Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I once took a child to a library story time where in the course of 30 minutes the librarian read only two picture books. The rest of the time was spent singing songs about reading and doing activities that promoted reading. I, who was used to sitting cross-legged on the floor in rapt attention for book after book (yes—as an adult, too) was frustrated. After a while, this little girl wandered away from the group that was singing “I Love to Read,” picked up a book, and started looking at it on her own. She’d come to read, after all.

I get really uncomfortable with the thought that reading needs an ad campaign. My favorite approach to promoting reading is one that assumes reading is fun. It suggests, but maybe never says out loud, that reading is as elemental as breathing. It is based on relationship, and a genuine love of books. And good books. With this approach you spend very little time talking about how wonderful reading is. Instead, you share books with children—as many as you can get away with, as often as possible— because you love the books, but even more because you love the children. In other words, you don’t serve broccoli with a wrinkled-up nose, saying, “Really, it’s good for you! You’ll love it! Really!” You serve broccoli because it’s delicious and wonderful and you want to share this good thing with your children. (And if they don’t like it yet, they’re missing out, poor things!) I have been part of many library, school, and family story times where the person reading was as captivated by the books as the children were, where amid the squirms and whispers and runny noses there was an atmosphere of love and respect for both children and books.  The only interruptions were when one book was set down and another picked up.  The books spoke for themselves; it was obvious that reading was a special thing.

In her essay, “Stories,” in The Spying Heart: More Thoughts on Reading and Writing Books for Children, Katherine Paterson writes,

A teacher in Texas explained to me what she thought her task as a teacher of reading should be. For a long time, she said, we have been trying to train stoplight readers. We ask the children to read a bit of a story, stop, and talk about it. But what we should be working for is flashlight readers—readers who take a book under the blanket with a flashlight, because they cannot bear to stop reading what may very well be the best book they have ever read. If you want illumination, friends, a flashlight will beat a stoplight every time.
Is there really any more to say than that?


  1. So good! And now I'm feeling really guilty for making my kids read LOTR only a chapter at a time! :) Destry can't wait until we're done with this literature study--says he's going to just read all of them right in a row as fast as he can. chuckle

    I fully agree-children live up to expectations. If we expect to have to wheedle them into reading books or eating broccoli. . .we will! If we expect them to love it and for us to have to tell them "that's enough for now"--same holds true! :)

  2. No--don't feel guilty! She goes on in the essay to talk about a couple of jr. high teachers who read aloud in class but instructed their students NOT to read ahead and how effective that was in piquing their interest! It sounds like you're right on target!

  3. I always read ahead in class...
    The best example for reading was my from own family--we would spend the evenings sitting around the living room, each reading our own book. When I would go home to visit during college, I would take advantage of the time to catch up on my recreational reading that I didn't have time for when I was in school.
    I really love reading and hope that if I have children they will love it as much as I do.

  4. Ooh! This was a great post; I loved the quote. I absolutely cannot WAIT for my kids to be able to read themselves so we can have those "sit around and read together" nights (where I can read my OWN book!)... It's like an introvert's paradise!

  5. I enjoy it when everybody's sitting around reading their own books, too! Saturday morning is our official "read at the breakfast table" morning (although it happens plenty of other mornings, too--the difference is how long we get to linger); our non-reader enjoys it as much as everybody else (another reason picture books are awesome!)

  6. Beautifully put. I love to see how pulling out a book and sitting down on the couch attracts my children like magnets to my side. Thanks for the reminder!


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