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Love at First Read: Spotting the Moment When My Children Fell For Books

When my oldest son first fell in love, I recognized the symptoms instantly. He lost his appetite, couldn’t sleep, and spent hours in his room with a daydream-y glimmer in his eyes. It wasn’t a person he’d fallen for, though; it was a book. At age five, he’d always been enthusiastic about books, but up until his love-at-first-read moment, I’d mostly read aloud to him. Reading independently had seemed daunting to him. Until he came to me, hugging the first book of Tony Abbott’s The Secrets of Droon series fiercely to his chest.

“Mom,” he said urgently, “can we get the next book in the series? Right now? I want to read them all.”

And so began the almost-daily treks to our local library to borrow the second, third, fourth, ad infinitum book until he’d read the entire series in a matter of days. Once he’d toppled head-over-heels into reading, there was no turning back.

This is what I’ve hoped for with each of my children — that magical moment where reading transforms from a chore to a joy. It’s a moment I watch and wait for, because once it happens, I try to harness and foster it before it flits away. If I miss it, there’s a window of opportunity that’s missed, too, where I can feed that hunger for books without my children resenting or resisting. It’s a moment that happens spontaneously, but it’s one I try to coax into being by encouraging my kids to try on different “reading hats” to find their perfect size.

We visit our local library and bookstore several times a month. The kids roam the aisles, slipping books from shelves, flipping through pages to see if the words or illustrations speak to them. I lead them to their just-right reading levels, but I don’t limit them to those leveled books. If I had, I would’ve missed watching my oldest son devour Harry Potter in first grade. I would’ve missed the chance to define tough vocabulary for him and to introduce him to his first dictionary. Reading levels serve a wonderful purpose, but I don’t want to micromanage something as illogical and serendipitous as love. So we explore a variety of genres, levels, and formats, because I never know what type of book might grab their attention.

For my children, their love-at-first-read moment has proved to be as different as they are. My oldest fell for The Secrets of Droon, my middle child for Clementine and Stink Moody. My youngest still has yet to discover her perfect literary match. We read every day in hopes of discovering it. What will the book be, I wonder, that tumbles her into a lifelong love of words? It’s out there somewhere, waiting for her. Once she finds it, my job as a parent is to see the telltale signs and, as soon as humanly possible, take her to the library for more.

Suzanne Nelson About Suzanne Nelson

Suzanne Nelson is the author of Serendipity’s Footsteps, Cake Pop Crush, and several other middle grade and young adult novels. She is a contributor to The Washington Post “On Parenting” blog and a former children’s book editor. She lives and writes in Connecticut. Her website is She tweets @snelsonbooks and instagrams @suzannenelsonbooks

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