When the box of books for my first published middle grade novel, The Weaver, arrived at my house, I tore into it and the very first thing I did was open a book and smell the pages. Ink and paper, I’d smelled them many times in my life, but it was the utmost satisfying to know this time the ink formed my words.
I handed a book to my (then) 11-year-old daughter and she carefully pulled back the cover so as not to crack the spine, knowing these books were to be sent out to reviewers and contest winners. She flipped pages, admiring the chapter art, the large print and reading a few of the chapter titles. Then she looked at me and said, “This is so cool!”
How do you instill that kind of appreciation for books in your children? First it is important to be clear that you don’t have to be a writer yourself. I’ve been raising kids for almost twenty years and writing professionally for seven. All four of my kids spend many hours immersed in alternate worlds and routing for their favorite hero or heroine. Why? Habits.
The habits of a reading family start with board books and picture books, but they don’t stop there. To stoke the hunger for words, it is important to read to your child regularly before they can read themselves. You don’t have to be a good reader yourself, but I promise with practice your reading skills will improve. After you’ve read a treasured picture book 35 times in one week, your child will be able to “read” it back to you, starting – oh so subtly – their own reader education with word recognition.
After reading enough stories, you and your child will have a pretty good idea of how to cobble a story together, so get them involved in storytelling. When our kids were young, my husband and I would gather them around a cozy fire with blankets, stuffed animals and hot chocolate. I’d start a story and then we’d take turns adding to it, one sentence at a time. It was so much fun not knowing which direction the story would turn next and such a challenge figuring out how to wrap up the tale with a satisfying ending. The boys were rather fond of saying, “And then everybody died. The end.” But we wouldn’t let them get away with that.
One of my children was a reluctant reader. He had to overcome some complications with his vision and it put a damper on his desire to sit and read a physical book. It was just too much work for him. So when he was expected to do his first book report, I asked his teacher if he could listen to the book on c.d. She agreed and it opened up the literary world for him and for us as a family. We started listening to books on c.d. on road trips. A book is so much more interesting when discovered in a group. It was like a traveling book club. Sometimes we would be so enthralled with the story, we would bring the book into our hotel room and continue to listen in the evening. Or, we’d arrive at a family gathering, just to sit in the driveway until we got to a chapter break. As a parent, I appreciated that the kids’ minds were occupied during the trip so they didn’t argue or incessantly ask, “Are we there yet?” Plus they were free to enjoy the beautiful scenery we traveled through instead of hanging their heads over a handheld device.
Another important habit of a reading family, frequent visits to the library. We will even go out of our way to drive to another library (Redmond, Sunriver) if one of the kids expresses an urgent desire for a title not available at the downtown branch. By frequently curling up on the couch ourselves, me with my Kindle, my husband with a book loaded onto his smart phone and his earbuds plugged in, and various forms of books readily available in the house, we’ve modeled the importance and the enjoyment of reading.
Yet, the main reason I wanted to raise readers was because no matter what our children grow up to do in life, the most useful tool they will have in order to be successful at it, is reading. If they love to read, then they will be quick to learn more about what they are interested in. They will be able to research resources; they will be comfortable attending classes. They will be better communicators. So, give your kids the ultimate weapon. Give them the love of reading. And maybe, like me, you’ll discover a new career path in the meantime.
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