William Samuels, Ph.D.
Hooked on Books
Fostering a lifelong love of books
Watching a baby approach a book by trying to eat it reminds me of all there is to learn about books before we can learn from—and enjoy—them. Learning to read is about much more than understanding the words. Children also need to learn how to choose books, and how to apply what the book has taught them. In addition, as John Locke said, “Children should learn to read as if by sport”; they should learn that reading is fun.
Kids who don’t learn how to choose books by themselves might not find ones that interest them and, so, may not come to enjoy reading. Give some suggestions. If little Emma likes animals, you could offer a choice between Bears Barge In and “Let’s Get a Pup!” Said Kate—two of my favorite Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award winners from previous years. (For information about books that the ASPCA recommends, visit www.aspca.org/bibliography.) Guide her as she considers titles, reads back covers and flips through the pictures. In the future, she will be able to use these skills to select new books from the library.
Suppose Emma chooses Bears Barge In. Start with the cover. Can she guess what “barge” might mean? Why might the bears be barging in? Unless she’s read it before, she won’t likely guess the answer—but the question will get her interested and thinking, and will allow her to better process and retain the book’s message. As you read together, talk about the book’s pictures and storyline. Savor it—childhood is no time for speed-reading! Ask Emma what she thinks about what’s happening and invite her to predict what might happen next. Do the animals in Bears Barge In act like ones that she knows? In Let’s Get a Pup, does getting a puppy meet Kate’s expectations? How would Emma act in Kate’s shoes? Relating stories to a child’s life does more than make them more fun, relevant and interesting—it’s also a great way to teach children how to think critically and even to act kindly. (For more Bears Barge In ideas, visit www.dreamfactorybooks.com.)
During everyday activities, ask Emma how characters in her favorite books might act and feel about what’s going on, or how a particular situation is similar to a fictional episode that you have read together. These exercises bring stories alive, foster imagination, facilitate seeing things from others’ perspectives and help Emma understand how to apply a book’s lessons to her own life.
A stream of new, good stories will keep your child eager for more. In addition to rereading Emma’s old favorites, introduce a variety of books that depict both characters and situations she can identify with, and those that might be unfamiliar. These new worlds will stimulate her imagination and encourage the understanding of others and tolerance of differences. Are the characters in Monkey for Sale so different from people Emma knows? What does Go Home: The True Story of James the Cat have to say about understanding others? (These are also Bergh Book Award winners.)
As Emma grows into a competent reader, help her choose books that are slightly above her reading level. All kids—even the young—can understand much more than they can express. As long as the content is interesting and the writing still within their grasp, these “older” books will help kids stretch their imagination and yearn to keep reading. There is a large variance in kids’ reading abilities, and kids have intellectual growth spurts and periods of rest. If the book you choose is too advanced, don’t push it. There are so many wonderful titles to choose from; as Emma develops her own tastes, help her to find those that will appeal to her.
Once she has acquired basic reading skills, Emma might lose her initial interest in books and be tempted to move on to other media, like television and video games. Remember that children emulate their role models. If you share your love of reading, you will help them learn to enjoy what books have to offer. Show them how humane books have helped guide your life. Books are powerful teachers—when we learn to love them. Just remember to provide books that captivate children, to help them along and to challenge them a little. AW
Bill Samuels (email@example.com) is the director of ASPCA Humane Education. He has a Ph.D. in educational assessment.
Reprinted from ASPCA Animal Watch, Spring 2004, Vol. 24, No. 1, with permission from The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 424 East 92nd Street, New York, NY 10128-6804
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