You can lead a child to books, but you can't always make him read.
Stacy Preator of Rosemount assumed that her three children would all be readers. After all, she was an educator and knew that reading formed the basis for learning. Yet her youngest daughter just didn't like books.
"She always read at a high level, yet she lacked the interest," Preator said.
Preator's daughter belongs to that swath of children who are competent readers and are even submerged in a reading environment, yet they simply don't turn on to reading.
How do parents engage their nonreading children in the world of books?
Heidi Hammond, an assistant professor in the Master of Library and Information Science Program at St. Catherine University and a member of the 2011 Randolph Caldecott Award committee, said the first thing parents should do is identify their child's interests.
"We do things that interest us," Hammond said. "If kids can find reading material on topics that are interesting to them, it's hard to stop them from reading."
Preator found this to be the case with her daughter, who liked factual books more than storybooks.
"We went to the library to find books that would capture her interest. For a while our family has talked about getting a puppy, so my daughter reads lots of puppy books," Preator said.
All in the type of story
In fact, nonfiction may be the answer for kids who tend to get bored with a story line. At school libraries, children actually check out more nonfiction than fiction, tapping into such series as the "Who Was ...?" biographies and award-winning writers such as Jim Murphy and Phillip Hoose.
Once children have established their interests, you can help them to branch out through websites such as Read Alikes (atn-reading-lists.wikispaces.com/Read+Alikes), which gives same-genre suggestions.
Lindsey Lobner, who works as a collection development specialist at Mackin Educational Resources in Burnsville, said series such as "The Magic Tree House" or "The Lightning Thief" are another great way to get kids hooked on reading.
"Kids love series because they know the characters and they have put their time into it," Lobner said. In addition, kids know what to expect -- they know there's going to be a happy ending, and the reading level doesn't vary.
But parents shouldn't worry if their children gravitate toward books that may be too easy for them. "Don't be afraid to have them go down a level to build their confidence," Lobner said.
Learning styles also play a part in how children interact with books. Auditory learners may do better with books on tape, while visual learners may be attracted to visually stimulating books.
"I say a book, in any format, is a great way to take in the story or the information," Hammond said. "The whole idea with books is the story. We love stories. If you're listening to an audio book, it's still a story. If you're looking at it on a computer screen, or on an e-book, it's just a different way of delivering the same type of story."
Hammond, who wrote a dissertation about graphic novels, is a fan of the more visual format.
"Because the image carries half or more of the narrative, the illustrations help English-language learners or struggling readers," she said. The combination of visual literacy, as well as print literacy, creates a new type of reading, one that Hammond believes is important in such a media-saturated society.
"I believe it's becoming more and more important to read that way because of computers. We don't always read linearly on a computer," she said.
Role modeling by parents
Beyond directing children toward the right kinds of books for their interest or learning style, it's important for parents to get involved in the actual reading process.
Reading aloud to children is one way to engage children who may get bored with their own reading. "The Read-Aloud Handbook" by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2006) is still the gold standard for reading-aloud suggestions.
For Preator, she found that her second child's reading took off when they joined a mother-daughter book club.
"It's given us good exposure to different books, things we wouldn't have read otherwise," Preator said.
And what about incentives, money or otherwise -- should kids be bribed into reading?
"No," Hammond said emphatically. "Kids need to learn that reading in itself is a pleasure. It's not a parent's job to teach reading; it's their job to teach the love of reading."
Tiffany Gee Lewis is a St. Paul freelance writer.
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