Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How to Raise Readers (Or Convince Yourself That's What You Did)

1. Buy that Jemima Puddleduck board book when your first child is just a couple of months old. Convince yourself that your brilliant baby actually indicated to you (yes, right there in Barnes and Noble! She did!) that she would love to own that book.

2. Read Jemima Puddleduck daily. Sigh over the illustrations. Snuggle your baby.

3. Read My Name is Big Bird (and all the other -- many, many, many -- My Name is... books) over and over and over again. Because you love your child, because you love the way she is smitten with Big Bird, and because you love reading. But mostly because you love your child. Resist the urge to say something inappropriate and sarcastic when she asks for this book nineteen times in a row before lights out.

(Don't sigh over the illustrations as you did with Jemima Puddleduck. But do sigh over the delicious cuddle-and-read time. It's sighable, and it goes too fast.) 

4. Cynthia Rylant, Jim Arnosky, Barbara Cooney, Allen Say, Josephine Nobisso, Tomie  de Paola, Barbara Helen Berger, Robert McCloskey, picture books about saints, Laura Numeroff,  poetry everywhere, Eric Carle, Mike Venezia....

Stacked in the living room. Strewn in the bedrooms. Piled in the kitchen. Rummaged through at the book store....

Ramona, at the bookstore when she was four years old.
5. Read aloud at breakfast. Read aloud at lunch. Talk about books at dinner.

6. Don't worry about when your child starts reading. An early reader will not necessarily become a better reader than a "late" bloomer. What's important is to keep the love of books alive, whether that happens through independent reading, read alouds, audio books,  or, even better, an ongoing combination of all those things.

7. Frances Hodgson Burnett, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Melissa Wiley, Beverly Cleary, C.S. Lewis, Maud Hart Lovelace, L.M. Montgomery, E.B. White, Eleanor Estes, Edward Eager, J.K. Rowling, American Girl books, Jean Craighead George, Peg Kehret, Rick Riordan, Brian Jacques, Hilda van Stockum, Jean Fritz, Jeanne Birdsall, Andrew Clements ....

8.  Go to the library. Make it a regular habit. Show your children how to use everything: the card catalog, the helpfulness of the librarians, the amazing fun of the self-checkout, the way the stacks are so perfectly constructed and suited to plopping down on the floor to peruse a book together until you ultimately decide, "Yes! Let's check this one out, too!" Teach them to bring their backpacks with them. You'll never check out just one.

9. Don't be the mom in the library who can be overheard saying things such as, "No! Put that back! You read that one last week -- get something new!" or, "Stop it! That one's too easy for you! Get something more challenging, why don'tcha?" Please don't say these things. There's nothing wrong with rereading a book, whether it's a classic or brain candy. Can you ever gaze too many times on a Caravaggio? Have you sworn off popcorn since you already enjoyed it once? Do you ever say, "Stop it! You've looked at that priceless painting before! Move on!" or, "Isn't that popcorn too easy to eat? Why don't you tackle something with some culinary layers?" Nope. Don't do it.

10. Remember this very important rule: no one is ever too old for picture books. Picture books are an art form. The best of them are beautiful and complex while appearing to be simple and simply inviting. Cultivate consumption of them. It's a great habit to acquire.

11. Jane Austen, Harper Lee, Madeleine L'Engle, Ray Bradbury, Flannery O'Connor, Suzanne Collins, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, poetry everywhere, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Shakespeare. Stack them, strew them, pile them, rummage through them. Read them, share them, talk about them.

12. Don't turn books into idols, but do teach your children that books -- the written word, human communication, hearts and souls and minds poured out and preserved on paper -- are vital. They are our story, our history, our future. Books help us sift through who we are, why we are, what we are, and where we want to go.

13. If you do all these things, you will quite possibly raise readers. We did these things, and we have three daughters who love books.

On the other hand, it's quite possible that all the things we did had nothing to do with raising readers. It might just be in the genes. Atticus and I may have ink in our veins, so it's conceivable that no matter what we did, even if we'd spent their lives saying things like, "Put that book down and come watch Gilligan's Island!", they would have wound up loving books. I know people who love books who haven't necessarily raised "readers." It happens, no matter how much some people strew and read and stack.

The truth is, we can't predict what our children will become or mold them into what we want them to be. They are unique souls; they aren't here to be grand reflections of what book lovers we are, or of anything that we are. But, that's another blog post.

Even if we can't guarantee that book-loving steps will lead to book-loving people, one thing we can be certain of is this: Jemima Puddleduck, generally speaking, leads to good things.


  1. This is a beautiful post. I haven't raised a reader, but I keep trying with my younger sibs and the nephews are just 3 and 5...

  2. I love this post!

    I have 7 children, and all of them, so far, appear to have picked up the book-loving gene. :)

  3. Thanks for this, especially the part about never being too old for picture books...

  4. Thank you so much for the affirmation: no one is too old for picture books!

  5. This is really worth reading, it has too much details in it and yet it is so simple to understand

    Accredited High School Diploma Online

  6. This was delightful, and yes, I did snuggle with baby #1 (now 20) and read Jemima Puddleduck and Big Bird, and she grew up to love Agatha Christy, GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, and so many others. My other 5 are following closely behind, and on "bad" home school days I try to remember this. Thank you for affirming how very good books are for us all!

  7. Terrific, wonderful post! May I add: 4. Shirley Hughes 5. don't ever stop 7. Elizabeth Enright 11. Tolkien! :-)

  8. Indeed! No one is EVER too old for picture books! As a teacher of various grades, at various times, I encourage all types of reading - including picture books!