I was in the library the other day, browsing through the adult fiction section. This little kid, about six years old, comes running up to her mother, a stack of books in her arms. I smiled because this kid looked like me when I was that age. I was always struggling under a pile of books taller than me, especially at the library where I knew I could get almost anything I wanted. Unlimited free books have always made me smile.
Anyway, the kid shows her treasures to her mom, all excited to go check them out. I’m thinking how awesome it is that this kid likes to read. And then…
Mom piles the books on a table and starts going through them.
“You’ve already read this one.” Dumps it on the cart holding books for re-shelving.
“We saw the movie to that one.” Dumps it on the cart.
“You won’t like this one.” Dumps it on the cart.
“This one’s too hard for you.” Dumps it on the cart.
“I’m tired of reading this one to you.” Dumps it on the cart.
“This one’s too young for you.” Dumps it on the cart.
“Why on earth would you want to read this?” (Said about a book that appeared to be about gemstones.) Dumps it on the cart.
By the time mom finished, the kid had only two books remaining out of a huge pile. She looked so disappointed seeing all of her treasures going back on the cart, even I wanted to cry. I had to leave the room to keep from causing a scene.
“I thought to myself, “Lady, when your kid grows up and can’t read, remember this moment.”
As long as the material isn’t objectionable, let kids read what they want.
So what if she reads the same book twenty times? I’m an adult and I’ve read some of my favorites far more than that. (I think I’m up to 30 or so on Outlander.)
So what if she watched the movie? Books are usually better than the movie adaptations and contain many more layers to the story.
So what if it’s hard for them/above their reading level? As long as the material isn’t inappropriate, it’s called challenging the kid. Here’s an original thought: Help the kid read it and make it a teaching moment.
And if it seems childish or stupid, you think the kid won’t like it, or you don’t understand why they’re interested in a subject? Maybe the book just seems that way to you because you aren’t six years old. Your choices probably seem boring and stupid to a kid. It’s up to the kid to learn what she likes or doesn’t like. And if they show an interest in a subject, encourage it. Telling the kid not to read about gemstones may cut them off the path of becoming a geologist, for example. You never know when a passing interest may become something bigger.
I don’t remember my parents ever saying that I couldn’t read something unless the material was just way too inappropriate for my age, or so morally bankrupt that nothing positive would be gained from reading it. (They even allowed me to read scary stuff like Stephen King at a relatively young age with the understanding that I would not be sleeping in their room if it gave me nightmares.)
Don’t squash a kid’s love of reading. Encourage it. Don’t model this notion that certain books are not okay, or that they should be ashamed to read certain things. When you complain and nag about their reading choices, a kid learns that reading is more trouble than it’s worth.
My parents let me read books over and over and never complained about having to read the same book repeatedly. They never told me I would or wouldn’t like something. I got to learn that for myself. My parents never said that I couldn’t read a book if I’d already seen the movie because they knew that movies are often pale imitations of the books. They helped me read more difficult books. If the material was appropriate, anything was fair game.
The result: Today I’m a reader. And a writer. (Not that all readers turn out to be writers, but my enjoyment of reading gave me a vocational choice.)
More importantly, I’m literate. I can read documents and make informed decisions. I can understand complex arguments and communicate in the world. Literacy is the foundation for everything in life, so why on earth would you want to limit a child’s growth in that area.
Too many people don’t make the connection: If you want kids to be highly functioning adults, they have to be able to read. Otherwise, how do you expect them to understand a lease, a contract, or a legal document? How do you expect them to get a job if they can’t read and understand directions and their employer’s policies?
It all starts with getting the kid interested in reading. Even if that is a book of fairy tales, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a book based on a video game franchise, comic books, non-fiction about a subject you don’t care about, or whatever else you think is stupid, silly, redundant, or boring. If it gets them interested in reading, it’s all good.
The truth is, the educational system will probably do everything it can to kill your children’s love of reading during their school years. It will force them to read and report on tons of books they’ll hate. Reading will be reduced to another line item required to pass a standardized test. It’s a miracle if a kid wants to pick up a book at all by the time school finishes reducing reading to just another chore.
Try to head that off by making reading at home fun and pleasurable. Give kids agency in their choices and you may create a reader. Stomp on their choices and the kid will just give up.
Think about that when you’re dumping books back on the cart at the library.
(Photo courtesy of StockSnap)