Now don’t get me wrong. I like broccoli. In fact, it’s one of my favorite veggies. Even my kids like to eat “little trees” sometimes. But, let’s be honest here, if someone offered me a choice between broccoli and a donut, I will take the donut almost every time. I do have some friends who, bless them, would honestly prefer kale to pizza. But, readers, I’m just not one of them.
This is what we hear: Books are good for you. You have to read to your children so they will do well in school. So they will be straight “A” students, go to a great college and get a high-paying, stable job. This is the message parents hear from early literacy experts, schools, librarians, children’s museums and more. In fact, when I worked for libraries and a children’s museum I probably promoted this message too. Reading to your kids is the single most important thing you can do to ensure Kindergarten Readiness.
My concern is that those of us who love books enough to make it our career or, you know, blog about it, are doing literature and children a disservice by making reading books seem like eating your vegetables. We do it only because we know it is good for us. I don’t want children to believe they should just read books because they are good for them. That message may motivate some competent readers, but I don’t think it can transform this proficiency into love.
I read books because I think they are the salad, the main course and the dessert. Like food, stories nourish me, comfort me and give me energy.
So let’s talk less about reading to children as a way to promote academic excellence and more about it as a way for families to connect, bond and create memories.
My favorite book on this subject is The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie. She describes how to “build your family culture around books.” I just about swooned when I heard that phrase for the first time. She is an evangelist for the power of stories to bind families together. Sarah’s book waxes far more eloquently than I do about the joys, the benefits, and the beauty of reading aloud as a family. Plus she provides questions you can ask your children (or anyone) about books to stimulate deep conversations. And there are booklists with suggestions for little ones all the way up through teens. I am always here for a good booklist. Sarah’s podcast (honestly my favorite podcast) and website are called Read-Aloud Revival. A revival of reading aloud? I am here for that. I want the t-shirt. Seriously, if anyone knows Sarah Mackenzie, please ask her to make t-shirts.
What I am not trying to do is discredit the hard work that early childhood educators and advocates do. I am grateful that they are out there helping families raise readers. Some children do not grow up in homes where they are literally tripping over books. The adults in their lives may very well be too exhausted from working low paying jobs or juggling the many demands put on caregivers to read lots of books to their kids or take them to the library. Which is why I am beyond thrilled that Barefoot Books is currently donating a book to Raising a Reader for every order placed until July 31, 2020. Anything that gets books into the hands of children and families is good work.
Frankly, all families need and deserve support from the community to create life-long dedicated readers. All children need as many people in their lives as possible to share the magic of stories with them. People who will say “This is a lovely tale. Let me read it to you.” Reading to children takes time and it requires your attention. For very little children time and attention show love. Actually, for most people of all ages, time and attention show love.
What I am advocating, really, is both a change in messaging and a change in thinking. To paraphrase John Wesley, “Read all the books you can, to all the children you can, for as long as you ever can.” Do it because books provide connection, books stimulate the imagination, books change lives.
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