My Bio

My Bio
My name is Sharon Levin and I've been reviewing children's literature for 20 years. I founded and run the Bay Area Children's Literature List. My biggest passion (outside my family) is getting books into the hands of children and teens. My favorite thing is getting non-readers to realize that they're readers. I also LOVE t-shirts that have to do with books or literature. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll have a click through on the above picture so you can see my entire collection (and where to get them).

December 2, 2014

How to Get Your Child to STOP/HATE Reading (it's surprisingly simple)

So, I have holiday cards to write, photos to download, books to cull (perhaps a house to clean, nah) and I skipped my Shut Up and Write meeting this a.m. because my dog had, well, Baboon Booty (red, swollen, THOROUGHLY unattractive) so I took him to the vet instead.

Who knew that I'd be so inspired (infuriated) by that visit that I'd find the energy, time, motivation to write a blog post before doing anything else?  The vet, as always, was delightful.  I love the office, love the people, great medical care.

BUT, when I talk to people with children, I often write a Book Rx for them (I even have a pad of prescription pages, really).  I was writing down some titles for the vet's kids when I asked a bit more about their reading habits.  Her son loves graphic novels, but he's not really allowed to use those for 'real' reading.  That is per his parents AND his teacher!  He does 20 minutes of real reading for homework, THEN he's allowed 30 minutes of graphic novel/comic book reading in order to earn iPad time.  Sigh, isn't reading its own reward?  Couldn't iPad/screen time be earned by doing chores instead (otherwise, this sends the message that reading IS the chore).

I used the argument that I always use, "We don't do that to adults.  We don't tell them they're not reading across a broad enough range or that what they've chosen isn't challenging enough.  AND, BTW, graphic novel, comic books, etc. ARE reading. "   Sigh.  My belief is as long as they're reading for pleasure, they'll read the books they HAVE to read later and they'll get through them and might even enjoy them.

She said that they would let him read what he wanted for 30 minutes, but if he wanted to earn more iPad time, that 60 minutes of graphic novel reading was not allowed.  I said, "As long as he's enjoying the reading, that's your biggest hurdle.  Why not let him choose his fun reading?  Tell him that's up to him."

The answer, are you ready for this?  "I don't want to give him that much power." Okay, he's 8, don't give him your Visa Card or the keys to the car, but giving your child the POWER to choose what he reads?  That is the BEST thing you can do!

And then I thought, "She's not alone" because EVERY teacher,  EVERY librarian and EVERY parent who looks at a book that a child has chosen for themselves and shakes her/his head in dismay, disgust (yes, it happens) or general 'judginess' has taken that power from that child.

Think this is too strong or too harsh a judgement?  I've been working in bookstores for 7 years now, only in the children's department (because NOBODY wants me to wrap gifts, believe me) and I have seen a child's face go from happy and eager to crushed when they hold up a book they chose and they're told it's 'not suitable'.  I STILL point to a friend of my daughter's, now a bright high school senior, who has NEVER fully recovered her full love of reading after her 5th grade teacher told her she was not allowed to read any more Disney Fairy books.

Want to see a child light up?  Gain confidence?  Find joy?  Take them into an (independent) bookstore and say, "You have $25, make your own choices." (yes, libraries are great too).  'Power' is not inherently evil and the power to choose your own books is MAGICAL.

15 comments:

  1. Amen to all of this, Sharon! And I love your idea of an Rx pad for book recommendations

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  2. Thanks! I kept writing titles on scraps of paper for people, so the spousal unit came up with an Rx pad for me, which I LOVE. :-)

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  3. Excellent post, Sharon. Am copying and sharing it with a few people who need to read it. The Rx pad is a great idea.

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    1. Thanks, if you're on twitter, feel free to tweet (I'm @sharonreader). This is known as Shameless Self Promotion. :-)

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  4. One of my favorite things is a parent bringing a child into our bookstore and letting him or her pick something. Sometimes the kids ask our advice, based on other books they've liked. I've seen that wrinkled nose look from some parents when they see the title chosen, but most of the time, thankfully, the parent takes the book, glances at the front and back, smiles, and pays.

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    1. Yes, that joy when their choice is supported! We had a shopping night at Books, Inc. last night and the parents were AWESOME! Totally supportive of their children and their choices.

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  5. Sharon, I love this post. What is your recommendation for kids who want to read above their reading level. I have no problem if the language or plot is more complex, but if there is a lot of violence or sex I'm more likely to say no to a younger (elementary school age) child. Should my hypothetical third grader be able to read Hunger Games, or Ender's Game (apparently there is a kid-version and an adult version of this?!? I did not know that).

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  6. Totally get it Mariko, even though I am not a fan of reading levels, I know what you're asking, and I have this discussion w/parents a lot. There is GREAT disagreement in the children's lit world as well on this. I have brilliant friends whom I adore who say, "Never censor, your kid will self censor." My response has always been, "If my 9 year old censors AFTER the rape scene, it's too late." So, with the caveat that this is MY opinion, NO! Please do NOT give The Hunger Games to anyone under the age of 12! Books for middle grades are at a variety of difficulty, so what I always ask kids is "What did you read last that you loved? Was it hard or easy?" Since part of my job is to know as many books as I can, I should know at least one or two titles they mention and I can make suggestions from there. So, use your resources, the children's librarian and the specialists in the children's section of your local independent bookstore. Also, feel free to write to me. :-)

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  7. I had one child who hated to read, which made him unlike the rest of us. So, yes, I bribed him with points which could be exchanged for money or books or other treats. The single thing that helped his reading level was when he was sick for 9 days in first grade and sat in front of the TV set watching cartoons with the closed-captioning on. The book that turned him into a reader was House of the Scorpion. After that, I was able to drop the points, but we maintained reading amounts in the summer time--when they were older, for example, they had to read for 2 hours before they could play video games. But by then they were so hooked on reading that two hours was no big deal. By middle school, all their friends came to our house to borrow books, which made the rounds through about 8 boys (I'd read a book the first night). We even made 360 mile trips to meet authors, and went to Harry Potter book parties, and did whatever it took to turn them into readers. My former non-reader is now a senior in college, and my younger son, a junior in college, wrote an essay about all the reading we did in our house. But it started with rewards and points until reading became its own reward.

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    1. Jude, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I love the close captioning story, that's how my Belgian family learned English initially, reading the captioning while listening to the words (another reason many Europeans are multilingual, Americans, not so much). It sounds like many things were done in your household to encourage reading and that you didn't judge any books (or cartoons). I'm glad that the point system worked for you, it's good for me to hear that. But, you did do a lot more than just that system and I think it all added up to raising readers (which can happen at any age. One of Katherine Paterson's daughters didn't become a reader until she was 13 and discovered Catcher in the Rye). BTW, you know there's a sequel to The House of the Scorpion, right? :-)

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  8. Sharon, thanks so much for your fast reply! Yeah, some things cannot be un-read... We've had good luck finding older titles which have a richer or regional vocabulary (e.g., Pride and Prejudice; now my 5th grader is a big fan of Mr. Darcy and the Misses Bennett) or mid/YA with good writing/plotting/world construction (big fans of the Kat Incorrigible series and the Finishing School series). I did lose the Hunger Games battle, but she read it in 5th grade.... and we talked a lot about the book and the movie. I try to read anything questionable before she does, and then put it on a "you can read it later" list, not a "can't read that ever" list. Oh, and I would never refuse her a Disney Fairy book, but I might beg to read it first....

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  9. Classics can be a great way to go! Also think about the Anne of Green Gables books (and by the way the miniseries was FANTASTIC), The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles and The Phantom Tollbooth. If your 5th grader likes fantasy with lots of description/setting, get The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper, it's MAGICAL. Please do let me know what other books are working for you (oh, and don't forget Kiki Strike)

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  10. Love the Book Rx and the diagnosis that goes along with it. You are quite the practitioner! I second Anne of Green Gables as a fantastic read. Kids love Anne's predicaments, and the vocabulary is stellar.

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  11. This is such a great post. There is no better sight than one of my 7 year old boys hanging upside down on the couch, tongue lolling out of his mouth, fully enthralled by a superhero easy reader, graphic novel, or comic book. No one kind of reading is better than another. It's all great!

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