Becoming a Reader

Posted On: 12.09.15


This is one of my favorite photographs of my oldest daughter. Here, she’s not yet two, with very little hair, and she wears a striped rugby shirt and sits alone in our big wing chair in the little library by the window in our old apartment, and reads. Well, she doesn’t read, but looks through a book. One of those little board books. It’s such a sweet image and now it’s properly framed and up on a family photo wall in a hallway in our home.

Today, she is almost nine (with tons of hair) and she actually reads. She loves books and we let her stay up as late as she wants as long as she’s reading. There are many questionable parenting decisions we’ve made and continue to make, but this has been one of the best. By granting her this freedom, this privilege, reading has become this magical thing for her, a true treat, and I can see it in her blue eyes that she cherishes this time each night when she is on her own with a book.

I’ve been thinking recently about the vast difference between learning to read and becoming a reader. As parents, we tend to fixate on the former, the ability part, on the skill. Before it clicks for our kids, we worry. But as those who know tell us, it will come, and it does, early for some children and a bit later for others, but it comes and we are relieved and then it’s time to worry about the next thing. (Parenthood is unending, often beautiful worry.)

But becoming a reader is a different matter entirely and it’s not as much of a guarantee. Looking back to my own childhood, I read, but I wasn’t a reader. I lost myself more in sports and art and other things. My sister Ceara, I remember, was a reader like Mom, happy with her nose in a book. I became a reader much later in life, probably not even that long ago.

I would love nothing more than for my girls to fall in love with reading because I’m so smitten now and books have brought me such incomparable joy. And the wonderful thing is that it seems to be happening. My oldest girl is indeed becoming bookish. She stays up late with her books. She is even in the sweetest little book club with three friends. They meet once a month a discuss a chosen book. No adults are allowed. They discussed Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox last month and will discuss my favorite book of all time, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Webthis coming weekend. Dad read me this book when I was little and I read passages from it at his funeral. A couple years ago, my oldest girl and I read it together, and when it was over, we clutched hands and cried.

Just last night, my smallest babe pointed up to Charlotte’s Web which I have on the bookshelf in our family room and my eight-year-old and I decided we would read it to her. We read from a beautiful inscribed copy my best friend in the world gave me on my 30th birthday, which was also her wedding day. Inside, she writes me the most meaningful note. One line: “I hope you will read this to your children as your father read it to you.”

We read just one chapter, my girls and I, going very slowly, talking about everything that was happening. My littlest was very concerned about tiny runt Wilbur and his fate and loved that Fern fed him with a tiny baby bottle. It was an incredibly sweet slice of time, sitting there reading to my three girls, one I will not forget. The beginning of a lifelong mama-daughter book club perhaps? The thought makes me smile.


Are you a reader? Are your kids?

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6 Comments for: "Becoming a Reader"
  1. I am unquestionably a reader (have been since I was a small child), and my daughter is too. My son, not sure. But it’s a huge pleasure to watch it unfold in her. Not sure precisely what to do to help foster this orientation in a child, but I’m certain that part of it is role modeling reading as refuge, as joy, as priority. xox

  2. Jen

    I like to read but don’t read enough. A new goal is to start reading real books. I love e readers for the ease but like I have read you saying my kids look at an e reader like an electronic not a book. And I also lack the satisfaction of finishing a book the same. Maybe that is strange?!?

    My oldest was born a reader. She was a highly verbal kid and was curious about all things related to words. She would beg to have stacks of books read to her every day before she was one. And she has continued that love and is now 13. She was stubborn at first and would not read a book until she could read a chapter book, “a real” book. But then it took off. We are bad and limit her since she wanted to finish every book she started the same day. So if it was 250 pages she would not go to sleep ever. I remember the first book she stayed up all night reading was the Inventions of Hugo Cabret. It was summer so we let it slide but she was I think 9 and never went to sleep. It is so cool. I love that she gets lost in books.

    My youngest has never been as interested. She likes to craft and just play. This school year her teacher suggested reading along while listening to the audio book. She loves it now and cannot wait to read every night. She is reading more than ever and wanting to stay up and also loves talking about the books. I like that he came up with a fun and rewarding way for her to gain interest and skills.

    I think what is hard with kids today is school is just more intense and more testing etc. and middle school is so much reading and I know high school will be more. I can see where the love for reading has helped my oldest in school. It is different than the fun reading but for her at least it has transferred over. And she still loves to read. Her highlight is if I buy her a book or get one from the library for her.

    Great post!

  3. Michele

    This post is so sweet. I love how you “clutched your hands and cried” after finishing Charlotte’s Web with your first daughter. Your connection to that book with your Dad is so touching. I have 5 children, after years of reading to them and with them, I am sorry to say that none of them are readers. It makes me sad. I haven’t given up though, I am still trying! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. I have been a reader since I was very young and read every night to my daughters. My oldest daughter loved No More Elephants and they both loved Goodnight Moon but my younger daughter preferred books with mazes or hidden things like I Spy Books. My 23 year old loves to read, but the 21 year old? Not so much. She quickly switched to sewing and crafts. I think as long as one has a creative outlet or as Lindsey said a refuge and a pastime that brings joy, you can always find a way to escape the day to day turmoil of a busy life and find a way to unwind and engage your mind.

  5. Debi

    I was never a reader. The all important childhood example simply wasn’t there. Later in life, after grad school, I found myself reading mostly non-fiction. Occasionally a friend would recommend a novel. I’d read it and move on. But then something happened about 3 years ago. I got an invitation to a literary salon with wine!? I will never forget my first night in your yellow living room and the awaking of the reader in me. I look forward to many more great books and awe inspiring evenings.

  6. I am a reader and both my sons are as well. I read to them in the womb and they think that’s so cool.

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