Guest post by Alissa Sklar. Alissa Sklar is the mother of 3 daughters, a freelance writer for Montreal Families Magazine and other publications, and an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec.
My three daughters are voracious readers.
Now that might be a strange way to start a blog on a site linked to encouraging reluctant readers, but stick with me here. My older girls, twins in grade 5, are so immersed in their novels (fantasy adventures and historical fiction are their favorites) that they began reading through every recess period at school, neglecting their friends and not getting the opportunity to blow off steam through physical exercise. The school guidance counselor actually took the exceptional step (with my permission) of actually banning their books at recess. The school was essentially, remarkably, telling them they read TOO MUCH! (Well, at least at the wrong times)! Kind of a new take on book banning, I guess, and in this case, the only kind of book banning I’d ever support.
Except for the kind where they read books walking down stairs. Also a very bad idea (but that’s another blog post.)
My point (and I do have one) is this: when news of their unusual restriction got out, I got some calls from concerned parents of their classmates. What I had done to promote this wonderful love of reading? What had I done right? And by extension, what had they done wrong?
The only answer I could come up with wasn’t particularly helpful to them. Truth is, I didn’t think there was anything these parents neglected or forgot to do. What’s more, I’m not convinced I did anything particularly different or special. We all sang to our children as infants, introduced them to those particularly tasty board books as babies, read to them at bedtime, took them to libraries, let them see us reading for pleasure. Many of these parents were highly educated professionals, well aware of the importance of reading to their child’s school success. Some were devoted lifelong readers, sorely disappointed that their child doesn’t share the desire to totally immerse themselves in a new world or explore possibilities of learning in non-fiction.
Would their child never experience the wonder of the wardrobe that leads to Narnia? Travel in a magic treehouse with Jack and Annie? Fly on a broomstick with Harry Potter? Get that shiver down their back with the dawning horror that comes at the end of The Lottery? Many look back with fond memories on their childhood hours spent totally immersed in a wealth of fantastic fiction, whether under the covers with a flashlight after lights out or giggling with friends over the “good parts” in Forever (thanks again for that, Judy Blume!). They express sadness that their kids might never know this sweet escape. Even more, they worried that their kids might not properly learn the literacy skills essential to school success.
The literature on literacy is filled with suggestions, strategies and tools for these parents, but they all kind of boil down to this: you need to find a way to motivate your kids to pick the books up and get through them. You need to work with them to choose the best children’s books for them, encourage them, and sometimes, reward them. Because they need these literacy skills to make it in our school systems. And along the way, you kind of hope there might be some magical connection to Charles Wallace, Junie B. Jones or Gregor the Overlander, and the rest will take care of itself.
What are some of the remarkable books you remember from your childhood? Which would you most like your child to discover?