Raising a Reader
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- A Child Becomes a Reader: Kindergarten through Grade 3
As the Supervising Librarian at the New York Public Library's Central Children's Room, John Peters has seen his share of young readers. Some gobble up library books as if they were an unlimited supply of free ice cream. Others enter the room kicking and screaming, dragged in by well-meaning and determined parents.
We all know reading is important. But sometimes it's not so easy to know where to begin. Here are his tips:
How can you get a reluctant reader to pick up a book?
Children are individuals. There are some that just will never be interested in reading. And there are many other ways to learn to see the world – heretical as that may be to say. Don't try to force them to be something they're not, or to do something they don't want to do.
For children whose interest may be kindle-able, if that's a word, we always recommend having books around, and other reading material, too. Make them part of your life as an adult, because the child will see that and in slow stages the child will pick up on it, and will sooner or later begin picking up books and reading matter on his or her own. It's a subtle and slow approach, but it does work really well in my experience.
The truth is, no parent is going to interest their child in books and reading if they themselves are not interested. With the best will in the world, a parent that doesn't really like to read or doesn't really like the story that he or she is reading at that moment, is going to communicate that attitude in very subtle ways. But children are really good at picking up subtle cues. We try to push the message that you should read to your child, read to your child, read to your child – that's because we have to start somewhere. But the effective reading experience is one in which both parties derive equal enjoyment.
You spend your day surrounded by one of the biggest children's library collections in the country. What's popular with kids right now?
Along with requests for the current things, like Harry Potter, or the Spiderwick Chronicles, or the Series of Unfortunate Events, we receive at least as many requests for Ursula LeGuin or Madeleine L'Engle. The demand for some of those just never lets up. Parents want to introduce their children to what they loved when they were young.
What do you think makes a book resonate with a child?
From about birth, children are mostly interested in themselves. So if you can find a way of presenting a story or telling a story in a way that a child sees him or herself in it, that really engenders a strong response in a child. You could probably argue that that kind of self-interest extends to adults, too, but we can suppress it a little bit and there are other interests that come along. Children start out really being interested in their immediate world, and then the boundaries of that expand over the first few years. Next, they look for their place in that world. The books that address that are the books that endure, and the books that do it well, are an important experience for children to be exposed to.
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