Saturday, January 5, 2008

Read All About It

by Darlene Ryan

When I was growing up we took the bus into the city every second Saturday to go to the library. The library was a beautiful old stone building with an imposing set of stairs up to the front doors, high ceilings and shelves of books that reached way over my head. It was funded, in part, by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. (Why he helped pay for a library in a small Canadian city I don't know.) Every visit I’d take home a stack of books that had to last for two weeks and somehow never did.

Now I’m taking the munchkin to the library--and still coming home with a stack of books for myself. She’s too old now for Robert Munsch, but I still sneak out with Love You Forever or The Paperbag Princess once in a while. A couple of weeks ago she came home from the school library with There’s An Alligator Under My Bed, not for herself—it’s another book she says she’s too old for now—she brought it for me, because it was always one of my favorites. At least that’s what she said.

I can’t imagine life without books. With books I’ve gone places I’ll never visit and done things I’ll never get to do. There’s almost no chance I’ll ever end up at the Arctic Circle. I don’t like cold. But I’ve been there in a book. And I’m certain none of my friends are going to let me try doing open heart surgery on them, but I’ve done that with a book too. A love of books usually begins in childhood. If there are children in your life, please read to them. Think of it as building your future audience.

In honour of Family Literacy Day, on January 27, here are some ideas to get everyone reading a little more.

Take the kids to the bookstore. Buy everyone a book, bring the books home and read them together. (Some not-so-enthusiastic readers can be enticed with a graphic novel.) If they aren’t your children, check with their parents to see if anything is off limits. Too scary, for instance.

When you’re out with kids read the street and store signs with them. If you’re looking for an address have a child watch for the street name and building number. Hey, let’s face it. Their eyes are sharper than ours.

Ask a child to read the recipe to you when you cook. This is actually very helpful if like me you need glasses to see the recipe, but find they tend to fall into the bowl when you’re mixing.

Stick a chalkboard or a white board in the kitchen and write notes to each other. When the munchkin was learning to read I’d spell out a couple of supper choices on the refrigerator with magnetic letters and she got to choose what we’d have—Rice or Potatoes, Corn or Beans, Fruit or Cookie. No surprise, cookie was the first word she figured out.

Read the newspaper together. Look for mentions of your child’s school on the sports pages. Follow their favorite baseball team or hockey player. Take turns reading the comic strips to each other.

Visit the library. And don’t limit yourself to the children’s department. Borrow a cookbook. Learn how to make authentic curry or sushi—at least on paper. Take home back issues of National Geographic—or Rolling Stone.

And check out up-coming activities. Thanks to the library we’ve made our own pretzels and ice cream, we’ve learned to weave and make paper maché, we’ve created some spectacular paper airplanes and exploded a volcano in the middle of the kitchen. And we’ve learned it’s better to explode a volcano outside.

Write to the children in your life. Exchange email or snail mail. The munchkin, for instance, loves “real” mail. Share funny stories from your own childhood or about their parents. Ask questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no.

Encourage kids to make up stories and poems and write them down. One night a week at dinner share them. Parents too. Give dollar store prizes for the funniest poem or the scariest story. Invite friends to join you with their stories.

Let your kids see you read. Adults who read are more likely to have kids who read. (At least in my experience.)


paul lamb said...

One quality I have consistently read about people who identify themselves as readers is that they can remember growing up in a house that had books in every room. That's certainly the case in my house, and only one of my four is not an avid reader (he's in medical school, so he has other priorities right now).

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

One reason I enjoy the mystery e-list DorothyL is that so many of its members not only read the same books as kids as I did, but remember them as vividly as I do. And let's hear it once again for libraries! I'm one of 25 mystery writers from Mystery Writers of America's New York chapter who'll staff a booth at the American Library Association's midwinter meeting in Philadelphia next weekend. We'll be handing out Bloody Marys at the Friday evening reception and signed books and promotional materials (including some spiffy Poe's Deadly Daughters bookmarks) the rest of the weekend. If you're going to ALA, please drop by and say hello. :)

Darlene Ryan said...

Paul, after I read your comment I walked around the house and discovered that there are books in every room including the kitchen, bathroom and on top of the dryer in the basement. And don't laugh, but the munchkin has invented a bookstand for reading in the bathroom. It's an old wire bookrack that fits on the handlebars of an exercise bike which she's attached to a kid-size wooden chair.

Susan Evans said...

You reminded me of all the great chidlren's books my boys and I loved. Starting the reading habit early can save parents a lot of grief and bring you and your kids a lot of pleasure. I still think of my favorite picture books by Steven Kellogg and Nancy Patz, especially Pumpernickle Tickle & Mean Green Cheese, and smile.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

My 3 1/2 year old granddaughter, who's like the Energizer Bunny, has yet to sit through a whole story when I'm reading to her--at the same age, my son demanded The Little Engine That Could over and over and over until I would start yawning every time I opened the book. But she must settle down and listen when she's alone with her parents, because she seems to know dozens of books by heart. I have no doubt that when she starts to read, she'll enjoy it. At least I hope so--she knows the audio instructions to a lot of computer games by heart too. ;)

A Paperback Writer said...

I was going to suggest leaving books lying about, but I can see Paul has beaten me to the punch here.
Darlene, I applaud this post. I am a junior high school English teacher, and there's not one thing in your post with which I disagree. However, may I add: turn off the TV and the video games. Seriously. Fewer hours of these things = more time reading and more time getting exercise and/or playing imaginative games.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Take them to the library. We live in an apartment complex where folks think we are weird becuase we go to the library.


Lonnie Cruse said...

There are books in ever room of this house as well except possibly the laundry room and I wouldn't be surprised if there are some in there. Sigh, I adore books.