As a librarian, I had a hard time encouraging my child to read for pleasure. I want other parents to learn from my mistakes.
- When I was pregnant with my first, cuddling over "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" brought me joy.
- I did so many things wrong trying to encourage her to read, many of which ended in tears.
When pregnant with my firstborn, I curated a library of 101 children's books before I'd even picked out a crib. My idea of maternal bliss was cuddling over "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."
I did so many things wrong. I assumed my kid would love what I loved. I was a snob, speaking about literary books too highly and snubbing series books. Reading is reading, and I should have encouraged her choices, no matter what they were. Reading something junky is better than reading nothing at all.
When my daughter had trouble sitting still to read one of the dozens of books before her, I used the timer on my cell phone to force my daughter to finish. Many nights ended with tears. It worked much better when I accepted that those 12 books weren't right, and go back to the library for more.
Here's what parents can learn from my other mistakes.
Reading levels aren't everything
When my kid started reading, I was obsessed with leveled readers. My emphasis on levels encouraged her to be self-conscious and competitive with her peers, and reading became a rote exercise.
One day, when I saw my daughter pick up an illustrated book, I urged her to go back to chapter books because I feared she was regressing to "baby" books. Then I looked at the picture book and realized it was better written and more complex in vocabulary than the second-grade reader one.
My daughter is a visual person, and kids have to gravitate toward whatever excites them. Parents can get in the way when they discourage pleasure reading.
Don't be afraid of lowbrow literature
I pushed my kid to read what I considered Highbrow Literature, basing my choices on what I'd read growing up. But a lot of what I read is dated and full of racial and cultural stereotypes, and have been replaced by new, more culturally relevant, and vibrant books. It's a whole new world out there.
Graphic novels are some of the best children's books being published now. I didn't have anything like these books as a kid in the '80s and '90s. So I had to abandon many assumptions and open my mind to today's choices.
They don't have to finish the book
There's nothing wrong with being a picky reader — in fact, it's admirable. But I remember grumbling when I spent money on those dozen books she couldn't finish. We were wasting space on the bookshelves too.
I should have known better.
As soon as we started visiting the library, my kid got to experiment and borrow 50 books at a time, no strings attached. We still have to invest a lot of time and energy in our library trips, but it is worth the effort. When we visit bookstores or shop online now, my daughter has a better idea of what she likes to read from her library expeditions.
Whenever I hear a parent say, "my kid isn't a reader," or "my kid doesn't like to read," I want to tell parents that there's no such thing as a kid who isn't a reader. Everyone just needs to find the book that speaks to them, no matter how long it takes.
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