Raising Readers

I love to read. Okay, that’s a bit of an understatement. I’m an insatiable reader, prone to stuffing myself full of snatched tidbits of literary indulgence — often mere seconds of page time before one of my boys demands my full attention with an act of unimaginable poor judgement. I read before bed every night. During the day when I can. In the morning and in the evening when I brush my teeth (because my beloved SonicCare toothbrush is programmed for a two minute cycle and I can squeeze in at least a couple pages while I polish my teeth). It’s true, I love to hike and walk and bike and even run (a more recent pleasure); I love to be outside and garden and cook and play with my boys, but if I’m being totally selfish (and honest) I’d be hard pressed to find something I love to do as much as read.

I’m a book glutton. And it’s a good thing books are my weakness because if I consumed food like I consume words I’d likely need a small crane to lift me out of bed.

I don’t know if being addicted to books makes me an expert on the topic, but this summer I was asked to speak at a family camp and I chose to talk about reading. More specifically, about raising readers.

My kids are 7, 5, and 1, so it’s a stretch to imagine that I can speak with any authority on the topic of raising readers. My boys are a long way from being good and properly raised. I feel like I’m still coaxing them out of the ground. But it is a topic near and dear to my heart, and something that I longed to discuss with a group of wise and interesting people (many of whom have walked the road of rearing children before me). So in an hour and a half session, I outlined what I called my “Unformulaic Formula for Raising Readers,” and then opened up the floor for discussion. What a discussion it was!

I won’t bore you with all the particulars, but I will share the five pillars of my unformulaic formula. And then (because I promised my seminar attendees that I would do so) I’m going to list the best of the best — the books that changed our lives and made us fall in love with reading. This incredible list was compiled by an amazing group of people ranging in age from their teens to their eighties. (A big shout-out to my Warm Beach friends!!!) Wow, was it ever fun to hear them recount their childhood favorites. I hope it blesses you. And I hope you take a moment to leave a comment answering the question I posed to them: What was YOUR favorite childhood book???

How to Raise a Reader:

  1. Make time to read. (With your child, beside your child, by yourself. A recent study showed that boys who see their fathers read are far more likely to read themselves. Get them young — when they still think everything you do is cool.)
  2. Create a bookish environment. (Make sure books, magazines, and even comics are easily accessible all over your home. You’d be surprised how willing kids are to pick up a book when it tempts them from the coffee table.)
  3. Indulge your child’s interests. (You want your kid to read classics. He wants to read Calvin and Hobbes. Is it worth the battle? Probably not. And if you’re willing to let him read a book of his choosing, he just might be more compliant when you want to introduce one of yours. Mutual respect goes a long way.)
  4. Balance your life. (Books often take a back seat to more pressing diversions in our high pressure, fast-paced world.¬†Life is busy, and creating space in our schedules for quiet time is a choice that many people aren’t willing to make. But I’m convinced that a richer, fuller life is the result of a little balance.)
  5. Encourage creativity. (Reading a book is a life experience, not a couch experience. Read a book as a family and make it come to life. Go on a field trip, prepare a special meal, dream about what happens after the last page… The possibilities are endless. And when you engage a book beyond the printed pages, you’re fulfilling the purpose of that simple offering — books are meant to be engaged, discussed, thought about, wrestled with. Books help us understand each other and ourselves.)

The Best of the Best (or: Books we LOVED as kids…)

The Wheel on the School (Meindert Dejong)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigsburg)

The Wright 3 (Blue Baillett)

Roxaboxen (Barbara Cooney)

Miss Rumphius (Barbara Cooney)

Anything by Roald Dahl

The Wednesday Wars (Gary Schmidt)

Among the Hidden (Margaret Peterson Haddix)

The Big Snow (Berta Hader)

Owen (Kevin Henkes)

The Great Brain (John D. Fitzgerald)

39 Clues Books by Rick Riordin

Anything by Bill Peet

Little Britches (Ralph Moody)

The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper

Caddie Woodlawn (Carol Ryrie Brink)

The Borrowers (Mary Norton)

The Boxcar Children (Gertrude Chandler Warner)

Anything by E.B. White

Anything by James Herriot

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)

… The list is incomplete! What was your favorite childhood book???


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