My childhood membership into the Nerdy Book Club mirrors many of the stories previously shared. I was always the kid with her nose in a book and when told to go outside and play, I covertly snuck a book outside to read. I am convinced my poor eyesight is a result of many late nights reading a book under the covers with a flashlight. Trips to my local public library branch were frequent, and finally being allowed to walk there by myself felt like a major achievement. Now as an elementary librarian, I am as big of a book nerd as ever. I am also the mother of three daughters, aged nine, six and four. I am highly motivated to pass along my love of reading and have each become a member of the Nerdy Book Club as well. In the days of Netflix, Nintendo Wii, Poptropica and iPads (which my middle daughter inexplicably calls a “mattress”), how does one make this happen?
- Read aloud to them every day. Start when they are babies. My mother-in-law bought me The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh when my oldest daughter was a newborn, which I would read to her even though she had no concept of what I was reading. Thus began a rich story time tradition. If your little one will not sit still, read while he/she plays or colors. Pick things that are age appropriate in topic and length; most two year olds are not going to sit through The Polar Express. I’ve also found that bedtime is not always the best time to read. Read when it is convenient for you; that you’re doing it at all is what matters.
- When it comes to story time, Christmas can be celebrated any day of the year. Ditto Halloween, Easter and Valentine’s Day. Children are fond of holidays and will not restrict holiday books to the day, week or month they are celebrated. So when your daughter brings you, Olivia Helps with Christmas in March, read it and suppress the urge to groan and roll your eyes.
- Tolerate books that feature movie/TV characters. We had our book fair recently. I always purchase a book for each of my children that I have chosen as well as let them choose one. Inevitably, Christine, age 4, chose a book that featured Disney princesses and Charlotte, age 6, picked a book that featured perhaps my least favorite TV character of all time, SpongeBob. These books are far from what I consider to be high quality children’s literature, but the girls loved them. If your child only wants to read these types of books and you’re ready to bang your head against the wall, bargain with them, “I choose a book and you choose a book.”
- Surround your children with books. What do holidays mean to me, aside from religious significance and time spent with family? An opportunity to give books! My children receive a book for Christmas, their birthdays, Valentine’s Day and Easter. I take advantage of book fairs and the Scholastic classroom book clubs. We go to the library at least once a week in the summer time and twice a month during the school year. To expose them to books they wouldn’t choose, I sometimes make my trips to the library without them. The excitement of a new book always brings happiness, and my choices are usually eagerly accepted.
- Accept that sometimes your child may damage or lose a book. Teaching children how to take care of books is a learning process. Little fingers turn pages too quickly and sometimes children lose books. Start talks about how we take care of books and the special care we take of library books early on. Still, your child may damage or lose a book and if it belongs to the library, you’ll have to pay for it. It is frustrating, and you may be tempted to tell the child responsible that they can’t check out anymore books. However, when this happened in my family, I realized that instead of restricting access, I needed to improve my monitoring and tracking. I found a “home” for all library books and that has greatly reduced our frantic search for missing books.
- Suffer through those early grade read-alouds. I remember when my oldest daughter was in first grade. She had been introduced to Junie B. Jones by her teacher and fell in love. She wasn’t a poor reader, but I didn’t think she could read Junie B. and offered to read it to her. No, SHE wanted to read it. In the end we compromised; she’d read a paragraph and I would read a paragraph. Listening to her read those paragraphs was painful with a capital P and often we would only get through 4-5 pages in one setting. Beginning readers need to practice their reading and they need a patient person to torture listen. Eventually, something clicked and she could read Junie B. fluently. I cannot remember when I learned how to read, but I will always remember when Carolyn learned how.
- Picture books are for everyone. Like many elementary school librarians, I changed the picture book section of my library from Easy Fiction to Everyone. It has actually made a huge difference in the upper grade students’ perception of picture books as “baby books.” Regardless of age, I defy anyone to read Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Spoon and not crack a smile. Picture books are delightful and I think parents and teachers alike should be encouraging students in upper elementary, middle and high school grades to read them.
- Make reading a privilege, not a chore. I have a confession to make: sometimes I manipulate my children into doing what I want them to do. I changed my oldest daughter’s bedtime to 30 minutes later, but required that she read during that time. Members of the Nerdy Book Club read because they find it a pleasure. Be creative in finding ways to make reading a special time for your child.
- Your childhood reading choices are not relevant to your child. I remember having the feeling, “Yes! My child can read! Now I can share all of my favorite books with her.” Books like Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. I dug out my worn copy of Ramona Quimby, Age 8 to share with Carolyn only to be told, “No thank you.” My heart was broken. However, I’ve gotten over it. Especially when I recall my Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High collections. Do not degrade your child’s reading choices because they do not fit into your idea of high quality literature. Like practically every elementary child I’ve ever known, Carolyn loves A Diary of a Wimpy Kid (I’ve read them all and they are hilarious). She also is in the midst of a Magic Tree House obsession, although these books fall on the spectrum of far too easy for her. Sometimes we sit and look at the online catalog together and I can guide her to picking other books. Such was the case when she chose Falling In by Frances O’Roark Dowell, which she read and loved. She may never read a book with the shiny Newbery medal on it and that’s okay.
- Model being a book nerd. If you told my children their mom was a book nerd, they would nod in agreement. In my room they can see overfilled bookshelves and stacks of books on the floor. When I go to the library, they see me check out nine or ten books at a time. Most importantly, they see me reading, constantly. I am seldom without a book (or my Kindle) in my hand. My house might not be the cleanest in the world, but my kids can say for sure their mom is a member of the Nerdy Book Club, and hopefully one day, they will say that they are too.
Sara Ralph has been a member of the Nerdy Book Club for as long as she can remember. She has been an elementary school librarian in Asheboro, NC for the past nine years. She became a librarian because she loves books, even after being told on the first day of library school that loving books was not a good enough reason to become a librarian. Out of her three daughters, one is already a member of the Nerdy Book Club. One down and two to go!