Should We Let Our Children Read Junk?

If you’re a teacher or a parent, you’ve likely bemoaned children’s book choices at one point or another… Or maybe you feel that way almost every day! After all, why would children choose to read so many “lite” reads (or junk, as you might call it) when so many wonderfully written, beautifully thought-provoking, lesson-teaching books have been written for kids? I’m talking about those books that are, as Jim Trelease writes, “accessible,” those books that are written so simply and with such simple storylines that they’re easy to read… As adults, we might think of them as beach reads. And, just like beach reads have a valid place in many an adults’ reading lives, these “lite” reads can be greatly beneficial to children, too!

According to multiple studies (cited below, found through Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook (7th edition), pages 98-99), when adult English language learners received access to high-interest, low level books to read for pleasure (in one study, they received the Sweet Valley Kids series, written at approximately a second-grade reading level), “all [participants] became enthusiastic readers” (Trelease, page 99). Not only did all of the participants enjoy what they were reading enough to read multiple books in the series and related series, all became better readers, improved their spoken English, and increased their vocabulary development. No, Sweet Valley Kids is not a high-brow series, especially for adults. But did it have a place in engaging learners? Absolutely!

This study is one of many that demonstrate the powerful role that recreational “lite” reading — series books and comic books — plays in developing good and lifetime readers. Is it classic literature? Of course not. Does it have a better chance of creating fluent readers than the classics would? Definitely. Can it eventually lead to the classics? Yes, and certainly sooner than would The Red Badge of Courage.

Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook (7th edition), page 99

But, I get the reluctance to let children fill their reading time with junk. As an adult who cares about children, it can be really, really hard to watch them ravenously read every single book in a silly series when they’ve been provided so many other “better” books. But, speaking from my own experience, those silly, junky series can be exactly what developing or reluctant readers need to help them turn the corner and become lifelong readers.

When I was in the classroom, I’d keep almost anything on my self if it grabbed someone’s attention and got them excited about reading. (In fact, I only refused to put one series in my classroom… Bonus points if you can guess what it was!). Now, as a parent, while I won’t purchase everything my girls love to read and give it all a permanent home in our house, I will let them check out whatever age-appropriate material they want from the local library or pick up just about anything from one of the Little Free Libraries on our block.

Yes, sometimes it’s painful to see what they choose. And yes, sometimes I will refuse to read whatever they’ve chosen out loud to them (after all, for a read aloud to be successful, I need to be engaged in it, too). But, I’m all for supporting their choices if it gets and keeps them reading, as I know they’re getting a terrific foundation for both academic skills and a lifelong love of reading. After all, I know that the more they enjoy reading, the more they’ll read, the better they’ll be, the more they’ll read, and the bigger of an impact reading will have on their academic and personal lives.

For more information, check out

  • The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (there is a more recent 8th edition available, but I prefer the 7th, the last version he wrote and edited himself) (affiliate link used)
  • Krashen, Stephen D. and Kyung-Sook Cho, “Acquisition of Vocabulary from the Sweet Valley Kids Series: Adult ESL Acquisition,” Journal of Reading 37, no. 8 (1994): 662-667.
  • Constantino, Rebecca, “Pleasure Reading Helps, Even If Readers Don’t Believe It,” Journal of Reading 37, no. 6 (1994): 504-505.

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