I sat in a literature lecture this week. The lecturer explained she used to be of the common mind that books should be treated with extreme care. “No doggy ears. Don’t write on the books. Et cetera.” However, over the years she changed her mind, and I resonated strongly because it’s a conclusion I have come to also.
Books are there to be enjoyed. And not just enjoyed, but DEVOURED. Destroyed even. Destroyed with love and use and the hungriness that comes with developing an adoration of books and reading. The important thing to note here is the outcome of this attitude in my opinion (and experience), doesn’t lead to the misuse of books. On the contrary, over time it fosters a greater respect and love for books…but first, you must experience the joy of books with freedom so you can fully appreciate all their beauty.
I want to start with little more about my children and the way they interact with books. You see, I have two children who are natural readers. As an example, my eldest jumped reader levels quickly in the early years at school and was always in advanced reading classes. She is a teen now, and some weeks (depending on how much time/homework she has) she may read 3 or 4 full length novels. That’s in one week! She always has a book on the go. On the other hand, I also have children who have struggled with reading, for various reasons (dyslexic/learning challenges). And yet, every single one of my children loves LOVES books.
When I say my children love books, this is what I mean:
- Book club comes home and they are scrambling to talk about what books they love.
- A trip to a library is met with so much excitement it’s bordering on ridiculous!
- They all read, every day (without any prompting from us, the parents).
- They love being read to, and reading independently.
It’s such a joy to see how engaged they are! I’ve given this some thought and listed below some of factors I believe have been integral to fostering the love of books.
1. Books Aren’t Precious Glass!
See, the thing that makes books precious is the enjoyment and learning in them. I think the notion that books should be handled with upmost care and surrounded by a host of rules can be a stumbling block. Why? If I got into trouble for every time I fell asleep with a book, and it fell off to a messy pile on the floor, it would put a damper on the reading experience. Or, after reading, the book at to immediately be placed on a shelf or back in the bookcase.
Of course, there’s common sense attached to this way of thinking. It’s a good idea to start with age appropriate cardboard and plastic books for toddlers and keep the picture books for mum and dad to read. And borrowed books need to be considered in context as opposed to home books. These are all things kids can learn as they attach value to books.
2. Build a Home Library
I’ve collected children’s (and other) books for years and years. New books can be expensive, but you can always pick up inexpensive second hand books too. Having a lot of books (your own books) in the house is such an important thing.
3. Not Just Kid Books
Some of the books my kids engage with the most aren’t dedicated kid books. As an example, one of my children loves reptiles, so I bought her an Australian reptile guide (for her birthday). Same thing with dinosaurs for another child. I focus on books according to my children’s interest. To my surprise, another book my kids love to read is George Colombaris’ cookbook, Georgie Porgie. I often see it floating around the house.
4. Have a Dedicated Bookcase
Every night before bed, my children read. If they don’t already have a pile of books in their room to read, they head to the central bookcase to grab a few books.
5. Reading Routine
This isn’t something I have done on purpose, but I realise how reading at bedtime has just become part of the children’s routine, because it’s such a lovely way to wind down. The kids are in bed relatively early, and then they read in bed for half an hour to an hour before they fall asleep.
6. Buy Books
I don’t buy my kids gifts often (for no reason) but I do like to do book club with school. It’s a great way to build a library at home and it supports the school too. I don’t do book club every time, it depends on our budget for the month, but books are something I do buy for my kids for no real reason.
7. Go to Public Libraries
Libraries are wonderful, wonderful places! When we move to an area, it’s one of the first things we do. Going to a library can become part of a weekly routine, or as a fun outing.
8. Love Books Yourself
I love books myself. I love how they smell, how they look, and how a good novel can take you to another place. I have my own books in a dedicated bookcase and the children aren’t allowed to help themselves without consolation with me (because some of the old books need to be handled with more care). I enjoy everything from crime, to the classics and historical novels. While we have a lot of freedom with books in our house, there is also certain books with restricted access for various reasons.
9. Make Reading Spaces
We have a dedicated bookcase for the majority of books the children enjoy, but we also have created little reading spaces in the house. It can be a pile of cushions, a little chair, or even use a spice rack to store a few current books.
10. Say, I Don’t Like that Book!
I’ll always remember something much-loved Australian children’s author Alison Lester told me in an interview. I asked her for tips for reading aloud to kids, and she said: “Always read something you like. There’s nothing worse than wading through some boring rubbish trying to sound interested. Be honest with your kids and tell them if you think a book stinks.”
I still DO sometimes read books aloud to the kids that I don’t really like, but Alison has given me the confidence over the years to say, “I don’t enjoy that book, pick another one.” Reading aloud to a child should be very much a mutual process of enjoyment, and really good quality picture/read aloud books are such a pleasure to read. As an example, my son knows how much I enjoy (and laugh) when I read him Dr Seuss books, so he often picks them out when he asks me to read to him, because it’s such a fun time for both of us.
A Day of Book Loving in my House
As I was writing this post, I thought it would be interesting to walk around my four children’s rooms and snap an image of the books there. This is the way our family interacts with books. They are devoured on a daily basis with freedom and joy, for the love of it.
A lot of what I have listed here wasn’t done on purpose. It’s been more a natural rhythm developed in our family life underpinned by the deep value we place on reading and books.