Making Reading Fun - Part One

Possibly because my own children are avid readers, I'm often asked how other parents can encourage their children to read more, or sometimes, at all. There are definitely things that you can do to make reading for pleasure a reality, starting with making sure your child has the time to read. I've seen some studies that show that young readers lose the habit of reading as they get older and I've got at least one theory for why that is. A friend of mine is in his first year of premed and he no longer has any time for fun reading. It's all biology, philosophy and required English reading for him this semester, with all science courses next semester. He's been dying to read The Ghost Brigades, John Scalzi's wonderful second installment in the Old Man's War trilogy for months but hasn't had the time. But for every person who stops reading because they're too busy there are two more who stop because reading just isn't fun anymore. It's been spoiled by one too many book reports or deconstructions of the male/female dichotomy in Catcher in the Rye. Perfectly enjoyable books are ruined every day by forced analysis and the dreaded five page essay. Thankfully there are some steps we can take to make reading fun again.

Read with your kids

No matter how old your kids are reading with them can be useful and enjoyable. If your child is too young to talk you can still sit them on your lap and read them board books like Rosemary Wells' Max and Ruby series. Max's New Suit is still a favorite and the bright colors and cheerful drawings appeal to preverbal children. Sandra Boynton's books are also wonderful with charming creatures and fun word combinations. We especially liked The Going to Bed Book.

As your children get a little older the most important thing to remember is you'd better love the book you're reading to them because you may be reading it every night for the next five years. There is nothing toddlers love so much as to repeat that which they enjoy. That's why the television show Blues Clues would run the same episode all five times in a row, to make the children happy and to cement the lesson of the week. I read One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish to my seven younger brothers and sisters and my three children so many times that I can still recite entire portions of it, despite not having picked it up in a decade. A friend of mine has a new twist on the old Dr. Seuss books; she reads them to her three year old in Spanish. This is a terrific way to painlessly introduce new languages.

Bill Peet is another author that my family has enjoyed over the years. His beautiful crayon illustrations, which look like watercolors to my untutored eye, are worth the price of the books alone. You may know him from such stories as The Whingdingdilly, the story of a dog called Scamp who runs away from home because he's tired of being a dog. But when he meets a witch who changes his shape he's not happy. She doesn't turn him into one animal; she turns him into a mash-up of many different animals, including a giraffe and an elephant. One year our local library sponsored an event where the kids came down and made a life-sized papier-mâché replica of the enchanted dog. The children had a lot of fun and the library got a new decoration. Other personal Bill Peet favorites are The Wump World and How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head. While these books are well suited to be read to children of any age, very new readers will be discouraged by them. If you're getting them to be read aloud don't spring them on someone who would be happier reading a beginner book like Go Dog Go.

I would be doing all my readers a disservice if I didn't mention one more wonderful picture book; a gorgeous thing called Beaky, a sort of Are You My Mother set in the rain forest. Beaky is a little orange bird who hatches all alone and sets off on a journey of discovery, trying to find out who and what he is. The illustrations are beautiful and the characters are fun to read, especially the snake, which has a nice hiss when it speaks. Unfortunately last I checked the book was out of print but you can find it in used bookstores or on eBay if you take the time to look. This was my middle son's favorite book for many years, beating out even Chin Yu Min and the Ginger Cat, a terrific book about a snooty widow who falls on hard times and the cat who teaches her how to fend for herself. The Ginger Cat fishes with his tail, something that delighted every child I've ever read this book to.

And finally you should know that every person who talked to me this week about children reading, whether it was their own children, their nieces or nephews or cousins, the common denominator is that they all love books about or starring Spongebob Squarepants. I can't vouch for any of these stories, as Mr. Squarepants and his world are mysteries to me but if one hundred percent of these kids find his stories enticing you should know about it.

Next week we'll talk about books for middle grade readers and finish out the year with advice for the toughest group of all, YA, or Young Adult readers. Why so tough? Partly because they’re so busy. When you're taking eight AP classes, playing a sport and working backstage on a play you barely have time to breathe, much less read.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Loafs and Fishes who has some interesting commentary on the art of fishing in the online gaming sensation World of Warcraft. "Plus twenty-five pole

plus one hundred fishing lure

I still can't catch jack.

So…

when fishing in WoW

do it only for itself

not some far off goal."

Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.