Thursday, February 22, 2007

Reading for Your Teen's Lifetime

I'm going to get a jump on the March topic of how to interest teens in reading. My daughters are now in their early twenties, but getting them to read was never a problem. We started when they were very young reading picture books and chapter books to them. We had so much fun sitting on the sofa and reading classics such as Frankenstein, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden and The Diary of Anne Frank, as well as just plain fun books such as the Three Investigators Mysteries. We all cried together when we read Where the Red Fern Grows and laughed over Judy Blume's books about Fudge. Even now the girls will call up memories the books we read together and talk about how much they enjoyed those times.

When they became teenagers they continued reading. I finally stopped their nightly readings in junior high school-- The last few years we read together I sent it "on vacation" over the summer, and one year it just never came back. However, we continued to read together- just not aloud. When they read a book they really liked they would offer it to me to read and I would do the same for them. Jaala started working her way through my Agatha Christie collection and then got turned onto Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody books while Frith got into Marion Zimmer Bradely's Darkover books. They both were very heavily into Star Wars books and Jaala and I enjoyed reading Star Trek Books, particularly Peter David's New Frontier Series.

Then one Christmas I bought my husband the Harry Potter books- just before the fourth book came out- and inadvertently set off a major family battle as to who would be the first to read the next Harry Potter book when it was released. Those original three books are now extremely dilapidated, having been read several times by every one of us. Jaala routinely borrows them, and we have to go and search her apartment to get them back. For books Five and Six, I actually bought one copy for each one of us the day they were released so we could all read them without having to worry about anybody else waiting in line. We do have a major conflict this summer because Book Seven is being released on July 21, which is also the day Fritha has planned for her wedding. We tried to get her to change it, but her fiance wasn't too happy about that for some reason. So we've finally decided that they can go ahead and get married, as long as they don't mind if the rest of us sit there and read Harry Potter during the ceremony. As the mother of the bride I don't actually have to do anything. Jaala is Maid of Honor but she figures she can carry the book instead of a bouquet of flowers. So we've got that all worked out!

Now how did we manage to keep our girls interested in reading into their teenage years and beyond? For one thing, TV was never very big in our house-- and still isn't. We had an informal rule that the TV was only to be turned on specifically when we were watching something. We never turned it on for background noise or because there was nothing else to do or just to see what was on. We also didn't have cable, so there wasn't as much temptation to watch things.

We also continued to read as a family even if we weren't actually reading out loud anymore. We sat down and had dinner together several evenings a week and often talked about what we were reading. We shared books with each other-- and borrowed books from each other. The girls saw my husband and me reading frequently-- in the evenings we often would all just sit in the living room together, each reading our own books, instead of watching TV.

We also made reading relevant to them. For Christmas and birthdays we found books in their areas of interest-- Frith is interested in history and in women's issues so books about women in history are always popular. Jaala is into natural history so she gets lots of books about dinosaurs and wolves. We nearly always include gift cards to or Barnes & Noble or Half Price Books, and going to the bookstore to pick out books is still a real treat for all of us.

To us, turning our girls into readers was a natural process. My husband and I are both readers, but we've never read in a vacuum. The girls grew up hearing us talk about books, watching us passing books back and forth, and living in a household with one room devoted entirely to books. I will confess that the girls also saw that sometimes I was so into a book that the house didn't get cleaned or supper didn't get cooked! I enjoyed reading the RL Stine books as much as they did, as well as Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume- as well as other such fun books as How to Sink a Sub, Sideways Stories from WestSide School, and There's a Boy in the Girls Restroom. Fritha's fiance is not a reader-- or at least he's never been one before, but he has actually started reading some books so he can take part in our conversations without feeling left out. I felt as though we had really made progress when he asked me if I had a copy of Children of Men by PD James after seeing the movie-- guess what he's getting for his birthday!

The best way to help your kids enjoy reading is to let them see you enjoy it. Turn off the TV and pick up a book. Don't confine yourself to books for grown-ups-- there's a lot of good children's literature out there. Find some books that are appropriate for your child's age and interest, and read them yourself. Do they have a TV show they enjoy watching? If so, then find a way to tie into that show. If they enjoy watching LOST, they might enjoy reading Lord of the Flies. If they enjoyed the movie Cheaper by the Dozen, they might enjoy the book on which the movie was based. If they enjoyed Lord of the Rings, but find the books a little tough to get through, they might enjoy the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander.

We all agree that having children read is a good thing. So if you want your teens to read, let them see you reading. Make it fun, make it relevant, and make it part of your daily routine.

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