Nurturing a child's taste in reading reaps rich rewardsAlthough reading is one of my favorite activities, my son doesn't seem to share that obsession. He'll be 10 this fall, and it's taken me a good decade to begin to fathom his likes and dislikes. He loves Harry Potter and any good fiction that I read aloud but seldom picks up novels on his own. At first I thought this might be a problem, but now I'm coming to realize that he's simply a nonfiction kind of a guy. He practically grabs each Sports Illustrated for Kids issue as it comes out of the mailbox, and this summer he's devouring a series of books focusing on our 50 states. He loves to spread several of them out on the floor and compare geographical statistics. Looking into the population of Boise is hardly my cup of tea, but the important thing is, it's his.
Discovering and developing a child's taste in books requires some crafty strategizing by parents and teachers. A new trio of books focusing on kids and reading, each with a slightly different slant, can help in this pursuit. All three have given me plenty of hints, suggestions and reassurances about enticing my son with books as well as nurturing the literary likes and dislikes of his twin preschool sisters.
The smallest book in the bunch, Raising a Reader: A Mother's Tale of Desperation and Delight (St. Martin's, $19.95, 144 pages, ISBN 0312315341) by Jennie Nash is filled with the author's own experiences with kids and books. A writer and mother of two girls, Nash has structured her book in short chapters, peppering each with sidebar suggestions and reading lists that have titles like "What Carlyn Turned to After Harry Potter" and "Books I Wish I Could Convince My Kids to Read." Reading this book is like sitting down to an intimate lunch with a fun, passionate friend who loves both literature and children. Nash offers great suggestions like snuggling up in bed with kids and reading silently together along with interesting anecdotes, like how she once got so angry at her toddler's mistreatment of books that she took them all away. Her writing is breezy and entertaining, so you'll go through her tales in no time.
Next, pick up Under the Chinaberry Tree: Books and Inspirations for Mindful Parenting. Authors Ann Ruethling and Patti Pitcher have distilled multitudes of motherly wisdom into this wonderful volume. The perfect baby gift for a first-time parent, Under the Chinaberry Tree is divided into themed chapters, each of which begins with personal anecdotes and insights, then moves on to discussions of various books relevant to the theme. A chapter titled "Dailiness: Making It Through the Day" contains a useful list that has nothing to do with reading, "Tips for having enough energy to survive daily life with small children," while the last chapter, "Surrendering the Day," concludes with a list of beloved bedtime books. In between are all manner of wonderful discussions and reviews, with chapter headings such as "Smiles, Giggles and Belly Busters," "Learning to Be Human" and "Growing Pains." Unfamiliar choices as well as classics like Goodnight Moon and Make Way for Ducklings are included in the volume. If you're in need of a book on a particular subject, or simply a list of wonderful, magical titles, you're guaranteed to find them here. (The one major drawback is that the book focuses on titles for younger children, the 8 and under crowd). Keep Under the Chinaberry Tree close by it's like having a children's librarian at home.
By far the most comprehensive and multidisciplinary book in the trio, How to Get Your Child to Love Reading: For Ravenous and Reluctant Readers Alike Activities, Ideas, Inspiration, and Suggestions for Exploring Everything in the World through Books (Algonquin, $18.95, 500 pages, ISBN 1565123085) by EsmÅ½ Raji Codell is an invaluable reference volume for parents and teachers. Author of Educating EsmÅ½: Diary of a Teacher's First Year, Codell also runs a wonderful children's literature web site called PlanetEsme.com. Bursting with ideas, books, connections and interconnections, not just for the younger set but for young adults as well, she's like Mrs. Frizzle of the Magic School Bus Series. Divided into subject categories, with chapters on math and science books, travel, history and social studies titles (there's even a chapter relating books to radio, TV and the movies), the volume offers more than just reviews and reading lists. Coddell includes tips on reading aloud, on helping kids overcome learning anxieties and on nurturing a child's reading interests. There are plenty of hands-on activities and ideas to inspire kids to read and write. Whether you're a teacher, homeschooler or innovative parent looking for fun, educational ideas, this book is an absolute must. There are no longwinded discussions here, just loads of creative, simply-put ideas. Coddell also lists 3,000 teacher-approved titles and answers inquiries in a special Q&andA column. No matter what kind of book your child likes, no matter what subject he or she wants to pursue, How to Get Your Child to Love Reading is bound to provide inspiration. Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.