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Growing a Reader

I just finished reading a book called The Library Book by Susan Orleans, it was delightful and that’s not a word I use lightly. It was a total departure from the middle grade adventures that I usually read and each time I immersed myself in it, I sighed in relief. It was a little like a nice, hot bath amidst the daily whirlwind.

I’m not telling you this because I think you should run out and buy The Library Book (although you might enjoy it if you did), I’m telling you this because I want you to stop and think about reading and the incredible gift of escape and perspective that it can bring.

I especially want you to think about reading if you are a teacher or a parent. Learning to read and home reading shouldn’t feel like a punishment or a prison term, it should be a cherished escape into the world of imagination and splendor.

Ideally instead of: “You HAVE to do your home reading.” It should be: “You GET to do your home reading!” Reading time is something precious, something to savour and enjoy.

I know that not everyone feels that way. Kids (and also adults) struggle with reading and this can make the task more daunting than delightful. I get it. I have been teaching for 18 years and one of my own kids struggles with reading. I know it isn’t always easy.

Sometimes it’s a bit of work to find the book that will make a child want to come back for more. Last year, with one of my reluctant readers, it was Naruto that pushed him into asking for more time to read. Another student found that The Mighty Robot was the first book that made him laugh out loud.

I don’t enjoy reading Naruto or Mighty Robot, but I enjoy helping my students fall in love with reading and this means being willing to travel down many different aisles. Can you imagine if someone else got to choose which books you were allowed to read? What if you could only read books that were at your reading level?

I’ll tell you a secret; I don't believe in reading levels. Even though I have to assess them and report on them multiple times a year, I believe they are a scam designed by people who are trying to market incredibly dull and pointless books that no one would ever choose if they didn’t have a letter stamped on the back.

I believe that reading proficiency exists. There are definitely skills that need to be learned, practiced, deepened and expanded upon. Even as adults we can deepen our ability to analyse and synthesize the stories we read. Books can be a gateway to so many different kinds of skills, tools and worlds.

Mostly though, we’re good at reading what we like. And, guess what? Kids are not any different. If you are a kid who struggles with reading and you are only offered books you have no interest in reading, then where is the incentive to improve your skills?

If there is a super awesome book that you really want to read, suddenly working to figure out how to make those squiggles into words makes sense.

There are kindergarten students that don’t know how to read the word ‘the’ but can read brontosaurus and spinosaurus because that’s what they want to read.

Reading should not be a race to see who can get to level Z the quickest and most efficiently. Reading should be a lifelong journey, the best and most fulfilling romance.

And just like the other romances your child will have, you shouldn’t be in control of this relationship. You can introduce your child to many, many different books, but try to be kind and gentle when they first fall in love. Yes, even if it is with Captain Underpants or Pete the Cat. Even when they want to read the same book for the 147th time. You need to find your smile and give them your blessing. This will only be the first in a long line of literary loves.

Maybe you harbour the terrible secret that you really don’t love books and are afraid that your child will find out and never become a reader? It might not be so terrible to admit your secret out loud. You and your child could explore together, set out to find the books (or graphic novels, magazines, blogs…) that really speak to you. My wife thought that she was not a reader until she discovered middle grade fantasy and was hooked.

The benefits of reading are immeasurable, but exceptionally few things of worth are ever brought about by force.

Read for yourself. Read outloud to your kids, take turns reading with your kids, get a library card and explore the online catalogue as a family. As voyageurs off on an adventure together.

A reader who chooses their own books is a happy reader. A happy reader is a reader who learns to love reading. A reader who learns to love reading is a lifelong reader. End of story. (Or maybe the beginning?)

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