If I was reading and someone spoke to me, I’d act like I heard but I never did. I’d hide out and hours would pass and I’d forget everything but the story on the page.
Even as a teacher, I was a sucker for books. I remembered being a child, sitting in a classroom, eyeing the red and white Scholastic Book Clubs box on the teacher’s desk, waiting, waiting, waaaaaaaaaiiiiiiting for the teacher to open it and distribute the books we’d been expecting. That box was a treasure trove to me. So when I had my own classroom and my class’ book-order box arrived, I’d stop everything and open that sucker. I’d give out the books right then and there. It didn’t hurt that I’d always ordered several myself. Books are important.
I always thought I was a book lover. Enter my daughter, who puts me to shame.
She’s three. This is her.
She has two obsessions: books and baby dolls. Ideally, she has books and baby dolls together. She’s become an expert in the “circle-time stance,” the one mastered by teacher: the backward book hold. She’s always careful to show the babies the pictures and she “reads” with the singsong voice of the most exuberant preschool teacher.
She puts them to bed at night, each with a blankie and a book.
When her big brother tells her that she’ll learn to read when she gets a little older, she gets angry because, of course, she already knows how. She is convinced of this fact and will not be told otherwise. She’s pretty convincing.
They don’t have to be picture books, either. Anything in print will do. Papers with words. Magazines. Brochures. She’s good in church because of the hymnals and bulletins. No pictures required. And she’ll tell you, with great conviction, everything each one of them says.
How do you raise a voracious reader? Truth be told, I have no idea how you get a kid to love books like this little girl does.
Her big brother likes to read and is proud that he can sound out words and read some to me. We practice and take turns. Kindergarten is on the horizon. I can’t wait to see his reading come alive as he learns and grows. He doesn’t crave books like his sister does. He lenjoys them and loves when we buy them for him and read them with him. But she needs them, she says.
I’m sure genetics are at play—book-loving runs in the family. My own obsession combined with years of elementary-school teaching yielded one heck of a children’s book collection, years before the arrival of our firstborn. My husband loves books. Both of our children were born into books, but only one needs them.
I couldn’t begin to tell you.
I used to teach elementary school. I'm familiar with the stereotype: girls like books more than boys. That might be the case for many, but I've also known plenty of boys who love library visits and free reading time and Harry Potter as much as the girls sitting beside them.
I don't know a foolproof way to raise a reader. But I do know it doesn’t hurt to stack the deck. If you want to encourage ravenous reading (or even just “reading”—whatever the case may be), bring on the books. Visit the library. Order from the book club. Say no to all sorts of frivolous requests: junky, plastic toys; Pop Rocks for breakfast; PG-13 movies. But never say no to books.
Read to them every day. Let them choose the books, even if reading that one book one more time might make your eyes bleed. (You know which one—we all have one.)
Let them see you reading. Talk about it. Be excited about books, even if you might not need them like you need a cup of coffee or five minutes alone or air.
You don’t have to need books to love them. I just hope my kids always love them.