The other day I received a comment on my blog from a man named Arthur Brown. Arthur wanted to know if I had reviewed a particular book, because his friends' kids had been raving about the book, and he wasn't sure if it would be too hard a read for his 9-year-old daughter. I think that it's great that Arthur knows what books his friends' kids like, and that he wants to help his daughter pick out the right books for her own reading level. I had not read the book in question, but what I told Arthur that I thought was that he should read the book with his daughter. And this got me thinking about all of the benefits that can come from parents reading the books that their children read.
I've always been a proponent of the reading of children's books by adults (see my earlier article about this). I think that there are a lot of good reasons why adults should be giving children's books a second (or third, or fourth) look. But I think that for parents, reading the books that your children read can have particularly large benefits, as follows.
1. If you read the books that your children read (either by reading aloud with them, or just by quietly each reading on your own), you'll have a much better idea of what your children like, and what their reading level is. This will help you to pick out other books for them, and they'll be the right books. Your child will also be able to tackle slightly more difficult books than he or she would otherwise, because of having you there as a backup.
2. If you read the books that your children read, the books will naturally lead to discussions about things that are going on in your kids' own lives. This is especially true if you read aloud with your kids even after they are old enough to read on their own. For example, you could ask "What do you think about the fact that Simone doesn't smoke pot, even though her friends do?" or "Would you want to the surgery to be Pretty, if you knew that it would make you look like everyone else, or would you rather be unique?" (bonus points for anyone who recognizes these references). I'm not saying that you should force these discussions, by any means, but it seems like the books could open certain conversational doors, if you let them. For example, our niece loves to talk with us about the Harry Potter books, and the relationships between the main characters, and what we think will happen next, and we all enjoy these conversations tremendously!
3. Reading the books that your children read sends a clear message to your kids that what they read is important to you. This tells them that a) they are important to you, and b) that you value books and reading. So, you get to make your child feel justly cherished, and you get to validate the importance of books. And I can't emphasize enough how important this last point is. Even if your child is a bookworm at age 8, there are many pressures to stop reading as he gets older. Surely parental reinforcement, putting your money where your mouth is, time-wise, can help to prevent this. And there are many reasons why it's good for your child to continue as a bookworm (increased vocabulary, improved math skills, exposure to classic literature, increased confidence, etc.).
If your child is a serious bookworm, you probably won't be able to find the time to read ALL of the books that she reads. But you'll know which ones are important, which ones are favorites, and you can focus on those. I have a friend who lives in Austin, and she and her 11-year-old daughter have had great success with this approach. I've learned a lot from them, and learned of many great books through their shared reading experience.
So give it a try. Read the books that your children read. The potential rewards are well worth the effort - closeness, reinforcement of the value of reading, and improved communication. And you get to read great kids' books at the same time. What a win-win proposition!
One final note: although I have addressed this article towards parents, the same idea applies to anyone who works with, or has a relationship with, kids. Teachers, librarians, aunts, uncles, grandparents. I would think that it would work for anyone who has an interest in kids, and who wants them to keep reading as they get older. Read what the kids read. Then talk with them about the books. The rewards are endless!
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.