Nurturing a Love of Reading

Anna reads to pandas

Photo: Julia Ozab

Anna loves to read and now that she’s in school her love of reading has grown even greater; thanks in part to the reading opportunities provided by her school environment. No school is perfect—they all have to struggle with funding issues, growing class sizes, and byzantine bureaucracy—but here are five ways in which Anna’s school has encouraged her reading and nurtured her love of books.

The Ring of Truth

Anna brings home a book from her school library each week. According to her, she looks for a book with a “fascinating cover,” and almost always chooses well.  I wrote about a couple of her best choices last fall: The Ring of Truth and The Night Pirates—she owns both of these now. Since then, she made other excellent discoveries, including May I Bring a Friend, Pinkerton, Behave!, and the out-of-print (and hard-to-find) Jerome the Babysitter. Each Wednesday, we look forward to her latest “fascinating” find.

In addition to her library books, Anna has been bringing home Read to Feed books about every other day on average since the beginning of January. These are a set of very short paperbacks: a few pages each with a simple, and gradually expanded, vocabulary of sight words that she’s learning in class. She’s able to read these out loud to us and when she’s done with each book she takes back a dollar that goes to Heifer International. She knows the money goes to people in Peru to buy them hens to provide eggs, cows and goats to provide milk, and sheep to provide wool. She’s also learning about worldwide poverty and hunger: a tough lesson for a child, but one that will increase her compassion for the least among us.

Anna and Clifford the Big Red Dog

Then a couple of weeks ago, the Scholastic Book Fair came to our school. They were set up in the library all week, staffed by parent volunteers, and the community was welcome to come in and shop for books. The highlight of the fair was the Thursday evening “Dr. Seuss Family Fun Night,” featuring games, art projects, a “bookwalk” (aka a cakewalk with books as the prizes), a storyteller from the Eugene Public Library, and a Battle of the Books exhibition match. Anna helped act out one of the stories, won a book at the bookwalk, and colored a picture of Sam I Am. At the end of the evening, she got a cookie: maybe not the best choice at 8 p.m. but she liked it. Meanwhile, Julia bought about $40 worth of books; she made some great choices too.

The Book Fair coincided with the second week of the annual Read-a-thon fundraiser. For seventeen days, parents were asked to keep track of their children’s reading and pledge either a set amount or a per-minute amount. The goal was at least 340 minutes (20 minutes a day) over the course of the Read-a-thon. We pledged a nickel a minute for Anna, which worked out to a dollar a day based on the 340 minute minimum. We knew she’d read more than that, but we had no idea how much more. Well, at the end of the Read-a-thon, she read a total of 810 minutes. As we told her several times over the seventeen days, she “broke the Mommy-and-Daddy Bank.” Great job, Anna!

Anna as the Cat in the Hat

Finally, last Friday was Dr. Seuss’ birthday and Anna’s class celebrated by sharing their favorite Dr. Seuss book. Anna brought The Best Nest, which is by P.D. Eastman (also the author of Are You My Mother), and published under the Dr. Seuss brand. Other books I caught sight of in line: The Lorax, The Cat in the Hat, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and, my personal favorite, Green Eggs and Ham.

But she’s only in school a few hours a day: the rest of the time it’s our responsibility to nurture her love of books. We both read to Anna regularly and encourage her to read as well. Julia has read Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series to her twice, we’ve just finished Ribsy, and are about to read some other Henry Huggins books. These are middle grade books, beyond what Anna could read on her own for a few years, but when Julia reads them to her they hold her attention. She also owns hundreds of picture books—including many classics passed down from Julia—and we’re always on the lookout for new books by familiar authors as well as new ones.

Julia and I were both raised with a love of reading that has stayed with us, and now we are raising Anna with that same love. Someday she will pass it on to her children. This writer couldn’t be more proud.

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