When my children were little, I took them to the library weekly or more, for story time and to browse the books. Having an interest in teaching, reading, and writing children’s literature, I had definite ideas about what I wanted to read to them. I also knew I couldn’t say no to every character-licensed, happy-princess-forever book they picked up (I tried to say no, but caved under heart-breaking sad toddler faces and the occasional tantrum).
Instead, I said yes to everything they picked and also pulled out stacks of the books I determined to have quality. This was a great solution at the library, where it didn’t matter how many books I lugged home, as long as they fit in the basket under the stroller.
Then we got home, where we’d usually plop down and read all of those books. Yes, I did give them a fair chance, and the ones I didn’t like, I tried to hide under the bed, between the couch cushions, in the car.
By bedtime, the books I didn’t like were right there, on the stack in the room. How I dreaded to read a book I deemed on par with fast food—unhealthy and unflavourful. Even more, how I dreaded to reread a book that I disagreed with on a thematic level. I have a master of education degree, and was on my way to becoming an author of books for young readers. How could I turn against my profession under my own roof?!
But I also knew that self-determination was important for my kids. I wanted to foster a love of reading and that meant they needed to choose their own books and hear them again and again and again…
I confess that I read some books with a fast-paced monotone through gritted teeth. Many educators and book people were saying “it doesn’t matter what they read as long as they read” and so I swallowed some bile and read that crappy book yet another time, anticipating its library due date. But something niggled inside. If I gave them a steady diet of fast food reading, wouldn’t that be what they grew to love best?
Then, one day I figured it out, at least for bedtime books. I made a deal with my oldest child. She picked one and I picked one. Easy. We read stories happily ever after. I’d read her choice first and then I’d read mine.
And you know what? It worked! She started loving some of my literary selections and asking for rereads. I ended up liking a few of hers, too. We talked about what we liked and disliked. We had to make a new deal: three books at bedtime—one her choice, one mine, and one reread.
I did this deal with each of my children and I think it worked well. They are in high school and university now, and they pick quality books to read and often give me recommendations. We still read picture books together on occasion. There is nothing like snuggling up with a fifteen-year-old to read something fabulous.
Everyone is always going to have opinions about books, how good or not good they are. I’m so happy I got my kids to lean a bit in my direction on literary tastes by embracing some of their choices and making a deal so they’d read some of mine.
About the Author
Wendy BooydeGraaff is the author of Salad Pie (Ripple Grove Press, 2016). She holds a Master of Education from GVSU and a graduate certificate in children’s literature from Penn State. Her words have appeared in Kveller, Taproot Magazine, Critical Read, and elsewhere. Find her at www.wendybooydegraaff.com. She blogs infrequently about quality books for all ages at www.aneducationinbooks.wordpress.com.
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