166 posts categorized "Love of Books" Feed

Giving Kids #ReadingChoice is the Right Thing. But Sometimes It Hurts.

IvyAndBeanLast week my daughter and I moved two bookshelves, as part of a project to create a reading nook. This required taking all of the books off  the shelves. Naturally, I took the opportunity to do some weeding and organizing at the same time. Weeding was necessary because the books were stacked two deep, and the ones in the back were basically lost. 

Most of the weeding was pretty easy. I  let my daughter decide, only overriding her on a few titles that I wanted to  keep. Berenstain Bears? Keep. Little Critter? Donate. Hot Rod Hamster readers? Keep. Superhero picturebacks? Donate. Little Golden Books? Donate most of them, but keep the ones by Bob Staake. Owl Diaries? Keep those, because sometimes you need a quick read. Keep all of the graphic novels. And so on. 

Then we came to a stack of Ivy and Bean books. These were books that I had literally been saving for her to read since before she was born. [Thank you Chronicle Books!] I looked at the books. I looked at her. I said: "You're never going to read these, are you?" She said: "Nah." She went on to volunteer that she doesn't think she'll ever read Clementine or Ramona or the Fancy Nancy chapter books. She thinks they are boring. And my heart broke, just a little bit. 

She saw that I was sad and said: "Well it's your fault. You bought me graphic novels." This is true, though technically Scholastic and Random House bear some fault, too. She started reading Princess Pink and Lunch Lady, fell in love, and never looked back. She skipped over easy readers and chapter books almost completely, and went from graphic novels to notebook novels to tween romances, with only a few diversions along the way. [And of course she's still reading graphic novels and notebook novels every day.]

ClementineI told her: "All I care about is that you are reading books that you enjoy." It is certainly true that I am grateful that she enjoys books, whatever those books are. But ... she doesn't want to read Clementine? I adore Clementine! Elementary school girls are supposed to read Clementine, aren't they? It's not like I'm asking her to read some ancient story with no relevance to modern life. The first Clementine book is (c) 2006. But of course I do want her to read what she wants to read. And I am grateful every day that she's found books to love. 

I know that giving kids choice in their reading is the right thing to do. But some days are harder than others. 

As I sighed over some other books that we went into the donate stack my daughter reminded me that we were donating them so that other kids could read them. This did help. It turns out that my friend's daughter will be thrilled to take the Ivy and Bean and Nancy Clancy books off our hands. This helped even more. The other books will also go to good homes. I have a friend who works in a library at a less-privileged elementary school.

But I'm keeping Ramona and Clementine. Just in case… If nothing else, I'll re-read them myself. 

© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage


Literacy Milestone: Sneaking in Amazon Pre-Orders

LiteracyMilestoneAI use Amazon to look up release dates for upcoming books of interest, many of which I add to my daughter's and my wish lists. The other day, after one such check-in, I gave my daughter permission to preorder the upcoming Dork Diaries book (Tales from a Not-S0-Best Friend Forever, due out Oct. 22). I figured, who am I kidding? We're GOING to end up buying it one way or another. That was fine.

However, when I logged in to my Amazon account the next morning, I found four new preorders. In addition to the Dork Diaries book, someone had also preordered:

When confronted with this, my daughter claimed that she was only trying to add the others to her wish list and that they had been ordered by accident. I consider this implausible, though not out of the question. Her case is supported by the fact that the only titles that she requested were preorders, but undermined by the fact that further investigation on my part revealed that we had preordered not one but two copies of Guts by Raina Telgemeier (Sept. 17). 

As a parenting matter, I have canceled a couple of the preorders and threatened to turn off one-click ordering on my laptop if it happens again. But as a bookworm-nurturer, I must admit that it made me laugh. Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms!

© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage


Giving My Daughter Free Choice at the Library: Photographic Proof

ScoobyDooBooks_FotorI write frequently about the importance of giving kids choice in their reading material in order to nurture their love of reading. I thought that my readers might be glad to know that I do walk the walk on this topic. A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I popped into the library. It was an unplanned stop. We were parked relatively far away and I had no bag with me to hold books. Nevertheless, my daughter found a few books that she simply HAD to take home. 

Her selection: 15 Scooby Doo Choose Your Own Adventure books and one cookbook (which someone had left by the checkout machines). I did draw the line when her selection included duplicates of the Scooby Doo books. We spent some time sorting to make sure we had one, and only one, copy of each title. But other than that, I let her run free. 

I have nothing against Scooby Doo Choose Your Own Adventure books or cookbooks, of course. I read what I believe were the original Choose Your Own Adventure titles back in the day. But I can't say that these are the books that I would have selected. And that, my friends, is the whole point. 

If kids enjoy reading, they will read. The number one way to ensure that they enjoy reading is to let them read what they like. If that means checking out 15  books from the same series, so be it. 

Would it surprise anyone to know that although she hasn't actually read all of these books, she is considering writing her own Choose Your Own Adventure story? 

© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage. Links to be books may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission.


A Successful #GrowingBookworms Moment

KristysBigDayYesterday afternoon, after a busy day, my daughter left the bathroom declaring that she was going to read "every word" of Kristy's Big Day (a Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel that she has read many times). She curled up on the couch to do so and a period of quiet ensued. Then I heard her give a deep, satisfied sigh and say: "I love that book!".

That's all. Just a teeny tiny moment in the life of raising a young bookworm. But for me, such moments are what it's all about. I do have three conclusion to draw from this experience.

  1. If you want your children to love books, you should let them re-read to their hearts' content. It doesn't matter what they are reading, just that they enjoy it and choose it themselves. 
  2. It is worthwhile to purchase copies of the books that your children really love, because you never now when the whim to read a beloved title might strike. 
  3. It is also worthwhile to keep book baskets in convenient locations around your home, especially in  the bathrooms.

Just saying…

© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage. Links to be books may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission.


Growing Bookworms: In Defense of #GraphicNovels for Kids' #SummerReading

FirstDayOfSummerReadingMiaJust in time for kids' summer reading, I ran across two articles last week defending graphic novels as "real reading." Here I share some notes from those articles together with my response based on my experience with my daughter [pictured on her first morning of summer vacation, as I was trying to get her to rally to leave the house.]

In the first, written two years ago, librarian Molly Wetta at Book Riot shares her Annual Reminder that Graphic Novels are "Real" Reading. As far as I can tell, there's nothing much in this piece that is any less relevant today than it was two years ago. Molly  says:

"I love helping children select books they’re excited to read, and delight in finding them titles based on their own interests and reading tastes. However, without fail, I will encounter parents who are not allowing their children to read graphic novels, or are telling kids these “don’t count.”"

She then shares a number of talking points that she has developed for parents and other caregivers on the literary merit of graphic novels for kids. She also links to some lists of recommended titles (though these will not include the very latest releases, of course). Her arguments about the benefits of graphic novels for visual learners and the way that graphic novels help kids learn to make inferences are well worth a look

The second piece I came across was a recent blog post written by teacher Pernille Ripp titled Not Too Easy - Embracing Graphic Novels at Home. Pernille begins by reminding readers that graphic novels are the biggest reason that her oldest daughter believes in herself as a reader. She notes that despite kids' enthusiasm for graphic novels:

"... one of the biggest push backs in reading also happens to surround graphic novels with many parents and educators lamenting their “easiness.” Within these missives lies a movement to then steer kids away from these “dessert” books and into “harder” reading, or outright banning the reading of graphic novels, telling kids that these books are just for fun, don’t count toward whatever set goal or points, or even confiscating them from kids seen reading them."

In the remainder of her post, she shares reasons why parents should defend their children's reading of graphic novels, and why they are not, in fact, too easy. She notes that in her own experience "it is the pictures that actually add to the sophistication and difficulty of graphic novels because of the skills required to read the images."

LunchLadyReadingThis point meets with my own experience. Not having grown up reading graphic novels, or even as much of a fan of comic books, I find graphic novels difficult to read. I'm much more in my comfort zone reading linear text. When I have to move back and forth between the pictures and text bubbles, and potentially other text from a narrator, I don't know where to put my focus. Although I could certainly enhance my skills in this area, my point is that reading integrated text and pictures is a zone of relative weakness for me as a reader. My daughter, on the other hand, is a master at this. She has been devouring graphic novels since I first slipped Jarrett Krosoczka's Lunch Lady books into her eager hands (about three years ago, see photo to the left). And for what it's worth, despite what remains a primarily graphic novel diet, her standardized test and other reading scores are more than sufficient. 

Pernille also adds, in response to concerns that kids plow through graphic novels too quickly:

"However, here there is one distinction in the habit of many readers of graphic novels; while they may read the graphic novel quickly on the first try, what often happens then is the re-reads of the same graphic novel as they pore over the pages more closely once they have navigated the story once. This process is one that only adds value as their understanding deepens with each re-read." 

This certainly meets with my experience in watching my graphic novel-obsessed daughter. When a new graphic novel lands in her hands (particularly if it is from a series that she already enjoys) she sits down with it immediately and plows through it. She will often finish in less than half an hour. The other day she did this with Red's Planet, Book 2 and suggested to me that I should be borrowing graphic novels instead of purchasing them, since she reads them so quickly.

MegJoBethBut she re-reads them. Sometimes many times. Sometimes many times over a few days (as recently occurred with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy: A Modern Retelling  of Little Women) and sometimes after a break (Invisible Emmie and companion titles). I find it fascinating to watch as she reads the same book over time, extracting different levels of meaning. Even though she can read them quickly, I consider purchasing these books a worthwhile investment. 

One other point: a commenter on Twitter argued (after I shared Pernille's piece) that a steady diet of graphic novels can harm some kids' ability to be able to visualize on their own. If they are spoon-fed illustrated stories, the argument appears to go, they become less able to make their own pictures when reading non-illustrated texts. I don't know about the research in this area, and I could imagine this being the case for struggling readers. What I do know is that my daughter says that she has no difficulty at all visualizing when she reads standard texts, and that she thinks reading graphic novels and picture books has helped in her case. 

But I am running on. There's lots of other material for parents to help understand the benefits of graphic novels in Pernille's piece. Please do go and read the whole thing, along with Molly Wetta's piece. Take their guidance, together with my family's experience, as you  decide whether or not to encourage your children to read graphic novels this summer. My take is: yes, graphic novels are real reading. They have their own distinct benefits. Most important: kids love them, which bolsters reading choice (and hence reading itself). 

[See also this link to a list of articles defending graphic novels for kids, maintained by Jess Keating.]

© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage. Links to be books may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission.


Tips for Parents to Encourage #SummerReading

I wrote this article upon request for my daughter's school website, and am sharing a slightly edited version here. 

Summer Slide is a well-documented phenomenon in which students' academic performance slips over the summer break. One report found that "on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning". The good news is that the solution to a Summer Slide in reading scores is simple: get your kids to read over the summer break. 

Of course that's easier said than done. Kids are busy with camps and other activities. They often prefer to spend their free time playing with their friends or poking around on their tablets instead of reading books. And if you try to force them to spend time reading they may well resist you on principle. "It's my summer vacation! I don't HAVE to read and YOU can't make me!". Etc. 

The trick is to make reading enjoyable, so that your kids will choose to do it. Scholastic runs an extensive survey on family reading every two years. This year's Kids and Family Reading Report identified three factors that are common to kids who read frequently for pleasure:

  1. Choice over what they read;
  2. Access to lots of books; and
  3. Reading role models

[See another post I wrote about the KFRR results here.] With those results in mind, here are seven tips for making reading enjoyable for your kids this summer:

  1. KFRR_Access_HighResDownload_Fig6Let them choose what they want to read. This is the MOST important thing you can do as a parent to encourage reading for pleasure. Do not give in to the temptation to "encourage" your daughter to read books that you like, or books that you think are good for her. Do not visibly cringe when all your son wants to read for the entire summer are Dog Man or Goosebumps books. The important thing is that your children are reading books that they THEY enjoy. Re-reading books or reading books that seem to you to be too easy for them gives them valuable practice. Eventually they will choose to move on to more challenging fare and then they'll enjoy that, too. I think it's fine to show them the Battle of the Books lists or other recommended reading lists, but then step back and let them choose those books if and only if they feel inspired. 
  2. Read aloud to them, no matter how old they are. This is one of the things that the kids in the Scholastic survey report that they love most. They love the attention and the closeness. And by reading to them you can read books that are a bit too challenging for them to read on their own, expanding their vocabularies and narrative sense. Reading together is a win on many levels. Even if you are out of the habit, summer is a good time to try again. If you're not comfortable, you could also try listening to audiobooks together. 
  3. Let them see you reading. This works best if you read books or magazines in print. When you are on your tablet, they probably assume that you are texting or doing social media. But if they see you curled up on the couch with a book, TV off, they will be more likely to make that choice themselves. 
  4. Take them to the library or the bookstore (and again, let them choose). Kids are sometimes fickle. What they want to read today may not be what they want to read tomorrow. Having lots of choices, readily available around your house, will make kids more likely to choose to read. 
  5. Keep books in convenient locations in your house. The could be the breakfast table, the bathrooms, the bedrooms, or (as in my house) all of the above. Again, if the books are there, and they are books that your child has chosen (or there are a lot of books for her to choose from), you will increase the chance that your child will decide to read. 
  6. Consider giving your kids flashlights or headlamps to make reading in bed more fun.
  7. Limit screens, at least some of the time, so that your child has some time to read. Something that has worked well for me is not to allow my daughter (age 9) to use her tablet in the car unless the drive is at least 30 minutes. I keep a bin of books in the car (well, ok, two bins) and change the books out regularly. Most of the time, when we are driving to the orthodontist or softball or whatever, my daughter is reading. Often when she has friends in the car with her, they are all reading. Some of my favorite times are when I can listen to them talk to each other about books, smiling quietly to myself. 

A note on Summer Reading programs. There are many programs that focus on getting kids reading. Most of them give prizes for meeting certain milestones. Our PTO Language Arts Chair found this list of 17 Free Summer Reading Programs. I'm not personally a fan of giving kids extrinsic rewards for reading because some studies have shown that the kids will stop reading once the rewards stop coming. But for kids who are extremely reluctant to read, programs like this might offer the push that you need to get them started. Sometimes all it takes is for a child to find the right book, that one book that hooks him, and then he'll be a reader for life. Or at least for this summer, which is the immediate goal. 

See also this post, which is about Scholastic's findings regarding a decline in kids reading for pleasure at age 9.

Thanks for reading and happy summer. 


The Third Grade Cliff: My Response to a Finding from the @Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report

The 7th edition of the Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report was released last month. Scholastic presents the results of a survey, managed by YouGov, of 2758 adults and children. This biannual report is, I think, one of the best windows into what families are doing and thinking when it comes to kids' reading. I'm in the process of going through the material and there are certainly causes for optimism overall. However, one of the major  findings hit me hard: The Decline by Nine. Here's a summary on this from this section of the report (there's more detail if you follow the link):

"The Kids & Family Reading Report has shown a child’s attitude towards reading enjoyment and importance is a predictor of reading frequency, which is why it also is striking to note the drop between ages eight and nine in the percentage of kids who think reading books for fun is extremely or very important (from 65% to 57%). Similarly, the number of kids who say they love reading drops significantly from 40% among eight-year-olds to 28% among nine-year-olds (see Figure 3).

What is to be done about the "decline by nine"? Rarely do we see a rebound from these benchmarks as kids grow older. Yet across ages, the majority of kids agree they should read more books for fun, and tell us they believe reading matters. This suggests it is possible to prevent the decline and even to re-engage a child in reading, provided the experience meets their needs and expectations."

KFRR_Navigate_HighResDownload_Fig3_

This finding is particularly painful to me given that my daughter just turned nine last month. But I would find it deeply disturbing in any case. Right at the age when  kids are becoming proficient in reading, right when they are ready to start reading amazing middle grade fiction, they are reading less, considering it less important, and loving it less. What is going on? My guess is that there are three primary factors at play at this age level:

  1. Many (though happily not all) parents stop reading aloud to their kids once the kids can read on their own. 
  2. Many (though again, happily not all) schools and teachers push reading as something that is required and tested, and unwittingly but inexorably start to quash the joy of reading. Reading logs, reading incentive programs like AR, and testing are well-intended but harmful to the love of reading.
  3. Many kids are spending time on screens playing games instead of reading. 

Read Aloud: In my own household, we don't read aloud to my daughter as much as we did when she was younger. Reading aloud can fall by the wayside when we are traveling or having an extra busy weekend. But when we are home, I try to read to my daughter ever morning while she eats  breakfast. We almost never miss that on school days, because it's part of our routine, though weekends can be trickier. My husband usually reads to her at bedtime. My own takeaway from the Scholastic report is that we need to work harder to keep up the reading aloud. Because I truly believe that it makes a difference in showing kids that reading is a joyous and important activity. 

Schools: As for school, we have been lucky so far, but I am keeping a wary eye on our school's AR program. In third grade, my daughter is supposed to get five AR points a month. This has generally not been a problem, though she sometimes takes tests late in the month on graphic and notebook novels that she knows practically by heart. The challenge for her is that her five points are supposed to include nonfiction. And while she enjoys the Who Was/Is biographies somewhat, reading and testing on them feels like a chore to her. It's something that she puts off, and she sometimes get dinged for not having tested on enough nonfiction. I'm not crazy about reading ever feeling like a chore for her, but overall, this hasn't had a noticeable negative impact.

Next year, though, I understand that the required number of points will increase significantly and affect her grade (letter grades also start next year). While I don't care what her reading grade is, as long as she continues to love reading, she cares about it. She's in an environment where other kids care about grades and talk about them. So ... I'm a bit concerned, and prepared to do whatever I can at home to nurture my daughter's love of reading.

I was inspired by an article that I read last week by Karen Jensen at SLJ. Karen talks about her efforts to protect her daughter's love of reading in the face of misguided requirements from her daughter's school/teacher. And I'm inspired all the time by posts from teachers like Donalyn Miller and Pernille Ripp and others who focus on the love of reading. But not all kids have parents and teachers who are equipped  for these battles. 

Screens: I believe that one of the key reasons  that my daughter still enjoys reading is that her screen time is extremely limited. This was hard when she was younger, and will likely be hard again when she is older. But right now, she actually gets that her time is better spent reading, writing, drawing, etc. If anything she's on a mission to get my husband and I to reduce OUR screen time. 

So What Can Parents (and Society) Do to Stave off the Decline by Nine?

The above discussion suggests three steps that individual parents can (and I would argue should) take, in the interest of keeping kids interested in reading:

  1. Continue reading aloud to your children, even after they can read on their own. Reading together shows your kids that you value reading, and it makes reading a positive, nurturing experience. 
  2. Put limits on the time that your children spend using screens, and put off getting them their own devices (especially cell phones) for as long as you can. There are two reasons for this. One is simply time - if they are on screens all day, they don't have time to read. The other reason is that if they get used to having entertainment passively fed to them, they will lose their taste for the more challenging, but infinitely more rewarding, activity of reading. 
  3. When your children are reading at home, keep the focus on enjoyment. Push back against reading logs if you can. Get them the books that they are interested in (from the store or the library or from friends), not the books that you think they should read. Get them funny books and graphic novels and whatever else they love. There are a lot of things in schools that sap the joy of reading - your job at home is to nurture it instead. 

Of course, the parents who have read this far are the parents who already care about this issue. What's really needed to halt the Decline by Nine is a public information campaign that reaches more parents and more schools, and gets everyone on the same page reading the love of reading. Kids who love to read will spend their time reading. They'll become good at it. Reading will become even more enjoyable. And they'll become readers for life, with all of the advantages that this carries (enjoyment, empathy, vocabulary, math skills, and lots more). I believe that it is important for us as a society to get there, but I don't know how to achieve that. So I work on this in my own home and step on my soapbox for any other parents who care to listen. Thanks for reading!

© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage. Links to be books may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission.


Growing Bookworms: Seizing the Opportunity to Validate #ReadingChoice

MaxAndTheMidknightsI recently bought my daughter a new book that I thought, based on reviews that I had seen, she would like. The book was Max & the Midknights by Lincoln Pierce (but could have been anything). She read the book, or part of it, anyway. Then she asked me how much the book had cost. Not sure where she was going with that, I gave her what I figured was the approximate price, $10. At that point she apologized to me because, as she tentatively explained, she didn't really like the book. She felt guilty about this knowing that I had spent money on it. 

I was surprised by this guilt, because I am a huge advocate of giving kids choice in their reading. To me it was self-evident that there would be books that I would give her to try that she wouldn't like. But apparently, I had NOT made this evident to my daughter. At least not when the books were paid for.  

As you may imagine, I was very quick to tell her that it was totally fine not to like the book, or any book, and that in her home reading she never has to finish a book that she doesn't like. [There will be books she has to finish for school - I can't help that.] I think she was relieved. 

InvisibleEmmieBeing too lazy to return the book (purchased online), I suggested that we could give the book to a friend who I thought would be more interested, or donate it to a toy and book drive going on at school that week. She decided to hold off on that for now, because she might want to give it another try at some point. Of course I told her that was fine, too. She had recently discovered that she loved a different book that I had bought for her a year earlier that she hadn't liked at first, so this made sense. 

Everything that I have read about growing bookworms (and I have read a LOT on this topic) says that the number on thing that keeps kids reading for pleasure is having free choice in what they read. I thought that I was giving my daughter free choice. I have hundreds of children's books in my house, many from publishers and many that I have purchased or received as gifts over the years. I take her to the library every week, too, and let her pick out whatever she likes. I buy her new and used graphic and notebook novels when I learn about them because she loves them and those are areas in which my own collection tends to be weak. I have always tried not to pressure her to read or finish certain books.

Despite all of that, she still felt guilty when she didn't like a book that I had picked out for her. I'm truly not beating myself up over that. But I do think it goes to show that kids really, really need us to tell them that it's ok NOT to like certain books. My message to other parents out there who want their kids to love books is, once again, do anything you can to preserve your child's reading choice. Tell them that you are doing so. Tell them that it's fine for them not to like the books that you liked or picked out, and fine to abandon books (even if they cost money). Seize opportunities, as I did this one, to validate reading choice.

The love of reading is a precious thing, and it can be more fragile than you think. Protect it where you can. At least, that's what I intend to do. 

© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage. Links to be books may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission.


Recapturing My Reading Flow

ReadicideI'm happy to report that after a period of … flatness, I seem to have recaptured my reading flow. I was lucky enough to finish reading Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It by Kelly Gallagher right before a weekend during which my husband and daughter went out of town (giving me the gift of a reading weekend). I enjoyed many aspects of Readicide, but the part that is relevant here is in Chapter 3. Gallagher talks extensively about the need to help kids find their "reading flow":

"The flow is where we want all our students to be when they read, the place Nancie Atwell, in The Reading Zone, describes as that place where young readers have to “come up for air”."

SimonThornBook3This struck me, especially in connection with a post that I wrote a couple of weeks ago musing on whether I am reading for the experience or for the achievement. I realized that I've lost my reading flow. Then I was at the library and spied out of the corner of my eye the third Simon Thorn book by Aimee Carter, remembered that I had enjoyed the first two, and brought it home.

As my reading weekend started, I got about 40 pages into the Simon Thorn book before stopping and thinking "oh, how is this useful?" Then I reminded myself about finding reading flow, and I kept at it. And by the end of the book, I was hooked and eager to finish. Then I read the last 2/3 of The Power by Naomi Alderman in one sitting, after struggling a bit to get into the book when reading in little chunks before bed. I didn't like everything about the book, but it was compelling and thought-provoking.

StoryWebThen for my next book I chose the ARC of The Story Web by Megan Frazer Blakemore, and author whose work I have always enjoyed (see reviews here, here, here, and here). And this time… I fell headlong into the book. I laughed, I cried, I was unable to resist flagging many passages. I barely paused to go to the bathroom, and hurried back, as though the book was going somewhere. I closed the book and thought: "This! This is what I've been forgetting." It is wonderful, and I highly recommend it.

I read several other books over the course of the weekend, some that I enjoyed more than others, but each one read in pretty much one sitting. And in only one case, in the evening, did I have trouble staying awake while reading (which has been a real problem for me lately). I think that was a combination of it being a less interesting book and my being tired. 

This identifies for me four ingredients for my own personal reading flow: 

  1. Reading excellent books. (I also very much enjoyed 48 Hours, the newest book by William R. Forstchen.)
  2. Reading in longer, uninterrupted chunks of time (which are admittedly hard to come by when my husband and daughter are at home). 
  3. Reading things that I've chosen just because I feel like reading them (and not because I'm trying to learn about something or because I have some obligation to review a particular book). 
  4. Reading when I'm not struggling to stay awake. This one interacts with #1 a bit, because sometimes it's the interesting book that keeps me awake. But the real truth is that I'll never find reading flow if the only times I try to read are when I'm in bed half asleep. 

Thank you to Kelly Gallagher and Nancie Atwell for making me think about reading flow. Thank you to Terry Doherty for making me think about whether I am reading for the joy of it or not. Thank you to my husband and daughter for gifting me a quiet reading weekend. Thank you to the San Jose Public Library, Amazon and Bloomsbury for the books. And most of all, thank you to Megan Frazer Blakemore for writing a book that caught me up in its web. The Story Web is about a town (and a family) that's been damaged and the children and animals who work together to repair it. I feel like reading it, at the right time and under the right circumstances, repaired something in me.

Wishing all of you reading flow. 

© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage. Links to be books may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission.


Having "Reader" Be Part of My Daughter's "Self-Concept"

SchoolhoueRockMy daughter recently auditioned for the school play. They are doing Schoolhouse Rock.  Everyone gets a part - the auditions are about the director getting a sense of the kids and what roles they should play. This year, one thing the director had the kids do was stand up and say one thing about themselves, naming something that they like or like to do. One boy we know said he that likes go-karts.

My daughter didn't get a turn on the first day and was able to discuss with me what she planned to say when her turn came around. She was deciding between saying "I like reading" or saying something about how she cares about her family and friends. (Secretly thrilled) I suggested that she go with the first option, because it would be more specific to her. I would think that all 1st to 3rd graders care about family and friends. This logic resonated with her, as she remarked that no one else had yet said anything about reading. 

RaisingKidsWhoReadLater the same day (serendipity), I happened to be looking back through Raising Kids Who Read by Daniel T. Willingham. I came across a section in which Willingham talks about what it takes to raise a child who chooses to read. He said that it’s not enough for your child to have a positive attitude about reading and be a competent reader. The child needs to have “reader” be part of his or her “self-concept”. He illustrates the idea of self-concept (basically how you see and define yourself) using examples of Twitter bios (where people are forced to introduce themselves using relatively few word). He says:

"If “reader” is part of your self-concept, it will occur to you as a viable activity more often. “What will I do on that two-hour train trip? I could bring my iPod. Oh, I should bring a book too.” And of course, the more you read, the more “reader” becomes cemented as part of your self-concept. What I do and what I think of myself reinforce one another. Conversely, children who do not have “reader” as part of their self-concept are not likely to think of it as an option. They may be neutral or even mildly positive in their attitudes toward reading but do not see it as “one of the things I do.”” (Page 24, Raising Kids Who Read)

“Reader” is certainly a major part of my own self-concept, and has been for as long as I can recall. Knowing that my eight-year-old has "reader" as part of her self-concept is something for which I am deeply, deeply grateful.

I'm grateful to:

  • ReadAloudHandbookEveryone who has bought books for her, since before she was even born. (Did you know that some of my blogger friends arranged a virtual book shower for me? I still treasure those books, in each of which I've written the giver's name. Special thanks to Sarah Stevenson, who brought me the books.)
  • Authors like Daniel Willingham, Jim Trelease and Donalyn Miller, who have given me sage advice in my quest to raise a child who loves to read.
  • The many others from my learning network, bloggers and tweeting teachers and commenters on the blog, who are simply too many to name. 
  • The real-world friends with whom we have traded books and recommendations and ideas. 
  • The publishers and authors who have supported my blog over the years by sending books, more and more of which are finding their way into my daughter's increasingly greedy hands.
  • My daughter's teachers and school librarian, who have all encouraged her to develop and grow as a reader.
  • Most of all, my husband. He has encouraged and supported my daughter's growth as a reader from reading to her in the womb to reading The Action Bible with her every night before bed during this school year.

Of course the journey is far from over. It's well-known that kids' interest in reading for pleasure tends to decline over time, as other occupations and interests get in the way. But I will do everything that I can to protect my daughter's conception of herself as "reader". Many thanks to all of you who I know will be rooting for us along the way. 

© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage. Links to books may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission. 


Is Reading an Achievement or an Experience?

My friend Terry Doherty has started a new monthly feature over at the Reading Tub blog in which she poses "a reading-ish question" for discussion. In her kickoff post Terry asks whether reading is an experience or an achievement. She notes that many year-end blog wrap-ups that she read recently included people asking things like:

"When did reading for the purpose of enjoyment/escape/relaxation/etc. morph into a something else?

What was the “something else”? Basically, three things:

  • A (self-imposed) competition to reach specific goals.
  • A means of self-promotion and selfie-ism.
  • A measuring stick of personal success or failure."

Terry reflects on this in terms of her own reading, and she inspired me to think about it, too. (Please do head over and read Terry's post, and share comments with her there.)

48hbc_newI don't do much in terms of imposing specific reading goals on myself. I've never been one to participate in reading "challenges", even though many people love them, because they make reading feel like work to me. I did participate in the MotherReader 48 Hour Book Challenge back in the day, but for me it was just an excuse to read all weekend, not something I was trying to win. I've read roughly 150 books in each of the past few years, but I don't set out to read a specific number, nor to increase it in quantitative terms (though I am always seeking out more time to read). 

However, I have made a pretty dramatic shift in what I've been reading over the years. I'm reading a much, much higher percentage of adult books now, vs. reading children's and young adult books, as well as a much higher percentage of nonfiction. Back in 2006 I read 156 children's and young adult books and 49 adult books. Five of the adult books were nonfiction. In 2018 I read 45 children's and adult books and 114 adult titles. 50 of the adult titles were nonfiction.

I'm not sure what to make of the shift towards reading more adult books, but I think that has a lot to do with burnout regarding reviewing. Since starting my blog, adult titles have been more recreational for me, while the kids and YA titles were "work" for the blog. Work that I enjoyed, sure, but still work in a sense. So I think the shift to reading more adult titles does reflect a wish to read more for my own personal enjoyment. It is a bit odd that I'm shifting away from reading kids' books right as my daughter is starting to read middle grade, but maybe that reflects the fact that reading books to recommend them to her is still work. A highly enjoyable part of my job as a parent, sure, but still work in a sense. If I'm reading adult mysteries and thrillers, that's just for me. 

The shift to reading more nonfiction, on the other hand, is different. Here I'm reading much more with a goal of learning and self-improvement. Like most working parents, I'm juggling a lot of things in my life (job, family and blog). I find I can justify taking the time to read if I'm reading something useful, in a way that I've had trouble justifying the reading time otherwise. For example, I'm using a chunk of my listening time to listen to podcasts about current events or productivity improvement. This even though I'm already primarily listening when I'm doing something else productive (exercising, cooking, folding laundry, etc).

IdRatherBeReadingDon't get me wrong. I've enjoyed most of the nonfiction titles that I've read (see my 2018 reading list here). I've learned a lot about things that I am deeply interested in (parenting, raising readers, happiness, communication, willpower, time management, etc.). I have a number of nonfiction books stacked up on my nightstand and Kindle that I very much want to read. I'm also not saying that people can't read nonfiction for pure pleasure (many people adore biographies, and more power to them). But I'm a bit concerned that in my specific case I'm replacing too much of my reading for the joy of it with reading for edification.

As Terry noted in her own case, this is certainly not the message that I want to send to my daughter. I want her to fall in love with books, and fall into them headlong (as she's currently doing with The Lightning Thief). I want it to continue being difficult to get her to leave the house, because she just has to finish this chapter. I want to get back in touch with my own childhood self, the kid who got sunburned reading on a raft in a lake, and couldn't go on a two mile car ride without a book and a backup book. 

But it's not going to be as easy as just deciding to read more of the mysteries and thrillers that I love. My reading time is limited, and I do have a lot of books that I want to read for various self-educational and self-improvement purposes. Clearly, I'm going to have to work to find more reading time somewhere, and try to mix it up a bit more. I think I'll start by reading novels before I go to sleep, instead of trying to read something more useful and then falling asleep. The price for that switch may be falling asleep later, and being more tired, but I think it will be worth it.

Wish me luck! Thanks for listening. 

© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage


Some Ideas for Encouraging Kids Who Can Read but Choose Not To

A couple of friends have said something to me lately along the lines of: "So, [my elementary-age child] can read, but never chooses to read. What can I do?" I've shared various posts in the past with suggestions for encouraging reading from birth. But this is a more specific question. What do you NOW when, whatever you have or haven't done before, your child just isn't that interested in reading. Here are a few thoughts for parents about trying, after a late start, to ignite a joy of reading:

ReadAloudHandbookRead Aloud: Even though it might be awkward to begin, studies show that one of the best ways to get kids engaged in reading is for the adults in their lives to read aloud to them. Reading aloud, even to kids who can read themselves, offers tremendous benefits. [This is especially true if the dad reads when you are talking about boys, but either parent reading is great.]

  • Reading aloud shows kids that you value reading.
  • Reading to them shows kids that you value them enough to take time out to read together.
  • Reading together fosters closeness.
  • Reading to your children helps you to expose them to books that they aren't ready to read on their own. 

I'm currently reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix aloud to my 8-year-old daughter. While she's a reasonably strong reader for her age, she is in no way ready in terms of skill or emotional maturity to read a book like this on her own. I pause to define words or to clarify plot points. Or (in one memorable case) so that I can comfort her when she cries over a character. There is no question in my mind that reading this book together, over the months that we've been at it, has brought us closer together. Probably it has helped with her vocabulary, too, but for me that is incidental. Reading together is helping her to bond with books, to LOVE reading. And that's the goal. 

It doesn't matter when you read. Many families read together before bed. Personally, I get too sleepy for that, so I read to my daughter while she eats breakfast. On lazier summer days, we can often move over to the couch when she's done, and keep going. If you're going on a road trip, the parent who isn't driving can read aloud to the whole family. You just have to be a bit creative to find the time. 

As a caveat, if you find reading aloud awkward, you might also try listen to an audiobook together in the car, or in the kitchen while you're preparing dinner. You can play them on Alexa, your phone, etc. As another caveat, if a book you are reading together isn't working for you or for the child, it is completely fine to stop and try another instead. You want the experience to be joyful. See Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook for lots more on this topic. 

LightningThiefNot sure what to read? What you want is something that is popular and engaging and that they might not be ready to read on their own. Harry Potter or the Percy Jackson Lightning Thief books are two good places to start. You want the book to be something that you are interested in reading also, not something that you are reading out of some sense of duty. Kids can tell. Is there a movie coming out that you want to see that is based on a book? Try reading that. A new film version of A Wrinkle in Time came out recently. Louis Sachar's Holes is an excellent book and an excellent movie. There are loads of choices. A quick google search for "movies based on children's books" brings up any number of lists. And of course you could ask and see if your child has any suggestions. Which leads us to... 

Let Them Choose: I say this all the time, but I can't emphasize it enough when you are talking about a child who can read but chooses not to. You simply must let her choose what she wants to read. If you are pushing her to read the books that you loved a kid, or that you think will strengthen her reading skills, or that will give her a leg up on the Battle of the Books contest in the fall, please stop. I've heard parents lament that their kids aren't reading when in reality, their kids are reading. But what they are reading doesn't count because it's graphic novels or joke books or activity books. You should celebrate anything that makes your child want to read, and go out and find more of that. 

My daughter has been reading constantly this summer. I am so, so, so grateful for this. For the most part, she is only reading graphic novels, notebook novels, and picture books. I have mixed some chapter books that I think she would like into her book baskets (Clementine, Ivy and Bean, The Bland Sisters), but she mostly ignores these. This is fine with me. I'm just glad that she has found books that she wants to read. 

If your child isn't reading, my best piece of advice content-wise is to try graphic novels and/or notebook novels (Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries are the two biggest series, though there are certainly others). There are graphic novels available for a range of age levels and interests. The ones I would start with for newer readers are the Lunch Lady series by Jarrett Krosoczka and the Babymouse and Squish series by Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm. For slightly older kids, the Babysitters Club graphic novels are hugely enticing, as is the Amulet series. Just pick up a few at the bookstore or the library, and leave them in the backseat of the car.  Which brings us to...

Make Reading the Most Desirable Option (Sometimes): One of the most successful things I ever did in terms of encouraging my daughter to read was to ban her from using her tablet for car rides of less than 30 minutes. I actually did this because I didn't like feeling like her chauffeur, and that's what I told her. But then I put some books in the car. Now she starts reading the minute she gets into the car and doesn't stop. She frequently stays in the car (in the relatively cool garage) when we get home, so that she can finish what she's reading. So, I still end up feeling like a chauffeur sometimes, but I don't mind, as long as she's reading. The point is that whenever we are in the car for a short drive she is a captive audience, with no choices but to talk to me or read. Seems like a win-win, doesn't it? 

Another friend told me that she bans devices for the first hour of any road trip in her family. I've heard of other people who ban devices while on camping trips, or even on vacation in general. Maybe there's dead time between races at swim meets, or when you're out at a restaurant, or at grandmas's house. It couldn't hurt to have a book handy for such situations.

You do have to be a bit careful with this suggestion. You don't want to be always taking away the desirable thing (devices) and have reading be used as a punishment. But if you can find ways to limit the screen time, while also making sure that potentially interesting books are available, you give kids a chance to choose reading. 

ReadingInTheWildSummary: There's a belief among many reading advocates (Donalyn Miller comes especially to mind) that there exists a right book that will hook each child on reading. The trick is for the child to find that book at the right time. The best teachers and librarians work during the school year to match kids with those gateway books. But there's no reason parents can't do their part to help, especially during summer vacation.

You can try reading aloud to your child, something exciting that he wouldn't read on his own. You can try to figure out what sorts of books your child finds most engaging, and keep those around. You can ensure that there are times when your child does choose to read, even if it's only out of boredom because no screen is available. All of this is in the hope that your child will run across that right book, that gateway book, that will make him want to keep reading. 

The primary guiding principle that I follow in nurturing my daughter as a reader is to make the reading experience as enjoyable as possible. If in doubt about any decision I ask myself whether it adds joy to the process or not. Then I respond accordingly. Thanks for reading!

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.