reading

10 Family Habits that Foster Lifelong Readers

10 Family Habits that Foster Lifelong Readers

A love of reading comes naturally for some kids and not-so-naturally for others, but you can do a lot to make your home a space where reading is an important part of everyday life.

Curate Book Baskets and Shelves
Especially for younger kids and reluctant readers, walking into a library or confronting a full bookshelf can be intimidating. A sparse bedroom shelf lined with books whose covers face out can help a child locate a book for independent reading time that matches up with that week’s interests. Curated book baskets are wonderful for giving kids choices within limits that help reading seem friendlier.

A few book basket ideas: 

  • Teething-friendly books for the youngest readers
  • A selection of readers—any of which would work for your emergent or beginner reader’s current level
  • Books about trucks, puppies, bugs, or ponies—whatever your child’s current interest
  • A selection of books that fit bathroom reading criteria—books divided up into short selections that are funny or interesting (like comics)
  • A basket of WWII historical fiction choices to complement WWII history study 

 

Never Leave without a Book
Richard Larson, a professor who studies queueing theory at MIT, says that the average person spends a cumulative 1 to 2 years of life waiting in lines. Startling statistics aside, I think we can all agree that we spend lots of time waiting—waiting at the dentist, waiting for takeout food, waiting in the car for a train to pass. Sure, that time could be spent playing Candy Crush or scrolling through Facebook (or picking a fight with your sibling), but wouldn’t it be better spent reading? Make it a rule that everybody leaves the house with something to read. 

 

Celebrate with a Bookstore Visit
You may think I’m a monster, but I told my kids at the outset that there is no Tooth Fairy. Of course, they still want to cash in on their discarded teeth, though, so I like to offer them a trip to the used bookstore instead of money. While we’re there, I’ll offer to pay for a few 75 cent readers of their choosing. There are a million little things in life that we celebrate as families. It’s wonderful to attach some of those small celebrations to books.

 

Institute the Weekly Library Visit
Make Library Day a thing that happens every week on the same day. Not only will regularity make it a valuable part of the routine, but it will also help you stay out of trouble with overdue fines.

 

Subscribe to Magazines
We adults get inundated with mail, but getting mail is so special to kids. Tap into that feeling of specialness and create positive connotations with reading by getting a magazine subscription for each child. 

 

Make Readaloud Time Part of the Routine
Readaloud time is one those things that’s easy to let slip past, so we need to build it into our daily routines. At our house, we have two read-aloud times. We start the school day with historical fiction related to our unit of study and read fiction that’s more focused on entertainment value at bedtime.

 

Make Independent Reading Time Part of the Routine
We all want our kids to spend time reading, but sometimes we forget to make time for it to happen. Just like read-aloud time, we have to make independent reading time a family norm that has its own space set aside in the day. 

 

Listen to Audiobooks in the Car
I will admit that I resisted audiobooks for a long time. I didn’t have the right technology in my car, the library didn’t have the best selection, blah, blah, blah. I actually decided to suck it up and give audiobooks a try in the name of taming backseat squabbles. It worked to a degree I didn’t even imagine possible. Oh, and now we’re all digesting about two more quality books per month than we used to. Seriously, try audiobooks even if only for the peaceful car rides.

 

Read and Talk about Reading
This is directed toward the adults. If you want your kids to believe that reading is important and worthwhile, you have to model it. Make sure that kids have opportunities to see respected adults of both genders reading and valuing reading.

 

Geek Out as a Family about a Story
Later this summer, we’re (finally) visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Obviously, the day at the theme park will be magical in all senses of the word, but leading up to it, we are having so much fun immersing ourselves in the story together by reading the beautiful illustrated editions of the books, coloring Harry Potter coloring books, crafting wands out of mismatched chopsticks, watching the movies, and assembling Harry Potter jigsaw puzzles. Geeking out over a story as a family goes beyond just telling your kids that reading is important. It shows them that the world of the imagination is important, that reading is cool, that they can get lost in stories even when they grow up, too. 


52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 25: Start a Family Book Club

52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 25: Start a Family Book Club

For homeschoolers, reading is a way of life. So the idea of a family book club—a regular reading discussion group around your family’s kitchen table—can either sound like the most brilliant idea ever or like literary overkill. In fact, it’s just logical.

A family book club helps you navigate that magical middle ground between the books you read to learn something and the books you read for fun—the place where real literary criticism and analysis happens. Book clubs don’t just encourage us to read—they encourage us to form opinions about what we read and to express and support those opinions. Kids who’ve spent evenings arguing about whether it matters why the Pigeon wants to drive the bus or how the Sisters Grimm series changes traditional fairy tale characters and what those changes might mean, won’t be fazed when someone asks them to talk about symbolism in Hemingway’s short stories or to discuss narrative reliability in The Catcher in the Rye.

We tend to save that kind of literary analysis for high school, but starting early can have big benefits. For one thing, it makes reading a much more interactive and exciting experience. For another, this kind of critical thinking naturally lends itself to conversations about big ideas—those things you really want to talk about with your kids but that can feel kind of awkward when you bring them up without context. Reading a book like Catherine, Called Birdy—about a fourteen-year-old girl trying to resist an arranged marriage in medieval Europe—lets you talk about the challenges of growing up and the importance of balancing what your parents want with what you think you need. When you talk about a book like Holes, you have the opportunity to really think about bullies and adults who abuse their responsibilities. Because you’re talking about fictional characters and situations, sensitive topics aren’t as emotionally charged.

“Parents who participate in a book club with their kids send the message that they think their children’s opinions and ideas are worth the time it takes them to read, listen, and respond,” says Eric Meadows, a reading specialist for the New York City public school system. “Book clubs build trust and communication skills between children and their parents.”

Starting a family book club is as easy as choosing your first book—which, for some of us, isn’t all that easy. Balancing a range of ages, interests, and time commitments can be a challenge. If you have non-readers, someone has to make time for readalouds in order for everyone to participate. Finding books that appeal to a teenager and a preschooler may be a challenge. Like any homeschool project, you’ll want to tweak and adjust your book club to make it work for your particular family.

If you’re new to literary analysis, downloading a reading guide for the book you’re reading can help you steer your conversation—though after a book club or two, you’ll probably be pretty good at coming up with your own questions. Set a different family member up as moderator for each meeting—everybody should get a turn. Kids may like to have a list of questions to work from or they may want to come up with their own list, so chat with your moderator in advance and come up with a plan together. The moderator may have ideas about what kind of food or drink to serve or about an activity to go with the book, or you may want to ask someone else to come up with the food and activity ideas. (An activity can be a great way to keep the conversation going because sometimes people just find it easier to talk when their hands are busy.) There’s really no wrong way to do it.

The key to a successful book club is to keep pushing each other. “Did you like the book?” is an interesting question, but “What did you like about this book?” is a much more interesting one. Read passages you like aloud to each other. Say “This part just didn’t make sense to me. What did you think about it?” Talk about the plot: What happens in the book? Is it logical? Where it’s not logical, are you willing to cut the author some slack? Talk about the characters. Do any of them change over the course of the story? Does your perception of them change? Which characters are the most interesting? Which characters are likable? Which aren’t? Does their likability correspond with whether the characters are good or bad? Talk about the language the author uses. Why does she use one word to describe something and not another word? What does she include that you think is unnecessary? What does she leave out that you really want to know? Read the first paragraph together out loud. Did the book end up where you thought it would after reading that first paragraph? 

Books with historical settings can make great book club reads, but don’t turn them into extensions of history class. Focus on the merits of the book itself, and consider the role that history plays in the book. Treat books about different cultures or different countries the same way—if you have information to share, that’s great, but the goal is to talk about the book itself, not to research the history/culture in the book. You don’t want to turn every book into a major research undertaking, or your book club can burn out fast.

It’s also important to acknowledge that there will be times when kids just plain don’t like a book or can’t get into it, and it’s important to be respectful of that. (Come on, do you really always finish the book for your own grown-up book club? If you’ve never skimmed the last hundred pages, you’re a better person than I am.) Kids can stop halfway through a book, but they should be prepared to talk about what made them stop. If the book was boring, what made it boring? Were the characters’ actions too predictable? Did they get turned off by pages of descriptions when they wanted to know what was happening with the story? Talking about why a book isn’t appealing can be just as meaningful as analyzing what you did like about a book.

And be wary of making a book club an extension of your child’s school. You don’t want it to feel like homework. Ideally, family book club should be a fun activity that you all actively participate in, so fight the urge to say “Shouldn’t you be reading your book club book?” Instead, show your kids that you’re engaged in book club—read a chapter of your book in the evening and invite your kids to snuggle up with you for their own reading. Make it clear by your actions that family book club is something worth making time for, and your fellow readers will quickly follow suit.  

Your challenge this week: Hold a family meeting to choose your first family book club read. Give yourself a generous amount of time to prepare for your first official book club meeting—a month is a good bet.


The Book Nerd: Planning Our Day Around Readalouds

The Book Nerd: Suzanne talks about how she plans her homeschool day around readalouds

Some people begin homeschooling because they want to tailor their child’s education to his or her individual needs. Others want to give their child the opportunity to explore a particular interest or talent. I decided to homeschool because I wanted to read to my kids. 

It started with a story on the “new homeschool movement” that aired on NPR many years ago, back when my 15-­year-­old was a toddler. I don’t remember anything they said about the hows or whys of homeschooling, but I do remember that they had a clip of the mother of a homeschooled family reading Harry Potter aloud to her children as (described by the reporter) they all snuggled together on a large comfy chair. I loved it. It started me thinking that maybe homeschooling wasn’t such a crazy idea after all. It sent me to the library to check out a stack of how-­to books, and ultimately it led to 10-plus years of homeschooling for the toddler and his three (eventual) siblings. 

I do realize that you don’t actually have to homeschool to read to your kids—­­all my friends who send their children to school like normal people read to their children on a regular basis­­—but I found it easy to commit to a lifestyle that involved wearing pajamas after noon, eating dinner surrounded by stacks of curriculum, and lots of snuggling on comfy chairs. And, just like I’d imagined it, we have plenty of time for the intersection of my two favorite things in the world: my kids and books. It’s not a surprise that our days revolve around reading aloud. 

We begin each homeschool day with Mom’s read­aloud, a tradition that grew out of our daily struggle to get everyone up and out of bed for lessons. The prospect of math wasn’t very motivating first thing in the morning, but now we ease into our day with about 20 minutes of reading aloud. I get to pick the book, so I can sneak in those personal favorites that the kids have not quite gotten around to reading. (This is how I made sure my teenage son didn’t miss out on Little Women.) When we read The Never­ending Story by Michael Ende, I found an edition just like the one I checked out from my local library 30 years ago, printed in green ink for the story of young Atreyu and his friend, Falkor the luck­dragon, and their quest to save Fantastia, and in red ink for Bastian, who is reading Atreyu’s story and gradually discovering that he may be part of the adventure. I’m sure my library also had a copy of Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays, the first book in the Melendy Quartet, but somehow I never discovered it, so my children and I were introduced together to the four Melendy siblings, growing up in pre-World War II New York and pooling their money to create the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club. 

Another new acquaintance was Fern Drudger, modern day heroine of N.E. Bode’s The Anybodies, who discovers that despite being raised by tragically boring parents (they work for the firm of Beige & Beige and like to collect toasters), she actually belongs to a family with magical powers and a very special house made of books, where lunch is green eggs and ham and Borrowers live in the walls. We so enjoyed Fern (and her narrator, who likes to break into the action to complain about his old writing teacher) that we happily followed her through two sequels, The Nobodies and The Somebodies. 

Once we’ve gotten around to math and our other morning lessons, we break for lunch and then gather together again on the couch for homeschool read­alouds. We’ve done the same cycle of read­alouds with each child, beginning with myths and legends from around the world, and moving on to adaptations of classic literature. It can be difficult to find adaptations that are clear to modern readers without sacrificing too much of the original story, but we always enjoy Geraldine McCaughrean, whose retellings of classic stories (from The Odyssey to One Thousand and One Arabian Nights to The Canterbury Tales and beyond) are witty and detailed. Another favorite retelling of an old story is T.H. White’s version of King Arthur’s childhood, The Sword in the Stone, which combines medieval culture and cheerful anachronism as it describes how Merlin turned the Wart (as Arthur was known) into various animals as part of his education. (T.H. White continues Arthur’s story in the rest of The Once and Future King, of which The Sword in the Stone is the first part, but the tone gets considerably darker and more adult, and I haven’t attempted that as a read­aloud.) Towards the end of our read­aloud cycle, we spend some time with Shakespeare and the best collection of adaptations I’ve found so far is Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories and its follow-up, Shakespeare Stories II. Garfield also developed Shakespeare: The Animated Tales, a series of BBC­-produced 30­-minute versions of the plays which are fun and entertaining, along with being good warm-­ups for full­-length productions. 

We end our day with evening read­aloud, where each child gets to pick his or her own book. We’ve read everything from the Betsy­-Tacy series to The Lord of the Rings, and a while back we spent several months working our way through all of Harry Potter, which involved lots of snuggling in Mom’s large comfy bed (as we don’t quite fit on a chair anymore). It was a lovely full­-circle moment, but I’m happy to report that there’s no end in sight to our read­aloud journey. I look forward to sharing more of our favorites for reading aloud or reading anytime, ­­and I can’t wait to hear about yours. Happy reading! 

This column was originally published in our very first issue of HSL, back in spring of 2014.


The Life-Changing Magic of Embracing My Kids’ Reading Choices

Love this! The best books for your child to read are the books she WANTS to read. Great literature will always be there, but they're more likely to dive into it if they've learned to love reading. #homeschool

My ten-year-old daughter plucked the book off the library shelf because she liked the look of it. It had a hot-pink spine, a cover photo of a girl’s arms protectively clutching a stack of notebooks to her chest, and a catchy title: Jessica Darling’s IT LIST: THE (totally not) GUARANTEED GUIDE to POPULARITY, PRETTINESS & PERFECTION.

“Oh, ick” was my first response, though I kept my opinion to myself. Don’t girls get enough pressure to obsess about their appearances and social status? I silently groused. Do they have to be pelted with it in books, too? 

As strong as my feelings were, I managed to stay off my soapbox and keep my mouth shut. I remember all too well the day my sophomore English teacher noticed me reading Flowers in the Attic. My teacher had always supported and encouraged my love of writing and my insatiable reading habit. But at the sight of V. C. Andrews’ notorious novel in my hands, she sighed, “Oh, you shouldn’t be reading garbage like that. It won’t do your writing any favors, reading something so poorly written.”

I know she meant well, but I felt mortified—caught in the act of gobbling down the literary equivalent of Ho-Hos cupcakes. That feeling of shame stuck with me a long time (though it didn’t stop me from sneak-reading the rest of the series). In that moment was born a vow: if I ever had kids, I wouldn’t shame them for what they liked to read. 

Throughout my kids’ early years, we hauled a little red wagon down the block to our local library just about every week and came back loaded with books for what we called “reading jamborees”—us snuggled up on our cat-clawed beige couch with a teetering stack of picture books and comics collections. Our reading jamborees ranged from Greek mythology and modern classics like the Frog and Toad books to Garfield comics. We were indiscriminate and voracious, devouring gorgeous, artfully crafted picture books alongside merchandising tie-in books starring Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Barbie, reveling in all of it—no judgment. No shame.

If I dismiss a book they love as trash, I suspect it’ll make them less likely to share with me about other things they love.

Now that my daughter is ten and my son is thirteen, I’ve continued to follow a “no-judgment” policy when it comes to what they read (though I do tend to ask them to wait if a book seems too violent or sexy for their maturity level). I really can’t know how much my kids love or value a certain book, how much of their own emerging identity is connected to what they feel about a particular book. If I dismiss a book they love as trash, I suspect it’ll make them less likely to share with me about other things they love. 

Do I want my kids to experience great literature? Of course! And perhaps in part because I’ve been open to what my kids like, they often give what I like a chance, too. Few things make me as happy as seeing my kid finish a book I admire and then declaring, “That was pretty good.” Or even better: “I’d like to read more books like that.” In turn, they sometimes recommend books to me that I never would have found on my own—and end up rocking my world.

Which brings me to Jessica Darling’s IT LIST. My daughter gulped up that first book, then discovered it was the first in a trilogy and read the other two. And then one day, she said, “I think we should read the first Jessica Darling book for our next mother-daughter read-aloud.” 

I was not prepared for how much I loved this novel.

The trilogy’s protagonist Jessica is a smart, awkward girl starting junior high. Her older sister Bethany, now in college, was once a top junior-high “IT Girl,” a cheerleader with “infinity BFFs” and all the most popular boys vying for her attention. Bethany has never paid much attention to Jessica, so Jessica is thrilled when Bethany offers her “Bethany Darling’s IT List,” a “guaranteed” four-point guide to popularity, prettiness, and perfection.

Jessica dutifully tries to follow Bethany’s pointers. Naturally, chaos ensues. 

This novel wasn’t trying to be a guide to popularity at all! It was using sly humor and great, relatable characters to demolish the idea of trying to be popular following someone else’s rules. It was about the lifelong task of letting go of worrying about how to be an “IT girl” and instead embracing who you really are. As I read, I became more and more convinced that the series’ author, a novelist named Megan McCafferty, must be a genius.

I shared a few stories of my own and saw my daughter’s eyes light up with the recognition that I really had been a girl her age once, too.

This book! It gave my daughter and me so much great fuel for discussions I wish I could have had with my mom when I was ten. Together, we mused over questions like “Why does Jessica hang out with girls she doesn’t actually enjoy or feel comfortable with?” and “Why is Jessica trying to follow her sister’s advice when it’s so clearly wrong for her?” We pondered what we’d do if we were in some of the predicaments that Jessica faces. I shared a few stories of my own and saw my daughter’s eyes light up with the recognition that I really had been a girl her age once, too. 

 We’re about to start Jessica Darling’s IT LIST 3: THE (totally not) GUARANTEED GUIDE TO STRESSING, OBSESSING, & SECOND-GUESSING. We’re also looking forward to the upcoming release of a movie based on the first book. Author Megan McCafferty has said she hopes to host some mother-daughter book club events in conjunction with the movie release. If she visits anywhere near us, I’ll definitely be there with stars in my eyes to thank her for what she does. 

When I was a tween and teen, there were two things I remember craving most of all from the adults in my life. I wanted them to show some curiosity about who I really was (as opposed to who they thought I ought to be), and I wanted to feel that they accepted the real me. My no-judgment policy about my kids’ reading has been one way to cultivate that kind of curiosity and acceptance. And whether I’m laughing with my kids over the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid installment or talking with them about why they think one author’s handling of multiple points-of-view works beautifully while another author’s, well, doesn’t, I feel grateful to have had the reading experiences I’ve had with them. And it’s all because of a vow sparked back when I was sixteen, long before I ever became a mom.


Reading Resolutions: Organizing Your Reading Lists

Brilliant! Great ideas for using online resources to organize your reading lists. #homeschool

[As part of our website launch celebration, we're reprinting some of our favorite columns from the past year on homeschoollifemag.com. Enjoy!]

I’ve always been a bit envious of my friends who have something concrete to show for the hours they spend on their favorite pastimes. My friends who knit end up with scarves and cute hats. My friends who run have a collection of t­-shirts from various 5ks and 10ks. As a reader, I have never had much to show for the hours spent curled up with a book, ignoring chores, friends and family, and the great outdoors.

But a few years ago I decided to combine my love of reading with my love of lists, and everything changed. First, I started keeping a book journal. I’ve never had the discipline to keep a daily journal of what’s going on in my life, but this came easier. I picked out a cute notebook and began writing down the title, author, and date read for each book, eventually adding a rating system. (It is very satisfying, after an especially infuriating read, to mark down that 1­-star­-out­-of-­5 next to the title. Take that, you terrible author who wasted my time with your badly-­written morally­-corrupt sexist­-racist mind­-numbingly-­derivative unfunny­-when­-you-­think-­you’re-­funny novel! Consider yourself rated!) I also try to write down what I loved or hated, which is a fairly good substitute for the conversations I’m dying to have about a particular book on those occasions when I don’t have a book club handy. My great-grandkids may not be able to learn much about life in the long-ago 2010s by reading my journals, but they’ll at least know what I thought of the latest Neil Gaiman (4 stars out of 5).

It is very satisfying, after an especially infuriating read, to mark down that 1­-star­-out­-of-­5 next to the title. Take that, you terrible author who wasted my time with your badly-­written morally­-corrupt sexist­-racist mind­-numbingly-­derivative unfunny­-when­-you-­think-­you’re-­funny novel! Consider yourself rated!

As the stack of notebooks began to accumulate on my bedside table, I decided that I wanted an easy way to rank and sort my have-read list. LibraryThing and Goodreads are two good online options to catalog book collections and maintain various book lists­­ — I use LibraryThing and, every so often, I update my online have­-read list with the latest entries from my book journal. Here’s where it really gets fun. Once the books are entered and tagged with various categories (of my own choosing), I can sort them in all kinds of ways. I can tell you that my fiction to non­fiction ratio is about 2:1. I can tell you that my most prolific reading year (since beginning this system) was 2009 (some of my favorite kids/YA fiction that year: Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series, Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell), and my least prolific was 2012 (faves of that year included The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente and Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell).

Using LibraryThing’s Stats/Memes section, I can see that my reading is nearly evenly split between male (51%) and female authors (49%) and that I favor living authors (68%) over dead ones (32%). My favorite thing to do, though, is to page through LibraryThing’s list of book awards and honors (updated by members of the online community). For each award — and there are hundreds here — the books are listed with the ones I’ve already read helpfully checked off, so I can see at a glance that of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, I’ve got 150 down, 1164 to go. (Since there have been different editions of the 1,001 list, the total number of books included is 1,314, which hardly seems fair.) Seeing the books I’ve read listed by award also helps me find awards that I was previously unfamiliar with, but which seem to do a great job picking books that I’ve loved. The Alex award, given by the ALA to books written for adults that have special appeal for young adults, is an example — after finding that it included several long-­time favorites (To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, and The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, just to name a few), I knew I would be returning to find books to add to my to-read list.

I’m not going to tell you how many books are on my to-read list. Suffice to say that even if I don’t add any more books from now on, I’ve got a solid decade (maybe two) of good reading in my future. My to-read list is something to look forward to, something to help me manage my disappointment about all the wonderful books that I can’t quite get to at the moment, that I’ll forget about (in the midst of homeschooling and planning dinner and picking the kids up from dance class) if I don’t keep track somewhere. And while it’s not exactly a scarf or a t-­shirt, when I check something off the to-read list, or rank all the fiction I’ve read in 2014, or add another full notebook to the bedside stack, I have a sense of accomplishment in building a lasting record of my reading life.

So in 2015, as you’re considering your reading resolutions (I’ll be trying to break the 2009 record), think about starting your own life-­list of books read — or helping your kids start theirs, so they can watch the notebooks stack up, concrete evidence of hours well-spent ignoring chores, friends and family, and the great outdoors. Happy reading!