Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Thought for the New Year: Giving the Gift of Reading--In Reverse

In the publishing industry, and as parents, we think a lot about ways to connect kids with books. Bookstores and libraries, school book clubs and fairs, and perhaps the advent of hand-held electronic readers may incline this techno-savvy generation more toward reading. I believe another important part of nurturing the love of books is to show how books and stories build connections between people--build community.
I've got a simple, inexpensive, low-tech suggestion that has been both fun and enlightening at our house where, in truth, books are plentiful. Beyond access, the best way I have found to connect my kids with books is to let THEM recommend books to ME. Each year, around the holidays, I ask each of my boys to suggest a book they'd like me to read.

Consider this notion akin to kicking a soccer ball around the back yard with your child and letting him or her give you a little "coaching" along the way. It allows them to invite you in to their world--to share their expertise and interest. Reading their recommendations provides opportunities for unique conversations. Like friendship, love of reading is enriched by reciprocity. This year, let your kids give the gift of reading to you--and see what you learn about them.

If you're interested, here is this year's book list:

From 15-year-old: THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE by Lois McMaster Bujold. A wonderful adventure about a young man with physical disabilities but a brilliant and adventurous spirit. Two tantalizing quotes: "...he was plugged into a commercial network of enormous complexity. Ninety percent of success seemed to lie in asking the right questions." (P. 99. Okay, for a book written in 1986, that's a pretty prescient take on the Internet, huh?); "I've always thought of myself as agnostic. It's only lately that I've come to--to need for men to have souls." (P. 323. Not going to explain but I do recommend you read the book if you have an interest in the ethics of war.) Best insight? My teenager loves quality sci-fi AND beautiful language. Yeah!

From 13-year-old: THE HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins. Haven't read CATCHING FIRE yet but read HUNGER GAMES (discussed previously on this blog). This is a case where I shared the book with my kids and now we've all been bitten by the HUNGER bug. He's already passed the book along to the nine-year-old as well.  After HUNGER we had some pretty intense debates as to Peeta's motives (and I've come to realize this son is a bit of a romantic).  Now the thirteen-year-old is chafing at the bit for me to finish CATCHING FIRE so we can chat some more.  It's been fun to discover this family favorite.  And we can't wait for the third book to come out in late summer.

From 9-year-old: THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE by Kate DiCamillo. While he also enjoyed THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX last year, he favors TULANE as a little less "classic" (possible boy translation: princess-y) with a more complex plot. I think the illustrations are gorgeous.  My son and I both found the story heartfelt and touching. Third grade has been a year of great change for all of my kids and it makes sense to me that my soul-searching nine-year-old connects with this exploration of family, friendship and love.

From 3-year-old:  Dr. Seuss's HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS. Well, obviously I've read this a million times--often to him! But he's really connected with the story this year--even wanted us to hold hands and sing around an outdoor Christmas tree last week. Frankly, he loves the music from the cartoon, too, and it's still playing around the house on December 29. Best thing about this recommendation? It's given me a break from Mercer Mayer's THERE'S AN ALLIGATOR UNDER MY BED, which I also enjoy but have thoroughly memorized.

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