The Reading Experience

By Jan Silvano, Head Librarian

Stories and books…they conjure up memories as varied and personal as each individual’s experience. As parents, we may want to share our own love of reading with our child and are dismayed if he doesn’t take to it the way we did as children. We are so thrilled when that initial spark of independent reading ignites that we try to force abridged versions of Moby Dick on her. We express exasperation when he checks out the Alex Ovechkin biography yet again or she brings home Puppies and How to Care for Them for the third week in a row.

We are well intentioned! We want to encourage a love of reading in our child and are horrified to be met with resistance or downright defiance. What is meant to be an enjoyable source of common interest becomes a frustrating battleground of bargaining and negotiating: “If you read for 15 minutes, you can have the iPad back!”

There is a saying, “Single causality is simplistic,” and in the current climate of bits, bytes, tweets, polarized opinions, branding, and quick fixes, parents are hungry for “the one” easy solution. Alas, it is sad to say there is no “one” answer to the question, “How can I ensure that my child will ‘be a reader?’”

Educational research gives us these strategies. Make sure your child sees you reading. Have a variety of reading materials in the home that are easily accessible and available in a variety of formats. Talk about what you are reading with your child. If you have to read for work, describe the different kinds of reading you do as a grown-up. Discuss your own childhood reading experiences. Were you “a reader?” Maybe you weren’t. Maybe it was not an option you chose among the myriad of options competing for your time and attention – options that have increased enormously in the past 10, 15, or 20 years. Welcome to our own students’ experience!

The educational research is pretty unanimous when it comes to allowing your child to choose the books that interest him. He has to discover for himself the stories, subjects, and authors that motivate him, that nurture him, that help him develop his own sense of self. She will go through different phases, be drawn to a particular series, only read non-fiction, gobble up everything by a particular author, re-read favorites. It’s up to us, as parents and educators, to provide the forum for “courageous conversations,” to be available, and to support our children as they grow into evaluators and critical thinkers, navigating their way through the experience of the written word. That is our work.

Everyone reads for different reasons: to be informed, to be entertained, to be part of a community, to be seen to be reading. At Langley, all students have access to the school library. It is enlightening to witness the children as they make their book choices at each developmental level. Already by three and four years old, peer influence on the reading selections is in evidence. Non-readers, emerging readers, deep readers, struggling readers. Each child has a sense of what book she wants to choose when she comes into the library. It is the librarians’ job to guide, inspire, cajole, suggest, urge, badger, recommend, promote, and sometimes require depending on the curricular goal – but ultimately, peer influence wins out.

All is not lost. Children also sometimes want “the” book their dad read, or their aunt recommended, or their mom LOVES, or Mrs. Gustin says is a “must-read before you die,” or the biggest book, or the book of the movie/video game. Remember, a library is the place where a comprehensive collection exists to encourage independent free reading, with no strings attached, and the reading choices are made according to the interests of the reader.

Be assured: our Langley kids do read. They are excited and nourished by books, they love to read, and the annual Book Fair, December 9 and 10 in the Pat Bush Library, is one of the most popular and anticipated community events of the school year. Spend time with your young readers, be present with them (no screen between you), and read with them – at the Book Fair, at the school library, and at your public library.