Let’s Raise Readers!

Every parent I know has bright wishes for the future of their children.  They want their kids to be leaders, scholars, heroes, and… happy.  They are constantly asking themselves and each other how to achieve this.

I’m not a mom, but I was raised by a good one, so I took this ultimate question to her:  “What can a parent do to help their child live a happy life?  What can a parent do to help their child find the path of leadership, scholarship, or everyday heroism?”

I submit to the jury that my mom is an expert.   She has a decent amount of street cred because she raised six kids, all of whom can truthfully call themselves “happy”.  She also has a bevy of educational credentials in the form of multiple PhD’s– all related to Early Childhood Education, teaching, and neuroscience brain stuff. Her expert answer, though, was surprisingly simple.

Teach your child to be a reader.  From there, they’ll make their own way towards success and happiness.

So that’s it then.  Problem solved.   Let’s raise readers. 

Here’s some tips for adults on how to inspire a desire for reading in children.


Let’s read for fun!

“Reading” is a really flawed word.  It’s one little word used to represent so many different things.  Reading can be a hobby– a habit of picking up a book and reading on the sofa, or collecting a series of books by a specific author.  Reading can be a tool — a system of gleaning the correct information from a resource, and learning how data is manipulated and extrapolated.  Reading can be an art– the mastering of language and the development of voice.

They’re not the same thing.

When dealing with a young reader– first teach the hobby, then the tool, and finally the art.  Once they develop a habit of reading for fun, they’ll be more confident.  That confidence will give them the push they need to seek out writing that will answer their questions about life.  Once reading has proven itself, the chances that they’ll seek out the written word for art’s sake is much more likely.

To make reading into a hobby:

  • Make books available.  My parents had us bring books everywhere.  Right before leaving, we’d do the final check– “Shoes? Coats? Little sister? Books?”
  • Give them ownership of their hobby.  Let them choose some of the books they read, and let them own at least one.  My books were prized possessions– something I chose and owned, surrounded by so many things belonging to others.
  • Introduce them to the magic of libraries.  Libraries are often the first time that a child is trusted with an account, a card, and a loan.  Treat it like a big deal.  It is one.
  • Encourage reading in all forms– as long as they’re willingly reading, you should be supportive!
  • Bribe them.  A pizza party after they read 50 books.  A penny for every book they read.  Something.  Anything.  Kids love bribes.


Let’s expand the boundaries of our mind!

It’s great to introduce reality-based stories to your kids because the stories can be integrated into everyday life.  Goodnight Moon and Love You Forever are personal favorites of mine, but let’s take advantage of the malleability of a young mind to introduce them to the wonders of imagination, as well.  Don’t just stop at talking bears, or frogs who are friends with toads.  No.  Introduce them to dogs with alarm clocks in their sides.  Let them open a cupboard that turns little plastic figures to life.  Show them how to deal with dragons and how to iron a wrinkle in time.  Let them imagine big.

There’s an argument in some parts of the world that some of these stories aren’t really appropriate for kids because a child’s mind may not understand their true meaning, and because the stories get a little dark.


Any good story gets a little dark.  Even the Cat in the Hat is a basic ode to negligence and Stranger Danger.  Kids have an amazingly protective and flexible mind.  Let them stretch!  Right now, they’re building a world of possibilities– a world that, like any world, has pockets of darkness and danger.  Their minds, if exercised and fit, will protect them.

To help them imagine bigger:

  • Occasionally introduce them to books just out of their reading level.  Help them read these books.
  • Don’t fear the adventures in books.  If you are brave, your kids will be too.
  • Share in their wonder!  When they tell you they made friends with a little boy named Fudge who ate a turtle, be interested.  When they tell you what happened to Veruca Salt, be utterly shocked.  Sure, you’ve heard it before, but now you’re experiencing it with them.  That’s different, right?


Let’s Be Advocates for Literacy.

I work with a lot of families– thousands a year.  I hear a lot of “Reading is hard”, “That’s a lot to read”, “I have to read all of that?!”, “Reading is boring”, “I guess I’d have nothing to do but read”, and my least favorite — “I don’t have time to read all the stuff they read.”  Yes, that’s right.  All of those laments are said by parents.

I’m not saying you have to be a Public Service Announcement for reading, but at least don’t be the opposite.  Those statements look down on reading and they turn the written word into something to be feared.

Literacy doesn’t need that sort of attack right now– it’s dwindling all on its own.

There’s a commercial for a tablet that features an adorable girl in a home-made astronaut costume running around her house.  She asks her mom how far away the moon is and her mom directs her to the tablet.  The girl repeats the question and the tablet answers.  It’s a sweet moment, but let’s imagine it differently.

What if the question spurred a trip to the library?  What if the mom pulled out a book, or a search engine, and showed her how to look it up?  What if the mom pointed at a little shelf of children’s books including one about space, and they sat and read it all together?  How much more would that little girl have learned? Instead of a number being recited at her, she’d find out how many footsteps it’d take to get to the moon, or how many tall giraffes*.  She’d learn about moon myths, and stories, and hear about the real life heroes who have stood upon it.  Just by looking at words, her world would have expanded and she’d be one step closer to the moon– one step closer to a real astronaut outfit.

Let’s raise a fearless future, one that stands on the moons of other planets and thinks, in that moment, about how much they must look like a very tiny prince.   Let’s raise generations of children, who grow up to be adults, whose imaginations solve today’s problems and whose studies build the cities of tomorrow.

Let’s raise scholars, heroes, and leaders.
Let’s raise readers!

What is your favorite children’s story? How do you support or encourage literacy? Do you remember Reading Rainbow or those READ posters?  What encourages you to read?

READ posters are available at the American Library Association store: http://www.alastore.ala.org

READ posters are available at the American Library Association store: http://www.alastore.ala.org

Stories referenced– sometimes obliquely, and in no particular order: The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss;  Frog and Toad Are Friends, by Arnold Lobel; The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster;  Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne;  A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle;  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl;  Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume;  Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede;  The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banks;  Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown;  The Missing Piece, by Shel Silverstein;  Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch; The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

On another note, when I was writing this, I thought about how great it would be to have a blog set up for kids– where various bloggers could guest blog with stories or tales of real life.  Stories appropriate for a certain age and reading level.  Digital reading has taken over a lot of printed forms and blogging is something that kids probably see a lot of their parents do. It’d be neat for them to be able to check into the blog and see something new and random. If any parent bloggers want to manage a project like that, or already manages a project like that, I’d love to be involved. Let me know! 

* I think it would take 63,057,742 very tall giraffes, laid out head to toe, to reach the moon from the Earth.  But don’t take MY word for it.


Weekly Writing Challenge:  Images vs Text:  http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/writing-challenge-image-vs-text/

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    1. Haha, not just to read– to love reading… to be a reader! :) Yes! The blog-for-kids project sounds fun, though it’d probably also be a ton of work… since someone would have to review all the submissions and probably rate them for a certain reader levels. I’m kinda hoping someone already does it and I can just join in. :D

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  1. Great post, and an important one. Both my kids had perfect SAT scores in reading and writing. I think in great measure, it is because we read and sang and told stories to them all the time, every day, every night. We didn’t watch TV, so they learned to make the pictures in their own heads. They grew up at a storyteller’s knee, hearing stories, breaking bread with storytellers, listening, learning to look for stories and patterns and to appreciate interesting language from infancy. My daughter was a published author by third grade when a friend heard her telling her own adaptation of a folk tale and asked my daughter’s permission to include it in her anthology. I am convinced that all that reading and storytelling were stepping stones to their writing abilities. My daughter just called a couple hours ago to tell me she just won an award for the best freshman writing at Stanford–with a $350 and publication as a prize. My son is a Fulbright Scholar and a graphic artist/writer bound for Argentina next month. They are bright kids, but I attribute it in part to reading and storytelling (and very limited exposure to TV). Of course we traveled and played games and went to museums and built fairy houses in the garden, but it was all built on a foundation of stories stories stories.

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    1. :) Thanks Naomi! Your kids sound awesome! All of us 6 aced the reading/writing too, and I’d say it was for the same reason– a foundation of stories, stories, stories. Congratulations to your daughter and thank you for sharing your reading/parenting strategies with us! :D

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  2. One of my personal faves growing up was ‘Snoopy and the Red Baron’, and I’ll say that in a conversation without hesitation! My daughter is three and loves books… she makes a geek daddy proud =)

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    1. The only thing better than a good story is a good story that comes with it’s own Atari game. ;) That’s wonderful that she already loves books!! It’s happy to think on such young readers out there– and all the awesome places they’ve yet to explore, and characters they’ve yet to meet. Especially the geeks. Geek lit is full of wonder!

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  3. Bravo, Rara! Wow! This is hands down my favorite post you’ve written! (& That’s saying a lot because some of your others have brought me to tears.)
    Seriously, I couldn’t agree more! Anyone that knows me well would tell you I shout this from the rooftops often. Kids nowadays are just plopped in front of a television & sadly many homes are without ANY books. I’m very active in trying to change that all around me. My own son had some speech issues and reading has helped him tremendously! To the point where his speech disorder is no longer noticeable.
    If you wanted to band together some parents to do this children’s reading blog, I’m so on board with bells on! A huge chunk of my readers are Moms & I just know they’d be ecstatic to participate. Anything you ever need you just e-mail me, missy! *big hugs*

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    1. :) I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! The idea that a home is without any books always makes me sad– every child should have a book, I think. My little brother also had speech issues, issues that are completely gone now– I think because of reading, and reading to others. I’m hoping someone out there already does the children’s reading blog, but if not, I’ll set something up for sure! I’m happy to know I can count on your for help! :D Thank you!!

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      1. Anytime buddy, anytime. ;) I’ve been thinking of doing something for children lately. I’ve never done a children’s book before & don’t know the first thing about what goes into it but I really want to give it a try! I’ve had some friends suggest I go for it & double as the illustrator as well since my art has been very child-inspired in recent years.
        I dunno if I have the chops but after reading this – you certainly put some dino fire under my butt!

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    1. :) That’s awesome! There’s quite a few illustrators without stories running around WordPress. You should look up “illustration” tags and check some out! :) Or maybe if I can figure out this kids blog, I can introduce illustrators and writers to each other for each post. Hmmm… ideas, ideas!

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  4. Your mom had the perfect answer. Never realized it could be so simple.
    I used to love Dr. Seuss as a kid! How can anyone be afraid of Dr. Suess? It’s a cat in a hat. It’s funny and cute. NOT scary.

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    1. My mom always has simple answers to things. :D Actually, to be fair, Dr.Seuss gets kinda dark… I mean, think of The Lorax (which is my all time favorite!).. it’s all about death of the world due to overcommercialization and pollution. But “being afraid” does seem to be taking it too far! :)

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  5. Huge thumbs-up to this post Rarasaur – when my four kids were young we belonged to two libraries, which meant 8 books from each library for each child… um… 64 children’s books per fortnight coming into our house!

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    1. Oh yes! I love The Giving Tree. I only didn’t make a reference because I already took a picture with The Missing Piece and didn’t want to re-mention Silverstein, but I love all his work! I have a good many of his poems memorized. :)

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    1. :) I’ve read all about your little ones– and you said it very well, the best way to learn to love learning is through reading!! :) Greetings from Southern California, USA! :D

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  6. Great post! I especially like the idea of kids having their own books. My kids did, my grandkids do, but when I read your post I remembered my youth. I did not own a book. There was one at the house where we vacationed that I read over and over. I liked reading good books, but never was taught how to locate books I might like. I went to the library and was over whelmed.

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    1. Yes! Ownership of a book is so powerful. I still remember looking at mine with pride. A guided hand in a library is also very important!! I’m glad that, even though your past didn’t include a lot of books, that your present does and your future will… and it’s wonderful that even without that childhood basis, you created a world or reading for your kids. :)

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  7. Love this thought. It is more true than you know! I was fortunate to be raised by a family that valued reading. I remember weekly trips to the library as early as I could remember. I was fortunate enough to be semi literate before I started school. Reading is the best way to expand your mind, as an adult, I owe reading for allowing me to learn about myself, the world, and the value of others. Reading simply opens every door in the world, every ounce of knowledge is at your disposal. There is nothing you can’t do if you can read. Thanks for sharing this Rara. To date myself a bit, Captain Kangaroo was on TV when I was young and he read books as well. Picture pages was one of their segments. I don’t remember much about them but I remember the jingle. Have a great day.

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    1. “Reading simply opens every door in the world, every ounce of knowledge is at your disposal.” – so, so true!! I actually watched recordings of Captain Kangaroo’s Picture Pages segments when I was a kid. :D I loved them! I hope you had a fabulous day!

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  8. This post is FANTASTIC. So many favourite parts (including allusions to so many favourite books), but my favouritest favourite part is this one:

    “Any good story gets a little dark. Even the Cat in the Hat is a basic ode to negligence and Stranger Danger. Kids have an amazingly protective and flexible mind. Let them stretch! Right now, they’re building a world of possibilities– a world that, like any world, has pockets of darkness and danger. Their minds, if exercised and fit, will protect them.”

    Can I quote you on that?

    Also, I’m a step-parent of ready-made 18-year-old, so I don’t really fit the demographic of the blog you were brainstorming about, but I’d be interested to know if anything like that develops. I wrote a Middle Grade novel once, you know. :)

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    1. Of course, quote away! :) I’ll let you know. I’m still working out how to manage it, but I did some searches and it doesn’t look like it’s being done… so I think I’ll make it happen. :D Just not sure when or what I’ll need to do so! :D

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  9. My daughter is two and a half and we’ve read to her as part of her night time routine for quite a while. Now, she already knows her ABC’s and she’s always pulling books off the shelves to sit and “read.” (Incidentally, she is also starting to draw, and the fact that you can actually tell what she is drawing is an endless source of amazement to me; maybe she’ll be an artist like Mommy!) She loves her books (and mine!) I think your mother is spot on in her assessment!

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  10. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has books on the “are we ready to go” checklist. My kids and I have a wonderful time when we sit together and read books (they’re 5 & 3, so I do most of the reading, though my 5yo is beginning to read to me too). Sometimes hours pass by and we don’t even know it until someone’s tummy grumbles.
    Recently we’ve started playing games with one of our books. It’s called “Stand Back, Said the Elephant, I’m Going to Sneeze.” Before we start reading we come up with as many new verbs as we can: I’m going to run, I’m going to jump, I’m going to hug, I’m going to…. Well, you get the idea.
    Another game I’ve started is to read the book backwards. It takes some practice, but it’s fun and funny. We do this with lots of our favorite books (books favorite our of lots with this do we). It gives us a chance to focus on the words and, to see if things still make sense; plus the kids get to laugh at their silly mommy.

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    1. :) My mom used to do the backwards-reading with me, too! It was fun and taught me to be fearless in reading aloud, because sounds are funny things. :) I love the Stand Back game, too– that sounds fabulous. :) Your kids are lucky to have you, Melanie! (And congrats on your recent Freshly Pressed-ness!)

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      1. I think I would enjoy meeting your mom. She would probably teach me tons about being a good parent.
        Thanks for the congrats! Being Freshly Pressed is such an honor, and the comments are so much fun. My fingers are good tired from responding. I’ve loved every minute of it.

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