Pay it Forward: When Your Children Aren’t Avid Readers by Irene Latham

When I first spied those two blue lines on the home pregnancy test I vowed three things:

  1. I would read poetry to my kids, the same way my father did with me.
  2. The library would be a favorite destination.
  3. In Walmart I would say no to candy and toys but always, always YES to books.

No matter what, my children would be readers. I wanted to infuse in them the joy and wonder I have always found in stories and words and short lines with abundant white space. I wanted them to have memories like mine: flashlights under the covers; books read so many times the covers were tattered and taped and re-illustrated, if need be; fervent pleas to Santa for the next book in the series; the satisfaction at age 14 of spending my hard-earned babysitting money  ($25) for a giant box of romance novels at a neighbor’s yard sale which I proudly brought home and showed to my parents (who to their credit, didn’t cringe or sigh, but actually smiled as I proceeded to spend my summer hours devouring those bodice-rippers – and yes, those of you who have read my poetry, might be saying, why yes, that explains a lot about Irene Latham); the encouragement I found from my book-loving father who brought home various treasures from business travel, such as an envelope addressed to Charles Lindbergh, and said, “write a story about that.”

Eighteen years and three sons later, I am sorry to report that I did all those three things I vowed, yet I have been an utter failure when it comes to creating people who love books. Not a one of my sons currently reads for pleasure, and my youngest (age 12) tells everyone he doesn’t just dislike reading, he hates it. (Thank you, dyslexia.) For a while this made me eat bags of Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips and stare longingly at the girl on the schoolbus who always missed her stop because she was reading.

And then I realized: the love of reading is not ever going to be universal. Nor does it need to be. My sons find the same kind of pleasure I did in things other than reading, like film and music and photography and computer games. It’s still humans telling stories, only the mode of the telling has changed. And isn’t the love of story the ultimate goal? The physical act of reading is merely one of the ways to reach that destination.

Yet I needed to connect with young people passionate about books and reading, in a way more personal than can be achieved during a school visit. And that’s when I remembered my nieces and nephews. Yes, that’s when I became that aunt who sends books for birthdays and follows niece JuliAnna’s progress on HARRY POTTER with texts and tweets and sends her autographed books from author-friends and fellow panelists at book festivals. That’s when I started reading Shel Silverstein at bedtime when the wee ones came for overnight visits. That’s when I helped nephew Alex get started on a sequel to my novel LEAVING GEE’S BEND, currently titled (by him) THE RETURN OF MRS. COBB.  And that’s when I started exchanging by mail a collaborative story with 9 year old Matt – much like my father did with me.

Here’s the latest installment, as written by Matt, in a story called GOINDEILIER’S NEW JOB:

She spilt her pasta with applesauce into Erics salad. it turns out pasta with applesauce is a good salad dressing. “Harriet you’re a genius said Goindeilier.

To call it “paying it forward” is actually far too generous. It’s selfish, really. And I intend to keep right on doing it just as long as I can.


Irene Latham is the only Nerdy Book Club member in her current family of five, and the only one of the five kids in her family of origin who inherited the reading gene from the King of all Nerdy Book Club members, her father, who has for a lifetime read a book a day. She is the author of two middle grade novels, LEAVING GEE’S BEND and DON’T FEED THE BOY as well as two volumes of poetry THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS and WHAT CAME BEFORE. Her children would be more impressed if she made movies.