Putting The Fun Back Into Reading
by Deeanne Gist, author of bestselling novel A Bride in the Bargain
Who makes the “required reading” lists for schools? Are they members of a secret society: Ten Ways To Make Certain Kids Hate Reading? I realize the serious stuff is important, but why aren’t more fun books on the list? You know, like romances? If I were on the committee, I’d pick lots of romances—age-appropriate ones, of course, but romances nonetheless.
After all, the romance genre has it all: drama, mystery, intrigue, action, history and, of course, romance! What more could you want? Why, I bet it would revolutionize our kids’ reading habits. Okay, maybe not revolutionize, but perhaps make required reading a bit more palatable?
When I was an elementary school teacher we had a law officer come in and speak to the kids about strangers and safety tips for staying home alone. After he left, it was story time. I pulled the children close, picked up The Cat in the Hat, and paused.
In that moment, I realized the story was about two young children who let a stranger into the house. The stranger creates havoc, but it’s okay because he cleans up his mess and what Mother doesn’t know won’t hurt her. The book not only went against all the safety tips the children had just learned, it glorified disobeying them. Yet, it is an undisputed “classic.”
I put the book aside and picked up … a romance (Snow White). Much better. Again, a stranger comes to call. Snow White doesn’t follow the rules the nice officer had just talked to us about and suffers dire consequences. There’s drama, mystery, intrigue, action, a happily ever after, and a moral to the story.
Now summer is upon us and it seems the last thing kids want to do is read. To my great sorrow, R-E-A-D has become a four-letter word of the undesirable variety—as far as kids are concerned anyway.
So, I say we form a secret society of our own: Ten Ways To Make Certain Our Kids Love Reading. First, let’s read aloud to our kids on a regular basis. Even the older ones—especially the older ones.
I was on total bed rest with one of my pregnancies. During that time, my brother-in-law read The Princess Bride to me. Ohmigoodness. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been read to. It was wonderful—and I was twentysomething!
When we embark on our read-aloud quest with our kids, we should be sure to pick a fun book. Every single book doesn’t have to have some huge, powerful, deep message. After all, the definition of fun is “an activity that is intended purely for amusement.” So, a simple moral to the story will be plenty for starters.
To lure in the skeptical, perhaps we should do something special, like serve hot cocoa during story time. Or throw the pillows off the couch and onto the floor so we can all pile on. If you have older kids, this will appeal to them too, but we might have to come up with a cooler name than “story time.”
So, we’ve picked out a good book, provided a
lure, and settled on a cool name. Now it’s time to implement. One of the things I loved when my brother-in-law read to me was his use of inflection. He could provide the equivalent of mood-music simply by slowing down, speeding up, raising his voice, lowering it, and being expressive.
The other thing he did was always leave me anxious for more. This is a biggie. It shows the kids just how much they enjoyed themselves and makes them anxious for more of the story. But don’t make them wait too long for the next installment or you might lose your momentum.
Okay, that’s six things. Let’s make number seven a trip to the library. I love the smell of the library. The feel of the books. The pleasure of owning a library card. And many libraries are now making a huge effort to be more teen-friendly.
One thing that might help us
along would be to involve our kids’ friends. Not only will that promote reading, but it will also encourage our children to read on their own. Maybe we could host a book club for kids in our home. Most every author provides discussion questions these days. On my website, I have discussion questions, refreshment suggestions, and possible activities for book clubs. (But I write grown-up books.)
With kids, the sky would be the limit as far as activities go. They could come in costume. Act out their favorite scene and invite the parents to watch. Or maybe video tape it and invite the parents for a private screening. They could bake a food item that was mentioned in the story. Play a game the characters in the story played. All kinds of things.
So here’s our list so far:
1. Read aloud
2. Pick a fun book
3. Lure them in
4. Settle on a cool name for story time
5. Use inflection
6. Leave ’em begging for more
7. Visit the library
8. Involve others
9. Host a book club Which brings us to number ten. And that is, read ourselves. It’s the ol’ action speaks louder than words. If reading is role-modeled for our kids—who knows what could happen? And don’t stop there. Visit the library. Join a book club. Tell the kids about the fun things your book club did.
This fall, my readers and I are going on a getaway to the Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina. It’s the setting of my new release, Maid To Match, a romance between two servants at Vanderbilt’s chateau. We’re having a Gilded Age Party where we’ll play parlor games, have our photos taken in turn-of-the-century costumes, do a book swap, and much more. As a finale, we’re going on a private tour of Biltmore Mansion. For more information, visit GetawayWithDee.com.
What kid wouldn’t be enchanted by stories of a visit to an opulent mansion? It reminds me of that Norman Rockwell painting where the little girl is watching in wonder as her mother dresses up for an extravagant evening out.
Simply put, books are a fun-damental part of life in general and summer in particular. Let’s pass down that sense of fun and show these kids that some of the best entertainment around is not only wireless, it doesn’t even require batteries.