Top 10 Books for Raising a Reader

Top 10 Books for Raising a Reader

Born Reading coverBy Hilary Levey Friedman

Wendy Griswold, a sociologist and author of the third book on this list explains that, “A reading class is a social formation, while a reading culture is a society where reading is expected, valued, and common. All societies with written language have a reading class but few have a reading culture.” Let’s just say that if you are a Brain, Child reader, you are a member of the reading class. Though you probably also know then that more than raising readers, it would be wonderful to help create a reading culture. That is the ultimate goal of these ten books together, which move from the theoretical to the practical and pragmatic. But of course we must also be concerned about the other iteration of raising readers—from basic literacy to love of a book to love of literature, etc. and each book individually addresses one of these issues in some way. As Jason Boog, author of book #4 on this list, explains, snobbery really has no place in children’s worlds; we should encourage them to read whatever interests them in any form including comics and eBooks in addition to treasured hardcovers and sacred board books. Happy Reading!

  • Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood by Maria Tatar

Maria Tatar, Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, teaches about Folklore and Mythology—most famously about fairy tales. This trade book will appeal to anyone who fell in love with any book as a child. Using luminous language Tatar examines the stories we love and how readers think about, and remember, them. She also identifies themes that endure, along with ways of reading. For instance, she describes the “contact zone” created when a parent and child read together, and how bedtime reading was invented (around the time when kids started sleeping separately from their parents). On the creation of good night books, Tatar writes, “Books are our soothing syrup. We depend on them to build a bridge from waking to sleeping, to transform the alert, inquisitive child into an immobile, drowsy creature finally willing to stay in bed.” This book will help you wax nostalgic about your days as a young reader, while treating your own young reader with respect, especially as he or she prepares to delve in the talismanic, Talmudic, and sacred canon of children’s literature.

Becoming a Reader: The Experience of Fiction from Childhood to Adulthood by J.A. Appleyard

This book relies on psychology and literary theory to talk about how we read fiction over our lives (in fact, Appleyard heavily draws on the work of Erik Erikson, whose seminal book Childhood and Society was just reviewed at Brain, Child!). But Becoming a Reader offers us a guidebook for our children’s, and our own, reading journeys. Based on years of research Appleyard concludes that, “Many factors form the sensibility of a particular reader…but underlying these concrete circumstances there seems to be a set of capacities and expectations that develops according to a fairly orderly pattern and influences the way one reads as one grows from childhood to adulthood.” He argues that readers take on five roles over their lives: Player, Hero/ine, Thinker, Interpreter, Pragmatist. We may all long for the days when reading (or, more precisely, being read to) was pure pleasure; but we can also identify with the finding that, “Juvenile and adolescent and college-age readers distinguish between school reading and voluntary reading, but adults distinguish between escape reading and books that are challenging or demanding.” Brain, Child of course is a bit of both for its readers…

Regionalism and the Reading Class by Wendy Griswold

This short book by sociology professor Wendy Griswold is written about the reading class, for the reading class. What is “the reading class?” According to Griswold, “The reading class consists of those people who read for entertainment constantly. These are the folks who always have a book going, who never travel without something to read, who have print materials scattered in every room of their houses. This reading class is and will be modest in size but immense in cultural influence.” What is immensely useful about Griswold’s work is that she situates reading as both a social and historical activity. She points out that readers in most societies have traditionally been a minority (incidentally, mainly an elite activity) and that decline of reading refers not to literacy—as we live in a text-saturated world—but reading for pleasure. What many of us desire for our children then is to raise a member of the reading class and not just a reader.

Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age—From Picture Books to eBooks and Everything in Between by Jason Boog

I’m spoiled his punchline a bit, but I love what Boog wrote on the last page of Born Reading: “This is the only parenting handbook that won’t make your life easier.” Raising a reader takes effort on the part of the parents, but for so many different reasons it is work that has a worthwhile reward. Born Reading is one of the most recent books on this list (released in 2014) and as such it talks a lot about screens in young children’s lives. Boog’s view is moderate; he explains, “This book also acknowledges that reading and learning—even for small children—is happening more and more on screens and online. Whatever your feelings about that, it’s a truth to be embraced, not shunned.” The focus is on interactive reading—asking lots of questions, making the experience kinetic and not just cognitive—which are tips that apply to board books, comic books, eBooks, apps, and the like. Boog provides 15 tips as part of The Born Reading Playbook, each with a “conversation starter.” For example: “Guess what happens next. These questions will reinforce a sense of narrative and enhance reading comprehension…Who do you think will win the race?” Overall Born Reading provides practical tips, suggested books and apps, Common Core suggestions, and the reminder that, “There are very few things a young child can control in this world, but a book is a simple and perfect place to start.”

I’m Ready!: How to Prepare Your Child for Reading Success by Janice Greenberg and Elaine Weitzman

I’ve previously declared my love for I’m Ready! and it hasn’t diminished—of all the books on this list I’m most likely to recommend this one for several reasons. This speech-language pathologist team combine the theory and research behind literacy and turn it into useful, directed, and do-able suggestions for parents. Moreover, this short book (only about 75 pages) is reminiscent of a child’s textbook, which puts you in the right frame of mind; especially because the target audience, parents of toddlers and preschoolers, tend to be a pretty tired lot (of course I couldn’t possibly be speaking from experience). Greenberg and Weitzman themselves have a way with words. For example, when writing about one of the five building blocks of literacy—vocabulary: “On any given day your child hears thousands of words. If you imagine those words as stars in the sky, it’s easy to see why no single star will capture her attention unless it shines and twinkles more brightly than the others.” By reading I’m Ready! you might even get some tips for improving your own story comprehension…

Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write—from Babe to Age 7 by J. Richard Gentry

Gentry is a former Reading Professor and elementary school-age teacher, so he knows a lot about which he writes. He has very specific ideas about how to raise confident writers—the biggest of which is that he believes reading and writing are linked and that early writers tend to be early readers. He goes so far as to argue that this is the first book/program of its kind to link writing and drawing skills to reading. I confess that my own children are not old enough to make their way through the five phases of the program yet to say how effective it is, and there are some who think that learning to write too early is harmful (especially because many children have not yet developed adequate fine motor skills to grip various writing implements properly). But Gentry’s phases certainly start at the most basic level with no set timeline for progression so parents will feel little pressure to have their 6-month-old writing his or her ABCs.

The Reading Lesson: The intelligent reading program for young child by Michael Levin and Charan Langton

The “the” in the title is no accident. Levin and Charan emphasize lowercase letters in their reading method hence “the Reading Lesson.” Why lowercase letters? They argue that many kids do not know them as well as uppercase, even though 95% of print letters are lowercase. Over 20 lessons this husband-and-wife doctor-master’s of science duo lay out ways parents can help children learn decoding skills (an important distinction because this is not a book about reading comprehension). So many books out there claim to teach kids to read in “x” many lessons and it is important to be cautious. This guide is geared for ages 4-8 and suggests only doing one page per day until the child is five or six, and not more than three per day. It also emphasizes combing phonics and word recognition as most fluent readers employ both.

Seuss’ ABC

At the end of the day, no “planned” program can do better than basics like ABC books. As a child this was my favorite (Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz anyone?!), and my boys have enjoyed Elmo’s ABCs, Red Sox ABCs (sorry, Yankees fans), and Eating the Alphabet. The key here is repetition and fun interpretations—no matter how bored this may make the adults at times. At the end of the day, kids learn best through play, and that’s true for the ABCs as well.

Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (illustrated by Clement Hurd)

Maria Tatar refers to this book as the mother of all bedtime stories. It is a book that is mentioned by many who write about children’s literature and theory (for example, check out pages 105-111 of Enchanted Hunters and pages 25-7 of Born Reading). It was written in a single morning and as Tatar puts it, “The work’s spontaneous genesis reminds us that it is as much poetry as prose, a lyrical homage to things as well as an elegiac story about rabbits.” The illustrations also make it unforgettable and Boog points out that the integration of black and white images with bright colors are perfect for brand-new eyes. Speaking from experience here, kids request this again and again and there is always something new to find (even if parts start to seem off, even creepy). Our household is already on our second board book, it was so loved.

Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

At some point you move away from board books, and eventually progress to chapter books (and of course, someday the kids read them on their own). A series, with action and deep relationships, provides a great oral and solitary reading experience. Boys and girls alike appreciate the frontier story of the Ingalls, and with nine volumes the works will keep you reading together for some time. The history adds another layer and could help develop a nonfiction interest for some readers. And this is one of those families parents will be happy to revisit as well…

Hilary Levey Friedman is Brain, Child’s Book Review Editor.