Earlier this week, I read The Gift of Reading: A Guide for Educators and Parents by David Bouchard and Wendy Sutton. I'm not a parent or an educator, unless you count this blog as education, but I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It's filled with little inspirational quotes about books and reading, summaries of literacy-related research and writing, and suggestions for parents, teachers, and school administrators.
The thing that really stood out for me in reading this book was the authors' passion for helping children to love books. As the preface of the book (by David Booth) says, "(i)nculating a love for reading and supporting the ability to read in children takes the whole community." The authors express flat out in their introduction that "(h)elping children learn to read and to love reading is not someone else's responsibility; it is yours!" They divide up the pieces of this responsibility among families, teachers and school administrators, in the three primary chapters of the book.
David Bouchard writes with the zeal of a convert. He was not a reader as a child, explaining that even though his parents loved him, they didn't read to him because they had not been read to when they were children. He had some memory difficulties that kept him from learning to read well when he was young, and didn't fall in love with reading until he was in his 20's. But when he did fall, he fell hard, and pretty much devoted the rest of his life to encouraging kids to love books.
David Bouchard and Wendy Sutton believe that "reading aloud to children is the most important thing you as a parent can do." They suggest that children learn what we value by looking at how we spend our money, and further suggest that we compare what we spend on books with what we spend on other forms of entertainment (TV, movies, dinner out, etc.), to see where our priorities lie. I found this fascinating, because I buy a lot of books, but there's still no contest when compared with other forms of entertainment in my house.
I was also pleased to see something promoted several times in this book that I strongly believe, that "children should see you reading the same books they are reading." The authors particularly take to task educators who don't read the books that their students are reading (the Harry Potter books being the most current example). But they also advise parents to read the books that their kids love.
I know that I've found it rewarding to read the books that my nieces read, and to be able to talk with them about individual books. I believe that this has encouraged my nieces to love books more than they might have otherwise. I think that it has made a difference. I also have a close friend who routinely reads the books that her daughter enjoys. I don't think it's a coincidence that her daughter is an avid reader now, at eleven.
There are lots of other suggestions in the book for supporting children as readers. These range from limiting time in front of the TV, to creating a cozy book nook in children's rooms, to never disparging what children choose to read. Many of these ideas can be found elsewhere also, especially in Paul Kropp's Raising a Reader; Make Your Child a Reader for Life and in Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook, both of which are referenced extensively in The Gift of Reading. But even if you have read those two excellent books, The Gift of Reading is worth your time also.
David Bouchard's passion for putting books into the hands of kids is inspiring. I found myself underlining passages again and again. Also, Mr. Bouchard's experience as an elementary school principal at a school dedicated to raising readers gives him tremendous credibility in talking about what schools should be doing to raise readers. He is a big proponent of school-wide free silent reading time, in which students and teachers and administrators take a few quiet minutes out of every day to read books.
I could go on, with many more quotes and ideas and examples, but what I suggest instead is that you read read the book yourself. There is also a companion book called For the Love of Reading: Books to Build Lifelong Readers, which contains many book suggestions. I would like to think that my blog mirrors the fundamental purpose behind these books: to provide ideas and motivation for parents and other involved adults so that they in turn can encourage children to love books. What could be more important than that? Thanks for reading! -- Jen
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.