What makes someone a lifelong reader? With the school year coming to an end, how can families expose kids to the fun of reading and get them excited to read all summer and beyond?
We asked eight authors and illustrators of beloved children’s books how they’ve helped nourish a love of reading in kids. See all of these folks and more this weekend, June 3-4, at the Bay Area Book Festival—where you also can get armloads of free books for kids. (See below for details on the festival’s extensive kids’ activities, all free.)
“I think it’s a mistake that we so often give children books that we consider to be ‘good’ for them. We make books into medicine prescribed by adults that way — which of course makes them very unappealing stuff. I believe that allowing children to pick the books they want to read is the first step to make them embrace the magic of reading. Do they prefer graphic novels, because they want images to tell the story? Audio books because they prefer to swing on a rope while they’re listening? (My son loved to consume stories that way.)
“Let them have stories in the format that fits them best! It may not be yours but remember they have to find their own secret doors to the world of reading. Books get more tempting the more they are what we find ourselves, our own discovery on the shelves of a bookstore or library….
“You may not want to go as far as telling your child: ‘No, this is a book I won’t allow you to read!’ Of course, that would be the best possible way to make it something very interesting.”
“Creating games with kids where they can discover something new is a great way to get them involved. Also having kids draw their favorite book characters and stories. Let their imagination fly! My secret is to always have a big smile when creating; so big so that it can be felt by the people reading the book.”
“Being read to is one of the great pleasures in life! I come from a family in which reading aloud is part of the culture — my father read to all four of his children until we were teenagers or close to it, and we have all continued that tradition with our own kids. In fact, one of my nieces was slow — by our somewhat unrealistic American standards — to learn to read independently and eventually confessed that she was afraid if she did that her father would stop reading to her.
“But there’s no need to choose between the two. Reading aloud is a perfect complement to independent reading. Read-aloud books become part of your shared vocabulary as a family — a source of references and in-jokes that end up being part of your family culture. After my son could read independently, I often chose read-aloud books that I doubted he’d read on his own — books that were challenging, slow, or old-fashioned. I always said that if he didn’t like it after listening to a couple chapters we could set it aside, but that rarely happened.
“My second tip is to bring books-on-CD for long car rides. Don’t let your kids get into the habit of plugging into their own devices for the duration of the ride — family car trips always meant family book-listening in our family. The stories make the trips fly by, and they often became topics of conversation for the whole trip.
“Three: Never sneer at a book your kid shows interest in. In particular, don’t tell kids that they’re ‘too old’ for picture books or for old favorites. Don’t steer boys away from books with female characters — you’d be amazed how often this happens, even in the enlightened Bay Area. Don’t look down your nose at books you think are ‘junk.’ And don’t demand to know why your kid is reading the same book for the sixteenth time. That doesn’t mean you can’t encourage your kid to try something new, but beware of sending the message that books have to be good-for-you in some way, or that their own inclinations of the moment are somehow bad or wrong.”
“Read books to children that you enjoy reading. Even if the stories are not geared to their specific reading age. Studies are clear that kids benefit from being exposed to language beyond their current vocabulary. And they love big words and complicated ideas. But most importantly, if you want to foster a love of reading, reading time has to be something that you love too. You can’t fake your enthusiasm for reading a boring book with kids. They’ll know. But if they see that you are excited about story time, then they will be too.”
“This comes from the mind of an illustrator and may be more of an observation than a bit of advice: What encourages a love of reading? I think good, engaging illustration nurtures a love of reading. We see before we speak. We speak before we read. Great art, even a wordless picture book, is the first step to encourage and motivate a child to read — to want to know more than what the images tell.”
“You know what I think nurtures a love of reading? Books. Lots and lots of books. I go to the library with two big shopping bags. I grab new releases and things my kids have read before. Things I’m sure they’ll love and things I’m sure they won’t. I grab books I’ve heard about, books with great covers, graphic novels, picture books, reference — I grab everything.
“I check out my 80 pounds of books, go home and stack them on our big coffee table. I alert the kids, and then I leave them to it — they don’t need me telling them what to read. They rifle through the teetering stacks, flip, and skim. They get sucked into many, and they discard a whole lot too.
“Checking out all those books casts a pretty wide net. They usually find something of interest within a short while, or they don’t — and a couple of weeks later I do the whole thing again. I love watching them open books they would never, ever choose on their own. I guess it’s about creating opportunities for them to read, and that requires books. Lots and lots of books.”
“When I was a kid, I was too shy to talk to most people. So instead, I buried my nose in books. At first I just liked the pictures. But once I learned to read, I could not believe the amazing stories! You could not pry those books from my hands. I read when we took long road trips, or on the airplane. I read at restaurants while my parents talked about things not nearly as interesting as my books. I read at the dentist office, the grocery store. Anywhere I could, to take myself somewhere else.”
“Make reading a daily activity and make it fun. Read to kids with enthusiasm. Bring the words to life. Find stories that your kids will love. Encourage all reading regardless of the medium. Whether it’s comics, chapter books, or interactive book apps, your encouragement will go a long way foster a love of words and stories.”
Want to hear more from these authors and illustrators, give your kids a fabulous experience of books and reading, and come home with armloads of free kids books (thanks to the generosity of Half Price Books)? Make a day of it at the Family Fest Zone at the Bay Area Book Festival on Saturday and Sunday in downtown Berkeley for on-stage storytelling performances (check out the Showtime Stage schedule), top kids’ entertainment including clowns and magicians, crafts from Sticky Art Lab and many others, games, even a carnival! Plus, construct large geo-structures with U.C. Berkeley’s acclaimed Lawrence Hall of Science; build a robot as a family; and enjoy hands-on fun with more than 20 Bay Area organizations, including LEGOJeep, 826 Valencia, and the Bay Area Children’s Theatre Company. You’ll find STEM, STEAM, writing, DIY book-making, and more. All children’s programming is free and open to all!
See the authors and illustrators quoted above at these sessions:
Writers and Artists Whose Books You Love, Part 1: A Picture Book Extravaganza for Kids and Their Adults (with Ana Aranda, Jon Agee, Gennifer Choldenko, William Joyce, Michael Slack, moderated by Alex Green). Saturday, June 3, 11am-noon at the San Francisco Chronicle Stage in the Park
Karl Newsom Edwards Presents I Got a New Friend Saturday, June 3, 12-12:30pm at the Showtime Stage.
All About Cornelia Funke: Meet and Hear the Beloved Author of Inkheart, The Reckless Series, Lilly and Finn and More! Saturday, June 3, 12:15-1:15pm at the San Francisco Chronicle Stage in the Park
Ana Aranda Presents The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra Saturday, June 3, 1:15-1:45pm at the Showtime Stage
Michael Slack Presents Shorty and Clem Saturday, June 3, 2:30-3:00pm at the Showtime Stage
Writers and Artists Whose Books You Love, Part II: A Picture Book Extravaganza for Kids and Their Adults (with Candace Fleming, Cornelia Funke, Gianna Marino, Innosanto Nagara, Dashka Slater, and Eric Rohmann) Sunday, June 4, 10:00-11:15am at the Alta Stage at Freight & Salvage
Dev Petty Presents I Don’t Want to Be Big Sunday, June 4, 11:00-11:30am at the Showtime Stage
Dashka Slater Presents Escargot Sunday, June 4, 1:30-2:00pm at the Showtime Stage
Innosanto Nagara Presents My Night at the Planetarium Sunday, June 4, 2:00-2:30pm at the Showtime Stage
Gianna Marino Presents Splotch Sunday, June 4, 2:30-3:00pm at the Showtime Stage