How to Raise a Reader

How to Raise a Reader

When I think back on the most sacred rituals with my two (now teenage) daughters, reading to them at bedtime definitely dominates the highlight reel. But guess what?

Reading rituals don’t just have to happen at night. There are all kinds of other ways parents can send the message that books are special and reading is important. Here are five examples:

1. Throw an Impromptu Reading Party

New York Times writer Dwight Garner once wrote about a “popcorn reading party” ritual in his house: “Here’s how you have a popcorn reading party: a) You make popcorn. b) You gather a pile of your best kids’ books. c) You yell, “popcorn reading party!” d) You try to work it out so that the kids books end at about the same time the popcorn does.” This idea makes my head spin with variations: Why not a cupcake reading party? (Bake a batch, then read a chapter or two while they bake.) Why not a “fireplace reading party” whenever it snows…or rains!? The point is, associate reading time with something exciting (as you know, with young kids the bar is usually pretty low) and you’ll help hook ’em for life.

2. Inscribe a Book on Special Occasions

In their new book How to Raise a Reader, Pamela Paul and Maria Russo suggest giving a book to your child on his or her birthday every year with an inscription explaining why. I love this idea so much. Not only does a personal note make the book more enticing to read, but someday, many years later, you’ll pick up your child’s copy of, say, Amos and Boris, and think to yourself “Remember how sweet her obsession with whales was!?” When my daughter graduated from her elementary school, we encouraged her to donate and inscribe a special book to her school library — on the inside cover of The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, she wrote a note to the librarian thanking her for all her recommendations. She now wants to do the same when she graduates from high school.

My then 11-year-old in Seattle’s Elliott Bay.

3. Visit the Indie Bookstore

Whenever my family is traveling, we always try to hit an independent bookstore. Whether it’s McNally Jackson, on the way to dinner in Manhattan or a detour on a beach vacation to Talk Story (“The Westernmost Bookstore of the United States”). These stores are in the business of creating welcoming worlds around literature and everyone can take advantage of that. We always tell the kids they’re allowed to purchase one book, but we are suckers and usually end up leaving with a haul. Joanna also loves libraries with their surprises and delights, like buckets of legos or reading cubbies. “The boys each have their own card which makes them feel so grown up,” she says.

4. Read What Your Kids are Reading

For many middle or high schoolers, reading for homework (as opposed to reading for pleasure) can often suck the fun out of books. When you decide to read a school book along with them, it eliminates the book’s obligatory status and sends the message that there’s something exceptional happening in these pages. I often do this with my kids when they’re reading a book I loved as a kid — like The Catcher in the Rye (man, it gets better with every reading) — or when they’re reading a book that I should’ve read as a kid, but somehow missed — like The Giver, easily on my all-time Top 10 list, and not surprisingly, now on my daughter’s, too.

5. Birthday Party Book Swap

Another tip from How to Raise a Reader: Instead of handing out goody bags at your child’s birthday party, have a book swap instead. Ask guests to wrap one of their own used books and bring it to the party. On the way out, everyone gets to choose a gift-wrapped book. (Imagine how enticing a pile of those presents would look for anyone, but especially for a kid.) “It’s far nicer for both child and parent than going home with candy,” they write. “And clearly demonstrates to children that books are something special; they mark an occasion, and provide a happy ending.” Amen.

Do you have special rituals around reading? Please share…

P.S. The coolest book tradition in Iceland, as well as 18 children’s books with female characters and 18 kids’ books with characters of color.