Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Monday 7 May 2012

Give Them The Choice - Helping Your Child Become a Reader by Lyndon Riggall

You probably can't get your child to read because you haven't given them access to books.

It's a risky statement, I know. And you might be thinking: Hold on, but they have heaps of books! And you may well be right.  But my guess is that nine times out of ten, if a child won't read for pleasure, it's because they haven't got their hands on books. And I don't mean any books, I mean the right ones.

Because you don't get to decide what your child likes. In fact, I can remember all the books my mum told me I shouldn't read, and I remember them especially because I made a concerted effort to read them all. I loved most of them, too. Just as you don't like the books your parents do, so will your children choose different books to your tastes, and it's imperative that they have access to them. A home library will get you so far, and a school library a bit further. But if you want to turn your child into a real reader, get them a State Library card and let them run free.

Looking back on my own reading history, I can recognise the significance of my dad working opposite a library. I trained myself to master the holds system, and to request books from other collections in the state, to be shipped to the Launceston library free of charge. I'd send my dad in with my card, and one night a week I would wait patiently at the door for him to come home with a heavy bag full of books. Even at age nine or ten my tastes were beyond what even the local library's extensive collection had to offer. I'm just really lucky that fate managed to conspire a way to deliver the books I really wanted right into my hands for nothing.

There are books I don't like, and books I would try to steer my children away from because I think they are stupid, badly written, or ideologically dangerous. In the end though, all you can do is question the value of those books with your child, because you can't train them to hate what they love. We need to acknowledge that while not every medium of entertainment is perpetually valuable as an educational tool, every book is at least a lesson in literacy. A reading child is always engaged in a valuable learning experience, even if you might find it hard to accept that as you watch them laugh on the couch with The Bugalugs Bum Thief.

Some kids just naturally love reading, and some kids don't. I accept that. But if you're having trouble sending your child across the great divide, take them to the local library and give them plenty of time to sit, browse and choose. Tell them they can take out any books they like; from the adult section, children's section, or from the baby section, no limits and no judgment. If you're really worried about a particular choice, warn them, but try not to say no. Let them call the shots.

We do 'reading' because we have to. 'Reading' is what we do when we fill in our taxes, write assignments and check our work emails. Kids learn 'reading' in school.

Being 'a reader' is what we do because we love it. It's being tucked under the blankets at night, refusing to go to sleep even though we can barely keep our eyes open. It's being in the hammock on a hot summer day with a cold lemonade or a beer, and a fresh favourite with a still uncrinkled spine. It's reading what we want, when we want it. We don't choose to read, but we choose to be a reader. 

And if you give your child the choice, they might just choose to be a reader too.

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