I’m embarrassed to admit this, but not long ago I found myself out of touch with my kids and their books. I know that sounds odd coming from a parent who is also a writer, so let me explain.
I often seek out books for my kids to read—from the library, bookstore, or my own stash. Books that either resonated with me at their ages or a new title I think they’d like based on the genre or author. Never is a bedside table bare. But lately, I’ve been missing the mark.
It occurred to me that when my kids began reading independently, I’d assumed they didn’t need me, and I’d drifted out of their literary world a bit. The bedtime routine became simpler. No longer was I re-reading the same picture book a gazillion times while in the back of my mind was that tower of dirty dishes, emails to answer, and catch-up time with my husband. This was a good thing, right?
In fact, today is World Read Aloud Day, created by LitWorld to honor one child’s wish that everyone know how good it feels to listen to a read aloud. Research published by Scholastic in the “2013 Kids & Family Reading Report” proves that reading aloud to children on a daily basis puts them a year ahead of kids who are not read aloud to daily.
Not only that, but today’s middle-grade readers are a sophisticated lot. The topics and themes of contemporary titles are so varied and empowering—and sometimes a little scary—that when I read my kids’ books, either my mom radar goes off or my ex-kid self feels cheated (I’ll explain later).
Today’s parent has more ways to stay involved than ever before. Ask your child’s teacher for a list of recommended books. Talk to a librarian. Google your kids’ favorite authors. Follow their blogs and tweets. Write reviews together.
Author websites didn’t exist when I was my kids’ ages (reason # 1 for my envy of today’s kid reader. Who wouldn’t have loved to follow Roald Dahl’s blog or tweet to Madeleine L’Engle back in the day? Or read an interview with Harper Lee or Marguerite Henry?).
Recently, my daughter and I googled her latest favorite, Tui T. Sutherland, to find out the release date for the next book in the Wings of Fire series. You should have seen her surprise when she learned that Sutherland is a woman (why that surprised her, I’m not sure, but I was happy to aid in her discovery).
Another way to connect with our kids is to read with them. I’m talking about cuddling with your middle-grade reader, pausing to chat about where you left off, and reading aloud. That’s right. Reading aloud and hearing the cadence of the words as they string together. Explaining what a new word means to help them grow their vocabulary. And discovering how the story unfolds, together. When we’re least expecting it, we might also learn more about what’s going on in our child’s world, too. Reading about a character’s concern might prompt our kids to share one of theirs.
There’s something really special about the way a book can bring us together.
And the line is blurring across audience age groups. With such a variety of books out there that appeal to kids and parents alike, we get to enjoy it all together (reason # 2 that I wish I could turn back time).
In some cases, as the target audience broadens, so does the nature of the topics they cover. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. I love that my third grader is empathizing with Auggie Pullman in Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, who was born with distorted facial features caused by an anomaly in his DNA. I love that my carpool discussion last week was about how cool it is to hang out in the sensory room at school with a classmate who has cerebral palsy like Melody from Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper (reason # 3: To have had this kind of influence back then.)
We’re asking our middle-grade reader to come out of their own world and see a new perspective and, as long as they’re developmentally ready to do so, that’s a good thing. I think.
But we’ll never know unless we’re along for the ride.
Case in point. While I was cuddled up with my middle-grade reader the other night reading Out of My Mind, we got to a part in the book where a teacher—a teacher!—treats the protagonist cruelly. I paused to ask my daughter what she thought about that, but she looked at me blankly. She told me I’d misunderstood and went on to explain how she’d interpreted what the teacher said. We went back to read the passage again. Nope. It was loud and clear to me.
Fortunately the author addressed it all in the next chapter. My daughter probably would have figured it out on her own, but it sparked some interesting discussion between us.
I’m not advocating we do all of our reading this way. Certainly we want kids to read on their own and practice their skills. And we couldn’t possibly read everything they read. But by getting involved in something like literature review at your child’s school, where you lead a book discussion weekly with a group of kids, or joining a mom-and-me or dad-and-me book club at the local library, you’ll be surprised with the ways you can connect with your child.
It’s a beautiful thing.
And it’s pretty cool when your child leaps into bed, pats your spot, and reaches over to her bedside table to grab the book you’ve been reading together…only to find out her sister has it.
Most sisters fight over clothes. I hope mine fight over books.