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?