Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How Do You Get Your Kids to Love Reading?

Yesterday I was asked that question elseweb. The true answer is "I don't know." It may be that I have done some things right, or I may have done everything wrong, and they just loved reading anyway. Who knows? When I was a kid I was small, and sickly with allergies and undiagnosed asthma, an Air Force brat who moved around a lot and spent a number of years living in the middle of nowhere. I taught myself to read early, and my parents were happy to keep me supplied with material.

My kids, however, are nothing like that.

So, here's what I did, which you may use, ignore, or argue about.

1) I got them each a library card when they were still babies. I used their cards to check out slews of board books, which I then read to them. I also read aloud to them from whatever I was enjoying at the time, so the first book Veronica ever heard was Good Omens when she was mere days old.

2) I take them to the library every week; library night usually includes a visit to a playground and/or dinner out at someplace they like to eat. When they were tiny we went for storytime, now we're also likely to show up for some Shakespeare, or maybe a movie. We know all the librarians, and they know us. Often we run into friends and acquaintances. We participate in the summer reading program every year. When the new library opened, my mother donated a brick with our names for the sidewalk. We're invested.

3) I read to them as much as they want, still, including snuggling and sometimes staying up a little later. they get on either side of me on the sofa, and these days they're likely to be making friendship bracelets while I read, but we're cozy and together.

4) While I usually won't join them in watching TV, I'm always happy to make room for someone to read next to me. We do this even more than the reading aloud. The girls will take turns on the computer, with the other one on the sofa with me and some cats. We all feel free to share something particularly amusing or cool.

5) No judgement. Reading for fun should be fun, which may include magazines, comic books, facts and trivia, blogs, romances, whatever. No concern about reading levels or age-appropriateness. Free rein. I've never insisted they (or me, when I'm reading aloud) have to finish anything that wasn't fun. I've always got lots of suggestions for something else to read. They see me reading pretty much everything: history, romance, cartoons, classics, picture books. It's all good.

6) When I'm not reading, I'm talking about books. My go-to conversational gambit is "read anything good lately?" It works for friends, family, strangers, young and old. And I've gotten some great suggestions. A while back friends married in a small informal ceremony. It was great. One of the things they did was make up name tags for everyone that identified our relationship to the bride or groom, and suggest topics of conversation. Yeah, mine mostly just said "books" and I wore it with pride.

7) I take them to book reading/signings and I buy them autographed books. I point them to authors they've liked who blog or Twitter. I tried to hook them on GoodReads but they declined. The point is, with a lot of this as I reflect, it's about how reading is a solitary activity, but "being a reader" is very social. They've both participated in the Battle of the Books, as part of a team answering questions about books and competing within the school.

So, this is how that all plays out in real life: Last night was library night. We picked out books for fun and for a school project. We all wrote and posted answers to the question on the teen room board ("Which book character would you least like to be trapped in an elevator with?"). We picked up bookmarks telling us how to download library books to the kindle (Curse you six publishers!Yes, I'm bitter) and we discussed how some publishers weren't participating with a librarian. We went out to dinner, talking about books all the way. And then, because we live in a part of the country that pays a lot of attention to college basketball, we talked about brackets and online sweet sixteen competitions. And then we each came up with a literary list for our own playoffs.

Really, I have no idea what makes them readers, nature, nurture, peer pressure. I'm just very lucky to share that with them.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

An Open Letter to Some Publishers, AKA Library Haters

Specifically, to
Macmillan Publishing:
Simon & Schuster
Penguin Group:,
Brilliance Audio:
Hachette Book Group:

You don't know me. At all. I am just one of many nameless readers. And you have just gotten on my last nerve by cutting off your ebooks from libraries.

I hear that publishing is going through a hard time right now, suffering a precipitous decline in hardcover and paperback book sales. As I understand it, the only areas experiencing growth are YA and ebook sales. So what do you do in this situation? You screw over the entire ereader market and the younger reader segment, who particularly love ereaders.

Me, I read about a book a day, which is excessive. Because I'm not a reviewer, or a popular blogger, I don't receive advance reading copies of the books I read, although our favorite writer Lauren sometimes lets me read her manuscripts-in-progress (the girls and I are really enjoying the new one, by-the-bye). Most of those books I read are borrowed from the library. Now this is the part that is going to shock you: I also buy a lot of books. Apparently it hasn't occurred to y'all that a reader would use the library and also buy books. Some of my friends like to listen to audio books, too. Because, readers like books. Turns out, I'm not the only one

Allow me to reiterate: people who use the library are not some special, separate subset. They are people who like to read books. Sometimes they buy, sometimes they borrow, sometimes the swap with friends and family, sometimes they are reduced to reading the cereal box if there is nothing else available. That you haven't already figured this out explains your recent problems. As well as your very public failure to recognize this. For example, you haven't figured out yet who the people are who love ereaders. They are readers. Here's something else you don't know about the people who loves ereaders: they tend to be younger. Turns out kids who don't have credit cards or drivers licenses really enjoy being able to download books, just as they do every other form of entertainment they enjoy, all without having to beg someone else for a ride. Remember, YA and ebooks, the only two growing segments of books sales. My kids love the Kindle. And the Hunger Games. And the library. See how it all ties together?

Oh, and doesn't it seem like a major public relations fiasco, positioning yourselves against public libraries during an international financial crisis? Doesn't it seem a little one percent-ish going out of your way to sneer at the public at large as well as the people who are temporarily unemployed, who have too much time and worry and not enough money? Isn't it a little short-sighted to deprive the public of books when they most need them just because you don't like the arrangement with Amazon?

Now I will mock you mercilessly for being some of the stupidest people ever, but I can do that from a position of comfort. Your decision won't hurt me. Right now, the list of books I want to read has 18,059 titles on it. By the end of the day, it'll be longer. When my library doesn't have a copy of one of your books that I can check out for my Kindle, I'll just move it to the end of my list. It's not as if another million books won't be published in the next year, most of which will be available.

Look, on the one hand you clearly realize that library users are also book-buyers, that is to say, readers, and you're worried about losing sales if it's too easy to check-out a book for free. But all you have to do is think this through to know that it's wrong. How many used copies of The Catcher in the Rye are available on Amazon right now for $.01? You can't walk into any used bookstore or library without finding a copy, probably many, and yet, people still buy new ones. All you're doing is pissing off the readers who, due to bad economy, layoffs, etc. are relying on their cash-strapped public libraries even more than usual, a group who will remember this when they can buy books again, and you're alienating the heaviest readers who considered a hundred bucks for a device worthwhile because they already spend too much on books. And since the early ereader adopters are also the folks enjoying YA, whether or not they are YA, you're burning the only growing segment of the book-buying public. Seriously, by the time my kids get to college, the probably won't read anything that isn't available on their pads.

I honestly wonder about the wisdom of your organizations. Has it escaped your notice that instant availability of films and TV programs has been an enormous financial boon to studios? Did you not notice how, first with tapes, then with discs, now with instant downloads, the studios are making increasing gobs of money? Why in hell would you look to emulate an industry like music, who fought availability of digital content every step of the way and discovered that people actively enjoyed screwing them out of their royalties?

Why do you have to hate on the libraries? Couldn't you just go and kick some puppies, instead?

Hat tip: 100 Scope Notes