Reading in Real Life From a Literary Mom

How can you help encourage your child to read? Long-time Scholastic staffer and mom shares four lessons.
By Julia Graeper
May 19, 2017



May 19, 2017

I started working at Scholastic when I was twenty-two years old. In the nearly two decades since I joined Scholastic, I’ve lived and breathed literacy and reading. It’s gotten to the point where some words (bookreading) have a certain charge when I hear them, much like the feeling of hearing my own name. I’ve worked in the Education Group, written and edited (a lot) and been behind-the-scenes in trade publishing, and worked on research like the latest 6th Edition Scholastic Kids & Families Reading Report. My entire job is to talk about reading all the time and, yes, it’s great!

The other thing that happened during this time is that I became a parent. I became the parent of a child, who is now almost five, and who has said both, “Please, please let’s read another one!” and also, “If this present is a book, I won’t like it!” (Everything she says need an exclamation point these days.)

Yes, that second one was a low moment for us. But it did help me understand that there can sometimes be a disconnect between the general sense that reading is good and we should do it, and the fact that life gets in the way — we have complicated schedules, maybe spirited and contradictory kids; we might have kids who struggle with reading or who want to read books we wouldn’t choose. A lot of parents come to me, and they’re not even quite sure what the issue is: “My son is so smart, and I try to recommend books but he just…” and then they trail off at loose ends. I get it. It’s hard. Now, as a parent of a kid who changes her mind as the wind blows, I know that the best thing I can do is to help real parents of real kids to read a little bit with them every day. This is what I’ve learned:

1. Read to your baby right away.

There is good news about reading aloud with babies: more people are doing it. Forty percent—up from 30 percent in 2014 — of parents began reading aloud before their child was three months old, according to the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report. There are lots of reasons to do it, among them that it helps babies with language, and also offers important bonding time with parents. But, it might feel a little weird or awkward to read aloud to an infant. (It kind of is, and that’s ok. No one’s watching you. Don’t worry!) You don’t have to prop your baby up to look at the pictures or worry about whether she’s listening. When my daughter was an infant I just laid her on the bed and read a book or two. The important part is just to do it early and often. And remember: if you’re among the 60 percent of parents who didn’t read to your baby right from birth, it’s really never too late to start.

2. Read aloud what kids want to read (even if the book is a little goofy).

I try to apply the golden rule here: I don’t want people judging what I read, so I try not to judge what my daughter reads. We know from the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report that when reading a book for fun, 37 percent of kids and 42 percent of parents “just want a good story,” and a similar percentage want books that make kids laugh. Who am I to say what makes a four-year-old laugh? She knows what she likes, and I know that nothing stifles a love of reading like someone telling you you’re reading the wrong thing. Sure, some of her books are not to my taste, but if she likes them, we read them. Books based on TV characters? Ok. Halloween books in July? Sure! The fact is, 89 percent of kids ages 6-17 say their favorite book are the ones they’ve picked out themselves. Whatever the book may be, keep yourself open to their choices and make that choice possible.

3. Look closely at your child’s book collection.

That brings me here. I had a startling experience recently. I was asked to talk about a book that I read with my daughter featuring a brave female character. I looked through our hundreds of picture books and found exactly one. To be clear, it was not her superhero story book that prominently features Wonder Woman and Batgirl on the cover, but omits them from all but one story. Grrr.

I realized that as thoughtful as I believed myself to be, I had lost track of finding strong female characters for my daughter to read about. I learned I need to look more closely at her bookshelf and make sure it reflects a world that supports her. (And yes, that means both the books she likes best, as well as the ones I like for her.) That’s what’s important to me — but it varies for every family. What’s important to you?

4. Choose books based on what’s happening in your kid’s world.

Lots of kids (and many parents) like books with characters who are “smart, brave, or strong.” But a brave character doesn’t have to solely be Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games series. What does it mean to be smart, brave or strong in your kid’s world?

For my daughter, being brave means going to a new school. Being strong means dealing with the complicated emotional stuff that is part of being a little kid who’s learning about the world. So when I look for books with brave characters, I look for books where kids manage their big lives and do the best they can, even if they’re a little bit scared. That’s what’s right for my four-year-old, and of course, it will shift and change as she grows older.

What I’ve learned is that listening, paying attention, guiding gently but letting my daughter have a voice about what we read goes a long way in helping her experience the joy of reading.

Featured Photo Credit: © evgenyatamanenko/iStockphoto

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