(*Note on this post’s title: I’ve had so-called “clickbait” on my mind since I’ve been listening to podcasts about the effects of social media on journalism and politics. I thought I’d try it out. Wow. It’s annoying, but it is a little bit of a thrill to get sensationalistic for a moment. Anyway…back to the post.)
Reading aloud to my children is my favorite part of parenting. Lucky for me, both of my daughters, it turns out, love reading and enjoy reading on their own. They are ten and twelve, and still (to my great and utter happiness) love when I read picture books to them. We also read novels, old and new, and sometimes read more than one concurrently. “But Julie,” you might say, “I don’t feel like there’s enough time in the day for reading aloud.” As someone who’s been enthusiastically doing this twelve years now with my kids (and even longer with students as a school librarian), I would like to try to convince you to take the time.
Three compelling reasons to read to your kids:
REASON #1: What I Found Was Shocking
Okay, not really. (But…clickbait.)
What I actually find is that there are consistently well-crafted, compelling books being published, and they are a joy to read on many levels. My professional work is writing about and teaching children’s literature, so I’m usually on top of these things, but it can be hard for parents not in this field to know where to look. If you are a parent who isn’t sure where to turn and you find you’re reading Goodnight Moon and Dr. Seuss way too often (great books; talented authors; but let’s find some new stuff, too), here are just a few tips:
Award winners. Yeah, yeah, sometimes great books never get awards, and sometimes a book you think is lousy gets a big sticker. But it’s generally a good place to start. For one, watch which books win the (just announced!) Youth Media Awards from the American Library Association. If you want more, here’s a list that I made for my students in a graduate course I teach for the University of Tennessee’s School of Information Sciences. This course is about picture books, and I ask the students to read approximately three-hundred picture books during our time together. I give them this list as a way to know where to find picture books that have won awards or have been deemed the “best.” (Note #1: This means the list is picture-book focused. You won’t see awards for, say, teen titles on here. Note #2: Any professionals in the field who see this list and see errors or gaping omissions, please email me. I have thick skin. The list is by no means perfect.)
Where you are right now, the Horn Book’s site. You’re in great hands. Explore. Subscribe to the magazine. They won’t let you down. They did not pay me to say that. [Editor’s note: true.] Also, I cannot recommend enough Martha Parravano’s and Roger Sutton’s A Family of Readers. Worth every penny. I buy it for new parents all the time.
Children’s lit blogs and podcasts. Oh my, there are many, and it’s hard to keep up, as many are quite good. I’m going to single out only one that’s great for parents: Jen Robinson’s Book Page. Jen’s been blogging for over a decade now. She not only writes about new children’s books, but she also stays on top of news related to literacy and growing “joyful learners,” and she shares all of that at her site. (I also blog about new picture books and sometimes novels at my own site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. I go deep into process, artsy stuff, but you can still get titles from my site too.)
REASON #2: What Happens Next Will Surprise You
Actually, it’s not a surprise at all that reading aloud to my daughters brings us closer. I made a habit when they were very young of the three of us cuddling up every afternoon after school to read. We plop down on the couch or my big bed and get comfy, and I read to them. Whether we’re reading something lighthearted or something more somber in tone, conversations about life and people and how to behave in this complicated world inevitably pop up. As Katherine Paterson says in The Invisible Child, good stories don’t set out to teach virtue; they set out to tell a story. But many stories, “draw [readers] into the mystery of human life in this world.” I don’t mean to say that I stop and make lessons out of things (ew), but a good story definitely can spark a good conversation about these mysteries — either during or after our read. I learn more about them, and they learn more about me. This is also secretly helpful to me as a parent, since both girls loathe that whole Tell-Me-About-Your-Day thing.
This reading-right-after-school gets harder as they age and their homework increases. But it’s also been relatively easy, given that my girls don’t like afterschool activities and like to be home. I acknowledge that if you’ve got a more extroverted child who loves to takes classes or engage in afterschool clubs, this will be more challenging. You can still, however, find a time later in the day that works. Right before bed is a wonderful time. I highly recommend that, too.
REASON #3: With This One Weird Trick, You’ll Never Look at This the Same Way!
Research shows time and time again that the more a child is read to at home or at school, the better his or her test scores are. I’m intentionally putting this reason last, because I think it’s just a really lovely side effect of the other reasons I do it — great stories and time to bond with my daughters. But if good test scores for your child are at the top of your priorities, there you go. It’s the One Weird Trick You Won’t Believe that will help your child in school.
But, best of all, it may make a lifelong reader of your child. I know, for me, reading for pleasure makes my life rich in more ways than one, and I hope the same for my daughters.
Not so shocking after all.