I suppose it’s no surprise that I love to read. As the daughter of a librarian, books were an integral part of my childhood. Our home was filled with wall to wall shelves of tomes in all shapes, sizes, colors and genres. And they were well-worn, too; we would often gather to read in the living room in the same way many other families gathered to watch the television. Is it horribly nerdy to admit that in high school I sometimes preferred to spend a Friday night holed up with Agatha Christie instead of hanging out with friends? Probably. But at least I didn’t have to deal with a curfew.
My family’s modus operandi when it came to reading was a bit unusual. If the idea of a family of avid readers appeals to you, though, it’s easy to build your own environment of literary love and turn reading reluctance into excitement.
Build a family library by collecting books and other reading material to appeal to everyone in the household. Designate a specific place in your home where the books will be kept, then assign each member of the family their own spot (such as a shelf or two in a bookcase) to care for and fill with works of their liking. You can always find books at traditional bookstores or online booksellers, but building your library need not be a costly affair. Public libraries often sell used books for as low as .25 and used bookstores can be a treasure trove of fun, off the wall titles you might not find elsewhere. Scour yard sales and consignment shops for great titles, or arrange a book swap with friends.
Offer high interest reading material. Don’t limit your family library to books. Magazines, journals and other periodicals are great resources for high interest reading. There are periodicals for almost any subject or enthusiast you can think of, from Acoustic Guitar to Young Rider (Check this magazine directory for titles). Reluctant readers especially will be more inclined to spend time reading a publication that piques their interest.
Join a book discussion group, or form your own. Book groups make reading a social endeavor and provide readers an opportunity to share their thoughts with others. This can be a great confidence builder for shyer, more reticent children and teens. If you’re not sure where to start, check with your local library (My library system, Fairfax County, offers discussion groups for mothers and daughters, boys only, girls only, teens, tweens and adults).
Family discussion groups are another option. Select a work as a family, then make a date one night each week for discussion. Families with younger readers can select one or two titles applicable to each reading level; offer age appropriate activities (like coloring pages or art projects) to entertain the little ones while you chat about the book.
Check out story time with young and pre-readers. Bookstores and libraries offer weekly read-aloud story times, often with a corresponding craft or activity. This provides an environment similar social to a book group, but on a more age appropriate scale.
Make the connection between authors as writers and authors as real people. Find the contact information for an author you and your children enjoy and pen a quick note (check the author’s website or publishing house for this information). Tell the writer why you love her work, ask a question that’s been niggling you, or simply say hello. Many authors read their mail and will take the time to respond. Expand on this by attending a reading – listening to an author read his work often completes the reader’s mental picture. Book Festivals feature a variety of author visits and events; you can also check an author’s website for his touring schedule.
Take a book vacation or literacy field trip. Why not plan a trip this summer to visit a place you have read about? If you’re in the DC metro area, The Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C. has a listing of books set in the Washington area, categorized by age and reading level. Or take a literacy field trip: The Library of Congress, The Library of Virginia and the Enoch Pratt Free Library have fascinating exhibits and collections open to the public. Interested in Shakespeare? Head to the Folger Shakespeare Library. Like mystery? Visit the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond or the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore. And let’s not forget Crystal City’s Newseum, a completely interactive look into the world of journalism.
Just as writers are made, not born, good readers are fostered in a literacy rich environment. Building a family of readers is as much about strengthening the familial bond as it as about encouraging strong reading skills. By creating relevance to the outside world and making reading a part of your family’s daily routine, your reluctant reader will find new joy in what was once a difficult chore.