for older children that has so many interesting and inspiring meanings. It perfectly demonstrates why picture books are not just for younger children – it’s too scary for them to start with! It opens up wonderful conversation about facing fears and using the book as a metaphor for life.

You can order The Wolves in the Walls online or from your local bookshop or library.

To see the full 'Top 40' list of books selected for Beanstalk's starter packs, click here.

If you would like to find out more about Beanstalk’s work, or you are interested in having trained reading helpers supporting children in your school, then please get in touch with us via our website or call us on 0845 450 0307.


Many thanks to Kate at Beanstalk for sharing these great suggestions with us. You can follow Beanstalk on Twitter at @beanstalkreads.

If you are interested in writing a guest blog post please get in touch here or click here to find out more.


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