When parents ask children's author Kate Messner about what kids should be reading, she always says the same thing.
Messner is an award-winning author who has written more than 30 books, including the juvenile fiction series "Ranger in Time." She was also a middle school teacher for 15 years.
In a Twitter thread, Messner shared that parents often approach her to express concern about the kinds of the books their kids read.
"Sometimes, adults worry that summer reading isn't hard enough or challenging enough or academic enough," she wrote.
Her advice? Let them read what they love: "If they love it and want to read?" That is enough."
Messner also offered comfort to parents whose kids only want to read graphic novels.
She assures parents that comic books and graphic novels are still great reading choices.
She told the story of a dad who stopped her in the grocery store one day to say that his son kept reading graphic novels and ask her what he should do about it. Messner replied, "Buy him more graphic novels. And go to the library because they have some great ones."
Messner pointed out that she grew up reading "Archie" comics, which made her a reader. "Comics and graphic novels of today are smart and sophisticated," she wrote, "and they create readers in a big way."
That endorsement of graphic novels is a balm to parents who worry their kids aren't "really reading" when they indulge in comic-style books. But reading can be done in a variety of ways, books come in a variety of formats, and if a kid is enamored with stories being told a specific way, there's nothing wrong with that.
Reading graphic novels is a good "in" to the reading world for some kids, and when they are ready for something different, they'll already have the reading habit established.
Forcing kids to read books they don't like or aren't interested in is a quick way to make kids hate reading.
In our eagerness to create readers, parents and educators can do some unintentional damage. For example, mandatory reading logs, where kids are required to read for a certain number of minutes and keep track of it each day, have been shown in at least one study to diminish a child's interest in reading.
"When reading is portrayed as something one has to be forced to do," the authors of one such study wrote, "students may draw the conclusion that it is not the kind of activity they want to engage in when given free time."
Since 1 in 4 American adults don't read any books, helping kids love reading is important.
According to a Pew report, about 24% of adults in the U.S. haven't read any books — in whole or in part — in the past year. That includes, print, electronic, and audio formats. One might assume that those numbers are a product of the digital generation, but the report found that Americans under 50 years of age are more likely to have read a book than those over 50.
Books don't have to be long or difficult to be valuable. And considering the research that shows how reading increases intelligence, empathy, mental health, and more, developing a habit of devouring books is more important than fretting over specific kinds.
And way to do that, according to Messner, is simple: "Let your kids read what they love. The End."