The Cover is Not the Book Reading Challenge

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My ten-year-old daughter’s favourite book is one that sat on a shelf for two years, unread, because she didn’t like the look of it. It’s called Curse of the Spider King and she hates spiders. Eventually I read it myself and loved it so much that I bought the other books in the trilogy and began reading it aloud to her sister. My ten-year-old listened, was intrigued, picked it up for herself and devoured it! Now the whole trilogy is top of her favourite books list and she’s read them twice.

It got me thinking how many others books are sitting, unread, on the shelf because we don’t like the cover and we have started a reading challenge called ‘The Cover is not the Book’, inspired by the song from Mary Poppins Returns.

First, I combed the shelves for books that have never been read and created 3 piles – one for her, one for her sister, and one for me. I found at least 20 for each of us! So between now and Easter, for every book we read from our piles, I will buy them one new book of their choice.

My ten-year-old is not impressed with her pile. All the books look boring, or the writing is too small, or they are second hand and a bit worn, but I believe all of them are great books. Either I’ve read them as a kid or they’ve been highly recommended but they’ve sat on the bookshelf, looking unappealing.

For her younger sister, this is just what she needs to pull her out of the reading rut of only reading one type of book (in our case, Garfield and Diary of a Wimpy Kid). When I was younger, I read as many Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books as I could lay my hands on. The downside to this was that there are hundreds of those books in publication and it took me about 2 years to get through most of them, by which time my reading level had stunted. It was only when I scored low on an English test (previously my best subject) that I was shocked enough to put the Sweet Valley obsession down.

I’m excited to see what will come of this challenge. Will it broaden my children’s reading horizons or have I just subjected them to 3 months of reading torture? Will the novelty wear off when they read their first book and realise it really is just as boring as they had feared? Or will they discover a new favourite? A diamond in the rough?

The kind of book in our piles are classics. Some were printed years ago when cover tastes were different and others just look different to the usual favourites. What kind of books would be in your pile? Perhaps books you bought for your kids because you thought they would be good for them but the kids themselves aren’t convinced? What about the Bible? Do you have one with a plain cover or old fashioned illustrations? Does it just sit on the shelf, not being read? And what about that God for Kids app you’ve thought about downloading or you have downloaded but it’s just sitting on your phone, not being played? Sorry that’s not a book, just a plug…moving on!

We have named our challenge ‘The Cover is not the Book’, which means ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ or ‘appearances can be deceiving’. By doing this challenge will my children learn the deeper truth to this phrase? Will they become less judgmental and more discerning? Will they be more open to adventure or discovering new things or making new friends? Or will they simply discover the joy of a new book genre?

We shall see!  

If you would like to join us, here are a few tips and Happy Reading

Tips to start your own ‘The Cover is Not the Book’ reading challenge:

  1. Decide on an incentive your kids will love. Our kids like books so a new book is a good incentive. I’ve also told them they can trade 10 book-credits for one computer game/DVD if they prefer. They are very excited about that! They have make their own online ‘wish list’ which means I can keep my eye out for them in second hand shops because I know this is going to cost me (but it’s worth it and I have 3 months to save up).

  2. Decide if it’s a competition. For my kids, pitting them against each other usually leads to disaster. So for our family, the competition is with themselves and the prizes are for each book, not for who reads the most. But a bit more competition might work for your family.

  3. Set a time limit or a date. Perhaps lent is a good one? Make sure the number of books in their pile reflects the time limit (i.e. two books to read in six months won’t create that sense of momentum, equally 30 books in two weeks is setting them up to fail unless they are very young and reading short picture books, of course.)

  4. Create a fun way to record successes. We have chosen to take a photo on the iPad and save it into their personal folder. I could have made wall chart but I asked what would motivate them most and they chose to take a photo. When recording a finished book, they will be quizzed so they can’t cheat.

  5. Go through the pile with the kids and make sure they haven’t read the book before. Remind them that the pile may look unattractive but ‘the Cover is not the Book’!

  6. Throw a mixture of long and short books in there so they can alternate ‘quick wins’ with long chapter books.

  7. Feel free to add extra, more immediate incentives to give out as soon as they have finished a book, in order to keep momentum going. Whatever usually works in your family (sweet treats, special place setting for dinner, movie choice, screen time, stickers, later bedtime etc.)

  8. Most importantly, your kids have to be on board with this. If not, then it’s no fun for either of you.

  9. Consider doing it yourself to show that you value the importance of the challenge.

  10. Let me know how it goes! Comment below or email

 You can follow our adventure by subscribing to God For Kids updates (Tap Here) 

From Joanne, writer of God for Kids app