Passing on the Love

One of the great pleasures for a reading parent is passing on that love to our kids.  As they grow, along with noting the usual milestones – first words, first day of kindergarten, first soccer game – we track things like first chapter book and first time they read aloud to a younger sibling.

Not too long ago my oldest became a teenager.  This new milestone has brought with it some exciting firsts as well as a few that are . . . less than wonderful.

Naturally, nerdy book clubber that I am, I’ve done a whole lot of reading for comfort and advice during this tough new phase of our family life.   Along with the usual parenting books, I’ve turned to young adult literature, not only because it’s really good, but because with my own teenage years far behind me, I need the reminder of what my son is going through.

After all, there’s a reason he’s often less than wonderful to be around.  Not only is he going through all sorts of disturbing physical and emotional changes, but our society seems uniquely set up to make adolescence just about as miserable as it’s possible to be.  We herd these hormone-ravaged, highly self-conscious human beings together for several hours a day, expecting them to keep learning just as easily and happily as they did when they were pimple-free and all more or less the same height.   If anyone needs the comfort, the guidance, and the escapism of literature more than a teenager’s parent, it’s a teenager.

So I’m thrilled that, despite the growing lure of computer and video games, my teenager still loves to read.  He doesn’t snuggle next to me on the couch or ask me to read aloud to him anymore, and often he won’t even accompany me on the weekly trip to the library, preferring instead to hand me a list of books to bring him.  But none of that matters.  He gives me the list.  He’s reading.

All sorts of innocuous questions have become fraught these past few months.  Asking “How was school?” will result in anything from a grunt to a total snapping off of my head.   However, a casual, “Whatcha reading right now?” is still a safe question.  I might get an unintelligible grunt as an answer, but more often I get a title and even a description.  Sometimes he’s so enthusiastic about his latest book that he’ll bring it down to read me a portion.  And busy as I might be, I try to stop and listen, because these moments when he’s willing to communicate with me have become precious and essential.

I’ve always enjoyed turning my kids on to books I loved as a kid, so for his last birthday, I bought him Robert Cormier’s I Am the Cheese and The Chocolate War. When he finished reading them, he wanted to talk about them!  I don’t read aloud to him anymore, but we can still share books.  We read through Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series at the same time.  Books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series have given us some fabulously deep conversational opportunities.

I read his recommends too.  I never would have picked up Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak if he hadn’t slipped them into my bedside reading stack.

Now in his second year as a teenager, he’s moved on to Douglas Adams and Isaac Asimov.  Although neither are what I’d choose to read on my own, for the sake of those essential lines of communication, I’m game.

The payoff for having raised a reader may have been more obvious a few years ago when he snuggled happily next to me on the couch reading me funny passages from Artemis Fowl, but that payoff is priceless now.  He’s walking that rocky path toward adulthood with a book clenched firmly under his arm.  Nothing will serve him better.

Marianne Sheldon is a writer, expat Canadian, and proud member of the Nerdy Book Club.  She lives in Cambridgeshire, England, with a husband, three kids, and a fifteen-year-old dog. You can find her on Twitter as @SheldonMT.