Wednesday, July 8, 2009

1 Rant and 5 Ways to Get Kids to Read

My response to Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed titled “The Best Kids’ Books Ever”: WTF?

Kristof has won a couple of Pulitzer Prizes, so I’m not questioning his intelligence. Many kids, however, who could greatly benefit from more reading, won’t relate to the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. Yet, tons of contemporary books, like North of Beautiful, After Tupac and D Foster, and The Rules of Survival, feature relevant young characters with real-life problems.

If you’re buying your kids ANY books, more power to you. You deserve a high five for instilling in your child the love of story. But, as Roger Sutton over at Read Roger says, “Any list of 13 of the best books is pretty random and thus useless”, so instead of offering you a list of crusty old books, I offer 5 solid ways to get your kid to read.

5. Don’t make kids read the best books ever. I’ve spent a good portion of my life struggling to read books that are good for me. But when I quit trying to read what people tell me I should like and instead read what feels good, I flip pages faster that Johnny 5.

4. Don’t buy your kids a pile of books you read as a kid, especially if you’re 150 years old. Children’s lit from way back tends to be adult lit that is slightly easier to read, but not really. When I have to fish something out of the public domain for first graders, I want to cry.

Here's something that was written for children in 1905:

In the chimney corner of a cottage in Avignon, a man sat one day watching the smoke as it rose in changing clouds from the smouldering embers to the sooty cavern above, and if those who did not know him had supposed from his attitude that he was a most idle person, they would have been very far from the truth.

It was in the days when the combined fleets of Europe were thundering with cannon on the rocky walls of Gibraltar, in the hope of driving the English out, and, the long effort having proved in vain, Joseph Montgolfier, of whom we have spoken, fell to wondering, as he sat by the fire, how the great task could be accomplished.

(from Chatterbox, 1905)

Boring. Too hard. And—one more time—boring.

3. Read—not to your kids, although that’s great—but you need to read. Show your kids that even you can spend many an evening enthralled by a book because it’s fun.

2. Leave books around your house. Let your children know that at any moment they can open up one of those treasure chests and see what’s inside.

1. Take your kid to bookstores and teach them to look at the back of a book to get a peek at the inside. Then go find yourself some books. Let kids fall in love with the act of browsing a bookstore. Shopping is fun. Getting to take the books home is a bonus.

Here’s the deal: You’re in love with your old-timey childhood and there’s nothing wrong with that. But pawning off old frontier books as “the best ever” and giving them to our kids only serves as evidence for what kids already think: that reading may have been fun 150 years ago—before Wii, but books don’t know a damn thing about kids today, and that Kanye, in all of his mis-use of “English” is correct.

Plenty of incredible writers are publishing books for today's kids. Let your little readers connect to the literary voices of their generation. Open the door to literature and let them browse to their hearts’ content.


  1. You know it's funny, reading your suggestions I am actually amazed that I have a love for reading. My parents are college educated, business owners who read the newspaper every single morning. But I've never seen them read books. My mom has a couple of those Don't Sweat the Small Stuff books, but that's it. They're not readers, never have been. I wonder where I picked it up from.
    When I have kids I have no doubt that the house will be stuffed full of books, since it already is.

  2. Megan,

    The paper counts. The paper got delivered to my house every day and the Funnies got put aside for me.

    Congratulations on becoming a reader despite not being surrounded by literature!

    Not every reader gets the luxury of growing up in a house full of books, but I definitely did.

  3. This post actually got me to thinking even more last night. I've talked about how my family is crazy opinionated and that I won't share my WIP with them yet. I think another problem, that I hadn't realized, is that they don't read novels. In my head I may have been presuming that if they don't read books, they must not like reading books, so why would they like mine?
    I don't know if that makes sense, but it kind of connected some dots for me.

    So thanks for the post that keeps on giving! :)

  4. I think you might be connecting some dots for me too.

    I don't even mention my book to people who don't read. In fact, I might even be a little embarrassed to talk about the fact that I'm writing a book to people who don't read.

    Writing books is like being a Dungeons & Dragons player or a Star Wars fan. You gotta be in there, shaking your multi-sided dice, to really appreciate it.

  5. Hi Marie,
    Great post. I actually just found your blog, via Frankie's blog... You probably don't remember me but we met at the Poconos. As a bookseller, I'm eternally grateful for posts like yours that tell people to take their kids to bookstores and browse and buy books. We need more posts like yours! And I completely agree that books I read as a child don't speak to today's kids. That's why I'm constantly reading the newest stuff.

    I'll bet you've made more progress on your novel than I have on mine, heh heh. I actually put it aside and started a MG novel instead.

  6. Joanne,

    Are you Joanne from my critique group at SCBWI Poconos?

  7. Joanne,

    I didn't forget you. You were my main buddy all weekend. In some ways, the SCBWI retreat made me feel like I was in high school. The editors and agents were the popular girls, and I was, um, unpopular.

    So thanks for spending time with the class dork!