Book basics - FamilyEducation

Book basics

March 30,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

T. and I are reading C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. We bought it at the Borders near the ice skating rink where T. takes her lessons. Sadly that Borders is going out of business. Happily for us, we've been able to score some good books at pretty low prices, thanks to the big markdowns. Of course, the books aren't free, but I can't help myself when I walk into a bookstore and find favorite reads at even 40%-60% off. Somehow, spending $50 on books doesn't seem so bad when they've all been marked down 60%.

In the past two weeks I've bought L. two Garfield collections, and this book, and this one, too. I found two Puppy Place books for T., and then this one (we also watched the film version), and the C.S. Lewis one we're reading through now. I'm so happy to be reading a Narnia book to T. Every now and then I'll stop and ask her if she still likes it, and does she want us to keep on? I worry that a lot of the vocabulary might go above her head, but she doesn't seem to mind. During the first chapter I actually "translated" some of the words for her, reading the American, more familiar version of the word instead of reading the one in the book. So for the word "marks" I read "grades" instead, and then continued on reading.

She stuck her finger out suddenly and pointed to the word "marks" on the page. "It's not GRADES, Mama," she said sternly. "It says 'marks' on the page."

I'd been caught!

I explained to T. that I hadn't thought she knew what 'marks' were and that's why I replaced the word with 'grades' instead.

T. huffed her breath out at this.

"Of COURSE I know what 'marks' are," she said. "I'm SEVEN, you know, not SIX anymore!"

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I will happily spend money on books--even money we don't have. While some women might splurge on shoes, or accessories, or jewelry, my weakness is books--especially books for my kids. We have books all over the house: baskets of books in almost every room, including the bathrooms. When I go to people's houses, the first thing I notice is whether or not there are any books around. For me, a house without books stands out alarmingly. If I see a child's bedroom without books it seems somehow an empty place, even if it's decorated in the most charming way.

There are so many myths about kids and reading out there: myths like the one about how boys are just too active to read, and that reading is a "girl" thing; or that some kids just aren't readers.

Many of the students I teach will tell me "I don't like reading" or "I can't write" and I never believe them. No one is born not liking to read, in my opinion. Kids learn not to enjoy reading because no one ever reads to them. Then they get to school and they struggle to read to themselves, or out loud.  That magic door has closed--the one you have to keep open from the minute you are able to take your baby into your lap and to read to her. Once reading turns into work--painful work--then you've lost the child.

L. devours books, too, but it's become more work lately to keep him reading. He falls asleep each night with his Garfield or Calvin & Hobbes books open about him in bed, and his pile of visual dictionaries in arm's reach on the floor. But he needs more prodding lately to read a novel length book. I keep them coming at him, though. I would rather spenf $5 on a paperback book for L., then on something else. Some of the books I bring home for him he still hasn't read, but I'll re-present them to him from time to time, in the hopes that they will catch his interest. Other books grab him from the start and he'll read them from cover to cover, staying up until midnight if he has to in order to finish.

I've linked to this piece--"Thirteen Ways to Raise a Non-Reader" once before, but I'm doing it again, because I love it. I tape a copy of it to my office door a few times/semester. Sometimes students and colleagues ask if they can have a copy of it and I take it off the door and pass it on. Other times the paper mysteriously disappears. I don't mind too much, because I hope it's in good hands, and that whoever walked off with it takes the words to heart.