Thursday, June 09, 2011

To Make a Reader

What leads one to become a reader? What led ‘you’ to become a reader?

These are questions I often ask myself, because I wonder how it happened for me. When my son was young I read to him every night, or at least told him stories every night. Some of them I made up myself. He had two large bookshelves in his room and they were full of books. Anytime he showed interest in a book I got it for him. He certainly saw me reading a lot. But although he does read and does enjoy it, he certainly isn’t a reader like I am.

When I was growing up, my mother read newspapers or magazines, mostly things like Better Homes and Gardens. She read the Bible. I don’t remember her reading fiction although she did have some of those Reader’s Digest condensed books at one time. My father read the Bible and farming magazines. He read for religious reasons or for information. Both my parents were great people but, maybe because they had to work so hard all their lives, they just didn’t do much reading, and certainly not just for fun.

My oldest brother was married and gone by the time I was born, but my other two brothers never read anything while I was growing up that they didn’t have to, except maybe hunting magazines. One of my brothers did become a reader later in life and even has his own excellent library, but I didn’t see him reading when I was young. My sister read a good deal, though, and it was from her that I borrowed a lot of books while I was growing up. These were mostly books she brought home from the library, many of them for her husband, who was definitely a big reader.

My parents, in fact, tended to actively discourage me from reading as much as I did. My mom often told me I was going to ruin my eyes, and both mom and dad would find me reading in the house sometimes and make me go do chores. They didn’t mind a little reading but I just did too much to suit them, and not the right kind of stuff. Oh, I read about hunting and fishing, and I read the Bible, but I also read science fiction and fantasy and that nonsense. There certainly wasn’t any of that kind of stuff around our house. I even used to hide out in the barn to read so I wouldn’t be caught for chores. Yet, today, I’m one of the biggest readers I know.

So what’s the secret to creating a reader? Do you encourage reading, model reading, and read to them every night? Or do you tell them they read too much and to put down their books and go outside? Do you buy them any book they want? Or do you let them scrounge for whatever reading materials they can find? I tried the first way. My parents tried the second way. My way worked somewhat, but mom and dad had the most success.
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31 comments:

David J. West said...

I have a different background in that both of my parents read a lot-they have a massive library. Dad only reads information books in general, dyslexia has always made it difficult for him, but the hunger for knowledge required him getting over it and reading. Mom reads everything and she read to us all the time - bedtime family trips etc etc.
A huge part of why I have the library I do is because regardless of the internet (or e-books) I want to have all the knowledge and enjoyment possible right at my kids fingertips.
Just like I did.
Anything they want to read and it will be right there.
I tend to think it helps that they see Mom and Dad reading a lot too, my oldest (he's 6) is now writing/drawing his own books. They lean toward the stuff I think you'd appreciate Charles - Blobman, The Squidshark, The Serpentman, all kinds of psuedo-horror sci-fi.

Angie said...

My mom was a big reader, and the adults in my extended family could usually be roped into reading to me when I was little. I always had books too -- books family bought me, books from a children's book club my mom signed up for when I was four or five, then later on books from the Scholastic Book Club through school. A few other kids in the class would go pick up one or two books when the teacher was calling names after the order arrived, but I'd haul away four or five or seven every time. I got stared at a lot. :)

My parents divorced when I was an infant, then my mom remarried when I was five. We moved around a lot for a while, in the middle of kindergarten, the middle of first grade, and the middle of second grade. I had a hard time making friends with peers until I was in my late teens, and even now I'll admit it's hard. Most of the people in my stable social circle when I was a kid were my grandparents and my grandmother's sisters. I have no problem with people a generation or two older than me, but I've always been kind of awkward around people my age.

I can't swear there's a causal relationship in there, but I definitely spent a lot of time in my room reading while kids in the neighborhood were outside playing. I can't say I regret it, either.

Considering your experience and your siblings' and mine, it seems there's no one way to make the reading thing stick. I have to believe it'll help, if the kid has any tendancy in that direction, but as you proved, it's not necessary. I've heard that kids are more likely to grow up into readers if there are books in the house and they see their parents reading, but clearly "more likely" doesn't mean "always will." Nor does it mean that kids who don't grow up in a house full of books and parents who read for pleasure never will themselves.

Dunno. I think if there were any one answer to it, we'd have some government reading-encouragement program that worked by now. I suspect that each individual is more likely or less likely to take pleasure in written words. Maybe people with a more constructive imagination, who are more easily able to translate words on a page into stories in their minds? It seems there almost has to be something neurological going on. Which would also support the data about kids whose parents read often reading too, but like brown-eyed parents having a blue-eyed child, it wouldn't always be like born to like.

Angie, pondering

Deka Black said...

My background is this: My mother is a BIG reader. Of books. my father gave me comic books as a kid. Bur mostly to keep me, my brothers and my sister silent (four kids can do a lor of noise, you know).

And in the school did a wonderful thing: a day, every week, the teachers bring us to the school library and they let us take ANY book we wanted. Any, literally. 1 or 2 hours every week. So, i think in my case is a 2-way method: Seein my mother read and enjoying it. And the wonderful teachers i had as a kid. That's the way i discovered fantasy and science fiction. And Sherlock Holmes. And a lot of book stuff.

In fact, i remember very well my first fantasy book: A anthology of folk tales for kids. Is incredible the amount of castles with not-so-evil wizards and the amount of evil kings we had! But the tale i remember the most is one in which the hero discovers that the wolves have his owns priests, nuns, bishops... even they have his own Wolf Pope! Thus,they're good peop.. er, wolves ;)

In fact, i consider ythis story the starting point of my love for fantasy.

G said...

My background was odd to say the least.

My father and mother didn't read much beyond newspapers and pulp fiction.

I had no real friends to speak of while growing up so the library became my friend.

Long story short, even though I don't read as much as I used to, I still consider myself a voracious reader.

As for the kiddies, that has been a mixed bag.

Both of my kids learned to read at an early age. But where my son has become like my wife with his reading habit (basically a non-reader), my daughter has become like me.

This past school year, she has won quite a few awards for going above and beyond her required output for reading.

Also, the little darling got an award for her improvement with her writing, as in what you do and what I'm attempting to do.

4th grade no less.

I'm in trouble. :D

Ron Scheer said...

I'm a teacher, and I know that for some students reading is a chore; I think it's neurological. You can grow up in a house with books and turn into voracious readers as well as writers, like both my kids. Or no amount of books from day one will make a hill of beans worth of difference.

How you account for me, I don't know. There were no books in my house besides the Bible and no reading besides the local newspapers and farming magazines. I had basically no access to books (didn't step into a public library until I was in high school), read few comic books. Yet reading for school came easy and I had an instinctive love of books (just physically holding them) that I can't account for. I remember boasting that I could read, even when all I did was move my eyes across the print without knowing what the words meant.

I was a lonely kid, an only child, in an isolated environment. I escaped easily into imagination and made up stories in my head as I played with my toys. When I finally got myself a library card at the age of 14, I was ready to plunge in at the deep end. Which I did.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My parents also discouraged me in good weather. Neither were big readers. My brother never reads anything other than newspapers. I wish i knew why I became a reader.

David Cranmer said...

I saw my mom reading and followed suit. And for my tenth birthday my parents bought me the entire Hardy Boys collection. That had a big impact.

Richard Prosch said...

Like Ron, being an only child in an isolated environment was part of it for me. But too, having an abundance of good books on hand was important.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My parents were readers, my mom more so than my dad. I liked reading for the escape and was never discouraged. As for what makes a reader, I don't know, but I'm sure influence helps.

Charles Gramlich said...

David J. West, when my son was little, I read a lot of Berenstein bears and little critter books to him. where the wild things are was his favorite book. Later we read some of the Goosebump books. We had fun. I really enjoyed reading to him.

Angie, I think, too, there is a definite neurological setup that is conducive to reading. One thing we have in common, in a different way, is that I didn't have close friends to play with as a kid either, because no one 'lived' close to us on the farm, not because we moved around. when we were able to buy those Scholastic books in school I certainly took advantage of it.

Deka, I loved animal stories of all kinds as a kid. Still like them pretty well. I loved Jim Kjelgaard, who wrote a lot about dogs, and the Black Stallion books. I know that "wolf pope" book you're talking about. We had a tiny library at my school, almost all about saints, but I read all those.

G., in many families I know, the girls are bigger readers than the boys. My sister certainly was, until I came along and I was probably a bigger reader than she was. when boys go over to the reading side though they can get truly obsessive.

Ron, You and I actually sound like we had very similar experiences growing up. We really had no books in the house other than the Bible, and hunting farming mags. I discovered the public library at a younger age than you did. In fact, my sister got a job at the library when I was 10 or so and she brought books home to me, which I sure appreciated.

Patti, it seems women become big readers more often than men, although when men do it they do it whole hog. It's certainly interesting to speculate on.

David Cranmer, I am jealous of that Hardy boy collection. When I was in school and they had the Scholastic book club, my parents did let me spend money on books then. I still have quite a few of those.

Richard, growing up in the country or on a farm like I think all three of us did does lead you to be inventive in finding ways to play. It certainly helped me develop my imagination.

Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, you posted while I was commenting on everyone's previous comments. I guess there is no one single route certainly. there's a lot of ways.

SFM said...

What's that saying about reading as gateway to meditation? Anyway - great post!

X. Dell said...

Perhaps reading is but one mechanism by which one can expand their beyond their real world into others. It's not that their "real worlds" are awful, necessarily. But they can get pretty damn dull, and routine.

Then too, stories give us the means to find and adopt (and I really hate this term) 'role models' that aren't otherwise available, and who perhaps fit our abilities and aspirations better than anyone in our meatspace.

When you think about it, the current youth generation consist of voracious readers. But, they're not reading "classics" or even novels as we know them. They're more into tweets, flash fiction, video games, and everything else cyberspace offers.

Not the same thing, I know. But it might serve the same function that sneaking a book or two in the barn might have served you.

David Barber said...

Both my parents are big readers. I don't remember "bedtime stories" but I do remember reading as a child. It wore off as I got older and started playing football and going and meeting girls etc. I then started reading again after a holiday when I was 17. I read a story by Jack Higgins and thought, "What have I been missing out on?" The rest is history.

As for my kids (5 & 7 year old daughters) they love stories. My eldest is a good reader but they both still enjoy a story or 2 before bed. They love going to the library and are alway scribbling in notepads. My eldest has written a couple of really short stories.

I just hope it continues as my wife and I will do our best to keep it up.

Great post, Charles.

Charles Gramlich said...

SFM, I don't know if I know that one. I'm not a big meditator.

X Dell, I actually say quite often that I found my role models in fiction, Louis L'Amour, Edgar Rice Burroughs probably the most. There were characters doing what I wanted to do and being how I wanted to be.

David Barber, my son began to pick up his reading after he settled down a bit more, got a steady girlfriend and such and began to do less partying. I certainly saw a decrease in my reading when I was a teen, although I never gave it up.

Randy Johnson said...

I'm not sure where I came up with my love of reading. my mother read, mostly newspapers and religious tracts. No Father around to encourage me in any fahion. My grandfather liked to read, though i never saw it much as he ran his small store from the time I could remember.

But from the time I started school, with absolutely no training in reading, it was something I grew fond of very fast. I even won an award for reading the most books in my first grade class at the end of the year. That included the young girl who did second grade work and skipped to the third grade the next year.

Wherever it came from, I'm the reader in the family. One sister liked to read, though not as much as myself. My late sister never read anything that wasn't work, or school related. The first sister has two kids, neither a great reader, though her son does like to do so pretty much. The daughter likes only true crime books. The late sister's daughter likes to read, but her oldest son, graduating this year reads as mych as I do.

One can never guess where it migjt strike, I guess.

laughingwolf said...

both parents and sis were equally avid readers, like myself... nothing was sacred when it came to reading, everything was devoured [i especially loved comics, initially]...

though i read to my three kids when i was home [worked construction those years], played all kinds of recorded music and watched tv/videos together, both girls continue to read, while son does on occasion; he's mostly into videogames, spending hours blasting the hell outta something or other... lol

i read just about anything; have been known to toss some crappy books, not understanding HOW such shit ever got past an editor, much less a publisher! GRRRRRRR

i know of no way to MAKE a reader, folk either read, or they don't... more's the pity....

Deka Black said...

Yeah? the feeling it gaves me was "wow, Wolves can be good guys too!"

Chris said...

I don't really remember what made me start, I'm just glad I did. Mom reads, Dad doesn't, but I don't recall that as being any kind of influence.

My kid reads graphic novels a lot, but not much book reading unless he has to. I'm hoping that changes. I know he is a good reader -- he read the entire First Blood novel by David Morrell when we were on vacation, and starting and finishing an entire book over a couple days is no small thing for anyone.

Carole said...

Both mom and dad read a lot. Dad, read the Bible to us every night, making it rather interesting. He was a fan of Louis L'Amour and history. Mom read romance and mystery. We lived out in the backwoods of Montana and our only trips to town were for church on Sunday and every other Monday we got to go to the library. We each could pick out ten to twelve books and we did. I love libraries as much as I love books I think.

I have one son who reads continually and one never reads and one who is somewhere in the middle.

Charles Gramlich said...

Randy Johnson, We sound similar as well. I won an award my first year for reading the most books. We had to do a brief book report on each one. Sounds like it skips around in the generations in your family. My sister had four kids, three of whom love to read.


laughingwolf, that seems to be the case. You read or you don’t, whatever the opportunities or not. I’ve definitely read some crappy books. I used to get rid of them but I ended up these days keeping ‘em anyway so I can talk about them.


Deka Black, I like when authors ‘rehabilitate’ species that one wouldn’t normally think of as nice or heroic.

Chris, my son reads quickly when he reads as well, although he doesn’t just pick up a lot of books. He told me this week he’s been hitting the library pretty regularly, though, so I was glad to hear that. I read only a few comics when I was kid. Before I ever discovered comics I was reading regular books so I never got caught up in comics. These days I read more graphic novels than I read as a kid.

Carole, I love libraries too and have a great appreciation for them, although these days I actually end up buying most of the books I read. My wife works at the Library and I’ve often thought that is really my dream job.

BernardL said...

My folks never objected to my reading books. They did get a little concerned with my spending every penny I earned on comic books and Eerie, Creepy, Vampirella, etc. :)

Steve Malley said...

Hmmm, I'm not entirely sure you *can* make a passionate reader, any more than you can make a musician, an artist or a gourmet.

Sure, exposure and behavior-modeling will make sure a kid grows up more educated and aware-- in the gourmet's case, junior will likely have a much finer palette than his playmates. But at this point in life, I just don't think you can teach *passion*.

You're passionate about books. Your boy isn't. Happens. Warren Buffet's son is a piano player, and of NC Wyeth's (I believe) 5 kids, only Andrew felt any real passion for art.

I spent a great many years favouring nurture over nature in the making of us all, but lately that seems to have changed. Some things, some talents and proclivities, passions and enjoyments, seem to me to be simply born to us.

We can try to wake them up, but we can't 'make' them be there...

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernardl, my parents didn't have to worry about Eerie and Creepy and those mags. They didn't sell 'em anywhere in Arkansas that I knew of when I was growing up.

Steve Malley, as a biopsychologist I've long been a believer in a much stronger nature element than most have thought, or still think. of course there is an interaction but nature and the way we're wired plays such an important role.

Tara Maya said...

I have come to support the "way we're wired" theory as well. My grandmother was a reader; my mother, not so much. I'm a reader; my brother, not so much. Actually, my brother only reads books with math equations. One might as well ask why I don't read math. My brain just doesn't process it.

Right now my kids are little. The oldest is just learning to read on his own. They love books, as objects (our Nook too) and love us to read them stories, but whether they will grow up to be readers, I can't say. My husband reads about 5 books a year. I read about a 125 books a year. Of course I would love if my kids loved to read as much as I do, but I would be fine if they turn out like my husband or my brother too.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate Nook, Kindle UK, Kindle US , FREE

the walking man said...

Charles starting with my grandmother (an English teacher in 1905) and my parents there was always dozens of books just lying about and three newspapers everyday (a fourth on Wednesday that was weekly) and we read anything and everything from comic books to them pesky (in my case much liked) Russians.

It wasn't an expectation that we had to read just understood that we would if we wanted to. When my mom passed she had over two thousand books in her two bedroom apartment.

Charles Gramlich said...

Tara Maya, thanks for visiting. My son, who I mentioned as not being a big reader, is a math whiz. I think there's definitely some neurological wiring type of thing involved. Sometimes it's a wonder we humans can communicate at all.

Mark, we did get a newspaper and my father would read that. I remember reading the comics when I was a kid. Had almost forgotten that. We didn't really have books, though. If there were, they were all religious types of books.

Travis Cody said...

I remember devouring Dr Seuss books as a kid, and I taught my sister to read some with them. Then I graduated to Hardy Boys. But I don't remember many of the other things I read. I liked to read, but if there was a crew outside playing baseball or football, I went outside.

I know when I changed from liking to read to voraciously loving to read. It was when I picked up Lord Foul's Bane, the first book in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Once I read that book, a whole new world of reading opened up for me.

I don't know what turns that light on for others. But for me, it was the exact right book at the exact right moment.

jodi said...

Charles-All I ever wanted for Christmas were books. I read like a maniac and was totally supported by both parents despite the 'having my nose in a book' comments! I read a lot to my son and when he was on the computer playing games, I made him read for an hour for every hour of video. He is as avid a reader as I am!

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis Cody, I really enjoyed the Thomas covenant series, though I never liked Covenant as a character. But the writing was tremendous. I fondly remember those first six books.

Jodi, I'm glad to hear it about your son. My son has steadily increased his reading over the years and I'm grateful for that.

cs harris said...

I raised one devoted reader and another child who never reads fiction (except for her mother's, of course). One has always had an active imagination, the other never did. I think that's the secret, and at least with mine they were born that way.