The other night my friend texted me about how much she was looking forward to getting the kids to bed so that she could read "my trashy, stupid, not educational, seriously below my reading level Stephanie Plum book". She added "I haven’t read one in awhile and love the humor break in my life. I love reading funny, silly, entertaining books that let me escape for just a little bit." As a matter of fact, I share my friend's occasional enjoyment of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books (I listen to the audio versions). My friend went on to muse "why on earth would I ask my child to read for any reason that is not fun? Why would I care about AR points and levels?"
And here we are, as is often the case, on exactly the same page.
I understand that there are reasons for teachers to ask kids to read certain things, things which may or may not be fun. I can even understand that there may be instances where a child is struggling with reading, and some corrective practice is necessary at home. I understand that I am fortunate not to be in that situation. But for the situation that I am in as a parent, I agree with my friend. My only goal in terms of my daughter's reading is to nurture her enjoyment. I truly believe that as long as she enjoys reading, she will keep doing it, and that her skills (and range) will eventually improve. More importantly, I believe that if she enjoys reading, she will be set up for a lifetime of joy from books.
Pushing my daughter to move on to chapter books, instead of re-reading the same graphic novels that she's read 10 times each? I think that this would be hypocrisy. And this is one hypocrisy (unlike a few others I have named) that I intend to stay far, far away from.
Me, I read mostly middle grade fiction, mysteries, and science fiction. Sure, I throw in the occasional nonfiction title that catches my eye. And I do read two newspapers every day, as well as various news magazines over the course of the month. But when it comes time to read in bed or outside on a sunny Sunday afternoon? Naturally enough, I gravitate to reading something that I know I will enjoy.
I do not care if my daughter decides to read nothing at home but Captain Underpants books for the next six months. I do not care if the level that allows her to check out books in the school library is green, though her classmate's is red. I do not care if her name is never on the leaderboard for AR points for her school.
What I care about is:
- Hearing her laugh out loud from the back seat of the car as she reads The Babysitters Club.
- Having her say to my husband: "Is it ok if I read on my own for a bit first, before we read together tonight?"
- Seeing her curled up on the couch reading Junie B. Jones while I make dinner (and having her be genuinely puzzled to learn that some parents don't approve of the books.)
- Hearing her squeal with joy when a new book that she's been waiting for arrives at the house, and having her throw her arms tight around me in thanks.
- Having her recommend the books that she likes to her friends.
- Listening to her demand that I read Harry Potter for three more minutes, even though we have finished the chapter, because we usually read until 7:30 in the morning and it is only 7:27.
- And so on...
I think it's easy as a parent to get caught up in the competition. To feel inadequate if our child is not reading quite at grade level, or gets the minimum number of AR points, or reads slim books while the kid sitting next to her is reading a fat novel. Even I succumb sometimes. When my daughter told me, not lamenting, about her school BFF being at a higher reading level, I started to tell her that if she were to read more challenging books, she would likely advance to that level herself. Then I stopped and said: "But all I care about is that you are reading and that you enjoy it." That's all I care about for myself, isn't it? I strive to find time to read because I like to read. And I read what I like. My job, at least at home, is to defend my daughter's right to do the same.
There are many reasons why my Stephanie Plum-reading friend is my friend. Her excellent example of not being a hypocrite when it comes to reading choice for her kids is an important one. I am thankful for the reminder.