Little Reminders Everywhere: Want your kids to read? Let them choose their own books

It’s time again to share another early literacy tip! Every month, I post a sign behind the reference desk that features a short suggestion on how caregivers can help their kids become better and more engaged readers. This month, I talked about the power of choice:

Now, I’m not talking assigned reading for school here. I’m talking about a child picking up a book to read in their spare time and the parent or caregiver rejecting the book. If you want a child that reads for fun, you need to let them have a say in what they read. If you’re bringing home a stack of books from the library, at least half should be books that the child has chosen on their own.

I often see parents and caregivers disapproving of books that their children pick. Sometimes the parents want books that contain more serious content (Ibsen for toddlers, anyone?). Other times, adults complain that the book is above or below their child’s reading level (“Put that down. That’s for big kids!”). Here’s what I’ve witnessed just in the past week:

  • A parent complaining to me that his six year old daughter loves to read (what a complaint, right?), but she’ll only pick up books that have tons of fart and poop jokes.
  • A nanny telling me that her boss asked her to bring home “the best book for four year olds. The book that will make them love reading.” Upon further questioning, the nanny told me that she takes care of two young kids who don’t like to read (and apparently aren’t read to, but that’s a whole other problem). The parents are desperate for some “good, educational picture books” because they want to get the girls into a good pre-school.

Oy vey. This is the kind of stuff that is turning my hair (somewhat) prematurely grey. I am always baffled when a parent complains to me that their child only reads tons of one kind of book. Let’s be happy that they’re reading and that they love to read, even if it’s non-stop toilet humor. If your kid loves wrestling, fart jokes, princesses, dinosaurs, cats or trucks, then use that interest to help you choose books that they’ll devour. So what if they’re a little obsessive about a certain topic? Children operate in phases. When they’re 10, they’re probably not going to be into what they were interested in at six (If that’s how people operated, I’d be a ballerina instead of a librarian. I am a not a ballerina, in case you were wondering. I am extremely ungraceful and tend to walk into my fridge every single morning). Unless they’re picking up copies of The Anarchist Cookbook, try not to get too concerned.  So, until they move on to their next serial fascination, let them read whatever strikes their fancy. Don’t let them associate reading with you constantly saying “no”. If  the topic is a bit immature, so be it. Childhood is a great time to be immature.

As for the nanny of the non-readers, I begged her to bring the 4 year old twins to the library and let them choose their own books (or at least have the kids send the nanny in with a list of requests). If there was just one book that made kids interested in reading, we’d carry 1,000 copies of just that book and all us children’s librarians would be out of a job. Forcing your child to read a specific book is just going to make the both of you miserable. The threat of not getting into a good pre-school has spawned exactly zero lifetime readers. I don’t have the numbers to back up that claim, but, trust.

Like the LeVar Burton of early literacy displays, I don’t want you to take my word for it. Scholastic is TOTALLY on my side here:

Also, check out this article entitled Parents ‘must let children choose what they read’It’s a great read overall, complete with these helpful suggestions:

Picture 3See? I’m totally not making this stuff up.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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6 thoughts on “Little Reminders Everywhere: Want your kids to read? Let them choose their own books

  1. Holly

    I had a little girl ask me for books on spiders but her mother nixed it and told her she should pick one on ladybugs instead. Maybe I am overreacting but I was distressed at the subtle gender policing and the denying her child access to a topic the child was clearly excited over.

    1. You’re totally right! Unless the answer from the parent was, “It’s because your school assignment is about ladybugs,” there was really no reason for that. What exactly could happen to a child who prefers spiders over ladybugs? Or just take home 2 kinds of books if it’s that big a deal!

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