Let’s begin with what might be causing Tess to want to avoid reading. Of course, Tess may simply prefer doing other things. But she may also find reading stressful, in part because you’re stressed. Kids, after all, are quite good at discerning the preoccupations of their parents.
Em might be another source of discouragement. Tess must find it hard that Em takes such pleasure in reading, when Tess herself struggles. It’s no surprise that she’d rather play dress-up. Wherever Em does her reading, be sure that Tess does hers in a different room. Em’s presence might be distracting, or even disheartening, if she’s reading a book that Tess can’t. And for you: Try not to think of Em as the standard of a good reader; focus instead on how you might help make reading something Tess looks forward to.
Once you’ve removed those roadblocks, let’s look at what you can do to make reading more fun for Tess. First off, while Em’s presence may be distracting, yours will be invaluable. The time you spend reading with Tess offers a chance for you to hang out, bond, and let her share the joy you find in books.
Start by helping Tess find a “just right” book. Let her pick the topic. You may have read all of Beverly Cleary’s books when you were little, and maybe Em has too, but don’t fret if Tess doesn’t take to them. You say she loves to dress up and create worlds of her own. Maybe she’d prefer to read fantasy books, or science fiction. (The Kingdom of Wrenly, for example, is a favorite beginners’ chapter-book series among many second graders!) Let Tess take the lead in making your reading time together enjoyable. Maybe the two of you can start a book club, with her picking the first book, and you proposing the second. Or perhaps you can look online at some choices, read the synopses together, and chat about which might be fun to read next.
In addition to holding Tess’s interest, a “just right” book will include two or three unfamiliar words on every page. Beginner readers won’t be able to improve with books that are too easy for them. Too many hard words, however, may scare them off. Talk with Tess’s teacher about her reading level, then check out Scholastic’s Book Wizard for information about the difficulty of any title in its database. And if you have it in you, flip through the first couple of chapters before Tess starts a new book to note challenging words. Reviewing them with Tess in advance will help her focus on the story instead of being intimidated by new vocabulary.
Read books aloud to Tess, pointing to lines as you read them so that she can connect the printed word with the spoken word. Take turns so that she reads aloud to you too. Shared reading is a great opportunity for dialogue. You can ask Tess how she visualizes the setting, or to make predictions about what will happen next. Or ask her what a character might be thinking or how they might say something, given the context of the story. Kids are perceptive, so don’t go overboard, but these conversations can make delving into the text easier. Have fun and she probably will too.