By Marlon Redley-Smith
The act of reading is really the crosspollination of culture, ideas, and language.
It's about 4pm on Sunday. Ava walks in the door. We let tell her that we need to go to Chapters because mom and dad need new agendas and calendars for the year. There's no resistance. In fact, she's thrilled that she came home when she did. As an adult, I genuinely enjoy strolling up and down the aisles of Chapters and other bookshops. If you're like me, the thought of reading is invigorating enough. I have a mental checklist of books that've caught my attention from previous visits, a list of recommended books from friends, and a collection of books already in my possession, some that I've read and others that are yet to be read. But what I want to focus on is why our 10 year old leapt with enthusiasm at the opportunity to waltz through the book store with us.
Our daughter, Ava, is an avid and voracious reader. In fact, I'm not exaggerating when I say she reads more than both her parents combined. She's the definition of a bookworm with an apatite for deconstruction (see what I did there). But like any meal, we all know how much smoother it goes down when the meal is cooked just right. That is, her consumption of books is largely based on the quality of the content. I'm going to share a few tips and strategies that we use to select books that our children are likely to want to read from cover to cover, and sometimes, over and over again.
Make it an an event
Going to a bookstore in our house might as well be a field trip. Our kids know that when we go to a bookstore or a library they are entitled to at least one book (often more than one). They also understand that perusing the aisles is anything but a fleeting experience. In other words, we take our time (often as long as 30-60 minutes). Of course it doesn't just end there. We often conclude the entire ordeal with a delicious pizza dinner. This is our way of celebrating the acquisition of new books. After filling our bellies, we get cozy and dive into our books. This doesn't have to be for a long time. Just enough to be able to share any early pleasantries from our book choices.
Take your time and look for laughter
Notice how I mentioned that we take 30-60 minutes on average at a bookstore or library. This is because we take the time to read the first pages or even chapters of a book before purchasing it. What are we looking for? One of the first indications of an enjoyable book for our children is humor. Children are hardwired to seek out joy and entertainment. If we're going to expect them to negotiate time away from other activities (i.e. video games, sports, going outside) in favor of reading, then its worth making a concerted effort to ensure the novel has elements of joy and laughter.
You should read to
It becomes significantly harder to sell a child on the value of reading when you're at the other end of the room scrolling social media or watching TV. With that being said, we highly encourage you to begin reading as well. Whether its a magazine, a newspaper, or a comic book, you should be reading too.
Ask them what the like to read... and then let them get it
One of Ava's guilty reading pleasures is joke books. She'll read them, rehearse them, and then force us to be the audience for her comedic amateur debut. It may not be Harry Potter but she's reading. In fact, her joke books are often the source of complex reading processes (i.e. tone, pace, pronunciation, intonation, etc.). Ultimately, let's remember the objective: to read. So let them choose joke books, comic books, and graphic novels. They all require specific skills for decoding. You can explore encouraging them to read more complex or other types of books another time.
Graphic novels and comic books count too
Yes, it's okay to want your child to read novels with chapters and long form text. But it's also okay if they prefer to read comic books and graphic novels. These types of texts are often overlooked as sources of meaningful and informative content. In reality, however, their panel structure, images, text layout often encourage attention to detail and provide richer and more engaging literary experiences.
Look for series
Make your life a little easier by finding and learning about series. While it is not guaranteed, if one novel in a set is good, then that is a sign that the others may follow suit. At the very least, you may utilize the "collectors effect" as additional motivation to acquire and read the next novels in the series. When you find the right series, you get to witness your child's excitement burst at the seems whenever they learn of a new release from a favourite series.
Diversity matters for many reasons. Our views of the world are informed by our culture and filtered through our language. When we read, we use our culture and language to decode, interpret and extract meaning. The writer uses the same tools to produce the text. So the act of reading is really the crosspollination of culture, ideas, and language. For these reasons, it is a good idea to consider books from diverse authors in order to expose your child to new concepts and ideas.
Perhaps the most important aspect is understanding your child's reading abilities. Selecting a novel that is beyond their abilities is like selecting a text that is in another language. The first step to enjoying reading is being able to decode what is being read. There are many books that provide age appropriate content with accessible language. Amazon often identifies the grade or age range of a book. If you're at a physical location, then ask for a recommendation from the staff. Don't be afraid to share a little detail about you and your child's preference.
I hope this article inspires you to turn your next book choosing occasion into an event that celebrates reading and literacy. I'd love to know which of the strategies you found to be the most helpful. Better yet, I'd love to learn about the strategies that you use to choose a book?