The Easiest Way to Encourage Your Child’s Reading (A Not-So-Secret Secret)

Still waiting on that hard-working husband to report on middle grade graphic novels. I would do it, but he knows so much more!

First a photo from our travels this summer–yes, both kids reading at the same time. Yay!

Both reading on a loooong car trip this summer. (This was right before we gave up the paci--solidarity, David Beckham and Posh Spice!)
Both reading on a loooong car trip this summer. (This was right before we gave up the paci. Solidarity, David Beckham and Posh Spice!)

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading a lot for pleasure. Because my young adult literature class started last week, a lot of my summer reading was young adult fare. I would be happy to share my thoughts on any and all these (listed at the end), but really, what I kept coming back to was that I’VE BEEN READING. For pleasure. Sometimes to the neglect of feeding playing with my children. And I firmly believe that is okay–even good for them to see! 

There’s an anecdote I love in one of my favorite children’s literature texts, Children’s Literature, Briefly, by James S. Jacobs and Michael O. Tunnell. A preschool teacher had her children in circle time. Behind her sat two different bowls, each with a different type of candy in it. While teaching, the teacher casually put a piece of candy from Bowl 1 in her mouth, said, “Mm, this is good candy,” and then promptly spit it in the trashcan. A few minutes later, still teaching, she placed a piece of candy from Bowl 2 in her mouth, said, “This is not good candy; I don’t like it,” but kept the candy in her mouth until she finished it. After the lesson, she told the children they could get one piece of candy from either bowl. Don’t look below: which bowl would you predict most of them chose from?

I always feel like the answer is going to be so obvious when I tell this story to my college students. And they always surprise me by predicting that the children would go to Bowl 1, that she said was good but spit out. I love that they always think that…because it means they needed to hear this story. It’s Bowl 2, that she said was not good but kept eating! Her words were empty; her actions meant everything to those young children.

We could apply this lesson in so many aspects of life, but since this is a reading blog, you know where this is going. You can tell your children how important reading is; you can rant and preach and rave and storm about how necessary it is for their education and future. But your words are empty. Are you a reader? Do they see you reading regularly? This is the not-so-secret secret to encouraging your kids to value reading, read more and take pleasure in literacy!

In case you’re interested, here’s a list of what I’ve read so far this summer (that I can remember).

First, Seth (age 7 1/2) and I read these chapter books together this summer, and we love them all (this doesn’t include chapter books he and his dad read together because I don’t know what all they read):

  • The Chalk Box Kid, Clyde Robert Bulla (re-read because he didn’t remember it; a favorite!)
  • The Stories Julian Tells, Ann Cameron
  • More Stories Julian Tells, Ann Cameron
  • A Cricket in Times Square, George Selden (still reading, very fun)

Here are the books I’ve read myself. I am noting after the author’s name who the intended audience is (YA=young adult; MG=middle grade; A=adult). I am not recommending these books; just reporting what I’ve read lately. If you have questions, feel free to comment and I will get back to you.

  • Boarding School Girls, Helen Eve (YA)
  • Miss Fortune Cookie, Lauren Bjorkman (YA)
  • We Were Liars, E. Lockhart (YA)
  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Mindy Kaling (A)
  • Murder Is Bad Manners, Robin Stevens (MG)
  • Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking, Erin Dionne (MG)
  • Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, & Peter Sieruta (YA/A)
  • Sisterhood Everlasting, Ann Brashares (A)
  • The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, Paula Byrne (A)
  • Passenger to Frankfurt, Agatha Christie (A)
  • The Secret Adversary, Agatha Christie (A)
  • Restless, Jennie Allen (A; still reading)
  • Boys Don’t Knit, T.S. Easton (YA)
  • Chasing Secrets, Gennifer Choldenko (MG; still reading)

With my 3-year old daughter, I am not reading chapter books yet, but she is now able to stay tuned in to longer, more complex stories and picture books now. I love being able to share books like these with her now:

  • Kevin Henkes’ picture books, like Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Sheila Rae the Brave, and Julius, the Baby of the World
  • Russell Hoban’s Frances books

Consider: What small (or big) changes could you make towards changing your (and your child’s) perception of yourself as a reader?

2 thoughts on “The Easiest Way to Encourage Your Child’s Reading (A Not-So-Secret Secret)

  1. Cece Chance August 19, 2015 / 5:51 pm

    Way to go, Sara! When I read to the boys when they were growing up, I always had my own book close by so I could read while they napped. I still do it with the “grands.” How does anyone survive without pleasure reading?


    • Sara Treat Chance August 19, 2015 / 8:52 pm

      I am so intrigued by people like Andrew who claim they didn’t like reading as a child, and then as an adult, became a reader. I just have to think it has something to do with that power of parental example that sunk in deep at some point in childhood, even as they resisted a love of reading earlier on.


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