Parenting Solutions: Raising Readers

Introducing and reinforcing reading at home are vital to developing literacy and fostering learning.

I began reading to my daughter when she was 4 months old–colorful cardboard books and soft, squeaky ones. I named objects in the pictures while she tried to chew on the corners of each page. We read as she grew, cuddling in the big, overstuffed armchair at the end of day. We cried together over E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, found wonder in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Today, my 20-year-old daughter, a premed student, is not to be found without a book in her hand, and we still share the books that we read.

Child psychologists and pediatricians say that reading to your children is as important as providing them with a balanced diet or fastening their seat belt. “Language matters for everything,” says Frank R. Vellutino, Ph.D., director of the Child Research and Study Center at the University of New York. “You can’t even interpret and appreciate cartoons in the newspaper without a grasp of analogy and metaphor.”

One must have facility with language in order to grasp complex ideas, to problem-solve, and to understand culture. Good readers can uncover a culture’s collective knowledge, master information, and challenge themselves with difficult concepts and complex thoughts.

Readers are leaders

Noted author and Yale Sterling Professor of Humanities Harold Bloom says that children need to read and to read good books to make themselves more interesting to themselves and to others. By being more interesting, one develops a sense of one’s separate and distinct self, or self-worth. Children can do this not by watching television or playing video games but by being alone with a book.

Says Dr. Jane Healy, pediatric neurological specialist and psychologist, “Screen-watching makes of your child a follower and a consumer. Readers are leaders and producers.”

Through books, children learn more existing words and information. They develop a sense of humor and an imagination. They learn to calm fears and to guide actions. These attributes make them feel more capable and successful.

Why do parents need to be involved in helping their children read? Why can’t children learn all they need to be good readers in school?

Some experts point out that in the past, a significant portion of class time was set aside in school for quiet reading. However, that time has eroded with demands in other curricular areas such as computer literacy, conflict management, and drug awareness.

Parents have always been their children’s first and most influential teachers, and the best readers are introduced to reading long before they start kindergarten. Building reading skills at home is more important than ever with the temptations of television and video games, which are counterproductive when it comes to developing literacy.

What can parents do?

Start reading to children early

Parents can help their kids to become more enthusiastic readers in two ways. They can read with them, and they can leave them alone with good books.

Read aloud to your children. A study by the National Academy of Education and the National Institute of Education Commission notes, “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

Your child’s brain grows and develops just like the rest of the body, and 50 percent of the brain develops before the age of 4. Reading to your child is a key way to stimulate mental growth and development. It goes beyond hearing the story. Children will naturally ask questions — “Why did the character do that?” or “What does that mean?”

You cannot start too early. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading daily to children, beginning at six months of age.

Visit libraries, bookstores

There is an intrinsic bonding that occurs when parents read to their children, according to Dr. Mark West, professor of children’s literature at the University of North Carolina. Even after your child has learned to read, it is important to keep that experience alive.

An excellent resource is The Read-Aloud Handbook (4th ed.), by Jim Trelease (1995, Penguin USA). Not only does it include advice on introducing your children to books and reading aloud, but it also has an extensive list of excellent books that children love. You may also want to visit the American Library Association Web site at

Make books a part of your child’s life. Take your children to the library and to bookstores. Let them wander through the rows. Get them library cards. Take them to story hours. Make a special place to keep their books–a place they can reach easily–and give them books often. Display your own books in a prominent place so your children can see that you value what books have to offer.

Give your children books as gifts. Let them choose new books on a grocery store excursion or search for good books at used bookstores, garage sales, and library discard sales. Encourage them to trade with their friends and siblings. And talk to your children about what they are reading.

There are few greater gifts that you can give children than the gift of reading and a love of books. In giving them those gifts, you open their world, make them critical thinkers, and help them to take their place as informed citizens and leaders.

Kathy Brandt is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Illsutration by Marvin Friedman

10 Tips for Reading Aloud to Children

  • Children are never too young or too old to be read to. Start with picture books and build to storybooks and novels.
  • Set aside at least one traditional time each day for story time.
  • Talk about the pictures with your child.
  • Allow time to talk about the book. Let questions surface about the thoughts, hopes, fears, and discoveries that are aroused by the book.
  • Ask open-ended questions to get your child thinking and predicting what might happen next.
  • Try to make connections between the characters and events in the book and the real world.
  • Help the story come alive by reading with expression and in the character’s voice, and don’t read too fast.
  • Provide background and context by telling your child about the author.
  • Visit your public library regularly.
  • Let your child help select the book.

Based on The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease

Good Books for Young Readers

Most libraries provide books and brochures with guidelines about which books are appropriate and appealing to various ages. The following list, prepared by the Association for Library Service to Children/Association of Booksellers for Children Joint Committee, includes some of the best and most inspiring books available. (Also check the American Library Association Web site at

Ages 6-8

Allard, Harry and James Marshall–Miss Nelson Is Missing!
Cameron, Ann–The Stories Julian Tells
Cleary, Beverly–Ramona books
Cole, Joanna–Magic School Bus series
Cooney, Barbara–Miss Rumphius
Flournoy, Valerie and Jerry Pinkney–The Patchwork Quilt
Fox, Mem–Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge: The Big Book
Gardiner, John R.–Stone Fox
Hoffman, Mary–Amazing Grace
Lobel, Arnold–Frog and Toad series
Parish, Peggy–Amelia Bedelia
Steptoe, John–Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters
Van Allsburg, Chris–Jumanji 
White, E. B.–Charlotte’s Web
Wilder, Laura Ingalls–Little House series
Ages 9-12

Alexander, Lloyd–The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain
Atwater, Richard–Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Babbitt, Natalie–Tuck Everlasting
Banks, Lynne Reid–The Indian in the Cupboard
Blume, Judy–Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret
Burnett, Frances H.–The Secret Garden
Coerr, Eleanor–Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
Cooper, Susan–The Dark Is Rising
Freedman, Russell–Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery
George, Jean C.–Julie of the Wolves
Juster, Norton–The Phantom Tollbooth
L’Engle, Madeleine–A Wrinkle in Time
Lowry, Lois–Number the Stars
MacLachlan, Patricia–Sarah, Plain and Tall
Paterson, Katherine–Bridge to Terabithia
Taylor, Mildred–Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Taylor, Theodore–The Cay
Ages 12-14

Avi–Nothing But the Truth: A Documentary Novel
Avi–The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
Cole, Brock–The Goats
Cormier, Robert–The Chocolate War
Frank, Anne–Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
Jacques, Brian–Redwall series
Lee, Harper–To Kill a Mockingbird
Magorian, Michelle–Good Night, Mr. Tom
Myers, Walter–Fallen Angels
Paterson, Katherine–Jacob Have I Loved
Paulsen, Gary–Hatchet
Salinger, J. D.–The Catcher in the Rye
Staples, Suzanne–Shabanu: A Daughter of the Wind
Tolkien, J. R. R.–The Hobbit 
Voigt, Cynthia–Dicey’s Song
Zindel, Paul–The Pigman
All Ages

Aesop–Aesop’s Fables
Andersen, Hans Christian–Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales
Anno, Mitsumasa–Anno’s Journey
Cohn, Amy, ed.–From Sea to Shining Sea: A Treasury of Folklore and Folk Songs
D’Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar P.–D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths
Goode, Diane, illus.–The Diane Goode Book of American Folk Tales and Songs
Hamilton, Virginia–People Could Fly
Kennedy, Dorothy M., ed.–Talking Like the Rain: A First Book of Poems
Macaulay, David–The Way Things Work
Milne, A. A.–Winnie-the-Pooh
Prelutsky, Jack–The New Kid on the Block
Prelutsky, Jack–The Random House Book of Poetry for Children
Robinson, Barbara–The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Silverstein, Shel–Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings
Singer, Issac Bashevis–Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories
Van Allsburg, Chris–Polar Express

The Secret Garden
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
To Kill a Mockingbird


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