Instilling a love of reading, by whatever means

31 Jul

An online teaser for the New York Times Sunday Review section of July 31 got my attention: “Bribe Kids to Read.”

I clicked and it got me to an opinion piece by young-adult author Maile Meloy, in which she weaves a nostalgic tale of being required by her father to read 10 books before she could get a shiny new 10-speed bike. She was 10 at the time, and in the piece she confesses that she doesn’t remember the contents of the books all that well. Still, the goal of 10 books — a goal she met — and the actual books (The Scarlet Letter, Jane Eyre, Tom Sawyer) are quite impressive.

Meloy explains that developing a love of reading was simply an expectation in her family; they didn’t know that it would help lead her to a life as a writer. Here’s a nice sentence:

“I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I was 10, but I think that having all those books and sentences composting in my brain may have pushed me toward becoming a writer in the long run,” Meloy says.

The teacher in me wants to say to parents, “So how about it? How about bribing your kids to read?” Especially as they begin to outgrow picture books and move into books for middle-school readers and above. If bribery is what it takes, then bribery it should be. It doesn’t mean you’re expecting them to be writers; it just means you’re expecting them to understand the world through excellent writing. It means you’re steering them — through osmosis, if you will — to the art of good writing and storytelling; you are nurturing their critical thinking; you are helping them in so many other ways.

My experience in teaching freshman and sophomore English classes is that way too many kids come in without a good foundation in reading, which makes their required readings in Shakespeare, Harper Lee, Homer and other greats incredibly hard for them at times. Many kids struggle with keeping their eyes on the page, with sorting out the details of plots, and with understanding the nuances of characters.

But I have to say that it’s a fantastic feeling to lead a reluctant reader to a book that he or she loves. I’ve seen high school kids devour young-adult books, and bookstores offer such a fantastic selection, even in these post-Harry Potter days.

So my advice is, don’t assume that your child will learn to love reading just by virtue of being in a classroom. Guarantee that it happens by instituting good reading habits at home. And if you have to, bribe them.


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