“My child is a reader.”
I have never met a parent who hasn’t delighted in that sentence or greatly desired it to be true about their sons and daughters. But what does it mean to be a “reader?” Such a broad and general term surely means different things to different people. Is it simply a question of volume or time spent in reading? Does true readership hinge on the caliber and quality of material? Is there a measure of comprehension necessary to truly be a reader and should this comprehension be tested or drilled? Is there a line between reading for pleasure versus reading as an academic discipline?
I contend that there is only one measure for describing someone as a reader: do they enjoy it? If your child loves to read or chooses reading as a leisure activity, or seems energized and excited about reading, then they are, ipso facto, a reader.
This contention, however, begs the question: How can we inspire, encourage or steer our children towards this kind of heart? As homeschoolers, we run the risk of only making reading a part of the curriculum and so equate “reading” with “school” indelibly in young minds. This is not to say that there aren’t many who “love school,” but I think we can all agree that school and leisure are often times antithetical, especially in the homeschooling environment.
In the recent Otium “book club,” I encouraged the students to enjoy four things about their reading adventures that I hope planted a seed of what is true and good and beautiful about reading as a purely delightful activity. I offer them to you in this article as things to think about and integrate into your conversations about reading with your children. If reading is a “gift” — and it most assuredly is — then let’s celebrate and talk about THIS GIFT as a way to model and encourage delight surrounding literature.
Meeting New Friends
I love talking about characters in a book as if they were real people in my life. Indeed, I aspire to know my “real friends” as intimately and intensely as I know some fictional characters. After all, we can listen to the inner voice of Tom Sawyer, understand the angst of Elizabeth Bennet and even feel the true frustration of Sister Bear when she experiences “too much birthday” simply by spending time with them in reading. An entire genre of writing – “Fanfiction” – has been birthed from the simple love and affection readers have for characters in a narrative.
- Encourage your children to talk about the friends they meet in books.
Going to a New Place
I may not ever have visited the English countryside, but I can name many towns and sideroads taken by Dr. James Herriot as he traversed the land – caring for cows and kittens and pigs. I most assuredly have never visited “Mordor” – but I would recognize it if ever I crossed undulating fields and saw it looming on the horizon. Geography of the land and the imagination can both be explored in a book with just as much detail and memory as an all-expense paid vacation! Emily Dickinson, one of the preeminent American poets, likened reading to going on a journey in her poem, “There is no Frigate Like a Book” (1286). She writes:
There is no frigate like a book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page –
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot –
That bears the Human Soul –
- Ask your children about the places they have visited in books.
Traveling Through Time
I spent a good deal of money and even more time trying to get a sense of “historical timeline” into my children’s education. We pasted images and dates onto cards. We did memory work. We made a huge timeline that wound around the living room. Of course, neither I nor my children had any real learning going on during those exercises. But, they do know that Rascal, a sweet baby racoon, came onto the scene in 1918 during World War I. Daniel bar Jamin met Jesus while the Romans were in power in Palestine. Crane-Man died sometime after the turn of the first millennium in Ancient Korea. These place markers of character and narrative are perhaps the most powerful forms of a sense of time and history.
- Make a connection between a favorite book and its place in space and time.
Connecting With the Author
I was easily 30 years old before I really started noticing “who” had written the books I was reading. This unfortunate oversight on my part left me unaware of the voice that I was listening to and “what else” they had to say. Today’s readers can sit at the feet of J.K Rowling, Brian Jacques or Rick Riordan telling them similar stories in a “series” – but what joy it is to get to know the many, varied narratives of Roald Dahl or E.B. White or Bill Peet. Finding a favorite author is like finding a co-conspirator in imagination. I might add here that finding a favorite poet is even better, but I digress.
- Is your child’s bookshelf filled with some of their favorite authors as well as their favorite stories?
These suggestions aren’t recipes or failsafe tactics for creating lovers of reading. They are simply a delineation of some of the things that make reading enjoyable.
List of books alluded to in this article.
- Mark Twain, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”
- Jane Austen, “Pride and Prejudice”
- Stan and Jan Berenstein, “Too Much Birthday”
- James Herriot, “The Lord God Made Them All”
- Charles Perrault, “Cinderella”
- Gertrude Chandler Warner, “The Boxcar Children”
- Sterling North, “Rascal”
- Elizabeth George Speare, “The Bronze Bow”
- Linda Sue Park, “A Single Shard”
- J.K Rowling, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”
- Brian Jacques, “Redwall”
- Rick Riordan, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”
- Roald Dahl, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”
- E.B. White, “The Trumpet of the Swan”
- Bill Peet, “Capyboppy”