Encouraging Kids to Read: Will Any Book Do?

By Barbara Danza, Epoch Times
March 3, 2019 Updated: March 3, 2019

Some say that when it comes to encouraging kids to read, as long as they are reading, any book will do.

Really? Have you seen some of the books that are targeted to children and “young adults” these days?

We wouldn’t say that any food will do as long as they are eating, right? You don’t feed your child Twinkies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

What we feed our children’s minds stays with them and becomes a part of them, much like the food we nourish their bodies with. Content can nourish—or poison—the mind.

The wonderful thing about books is that they are so plentiful. Humans have been in the book writing game for quite some time now and the volume of content we’ve created is vast.

There are so very many wonderful books that will cater to your child’s unique interests and preferences. We don’t need to settle for only what was released this year, what’s being promoted on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, or what made the cut at the school library. In fact, finding a high-quality book from those sources tends to be a challenge. It’s possible but rare.

By broadening the search, parents can offer their children the very best of what has been written—the cream of the crop. Why would anyone settle for less for their children?

Reluctant Readers

“Any book will do, as long as they are reading” is usually a sentiment that refers to reluctant readers—children who seem to be disinterested in or even despise reading.

The antidote to their reluctance is not necessarily related to the choices of books children have available to them, but to their overall experience with reading in general.

If you want to cure your child of being a reluctant reader, first of all, put down all anxiety you have about their reluctance to read. They’ll get there eventually. It’s not a race. You can stop worrying about it.

What you want is to make reading a joyful and positive experience for your children. If they are having trouble learning how to read, or retaining and understanding what they read, take the pressure off.

Read to your kids. Even if they are older, read to them. Make the entire experience a calm and loving one. Simply enjoying books together will provide the example they need to see that reading is a positive part of life.

Ignore reading levels. If a book is too hard for your child to read currently, read it to them. If a book is terribly easy but engages the child and offers literary value, enjoy it fully.

Books Influence the Mind

The main flaw with the idea that “any book will do” is that some books encourage and even flat out promote poor character or inappropriate behavior; some portray questionable messages about basic concepts like good and evil, and right and wrong. In fact, the content of some books would likely shock many parents if they had the time to pre-read every book their child considered.

Fairy tales, myths, and legends were traditionally used for the purpose of teaching moral and life lessons to children, whether through a direct moral at the end of a story or examples set by the characters.

Young minds are particularly impressionable and are still developing basic concepts of character. It becomes all the more important not to fill them with distorted ideas.

‘Twaddle’

In addition to moral content, literary standards also impact the reader.

Classical English educator Charlotte Mason, a favorite among modern-day homeschoolers, referred to the term “twaddle” as it relates to substandard children’s literature—describing writing that does no service to the minds of children, that is silly and worthless.

“Imagination does not stir at the suggestion of the feeble, much-diluted stuff that is too often put into children’s hands,” Mason wrote.

She pointed to books that “talk down” to children, underestimate the intelligence of children, dilute the meaning of original texts, and offer little literary value what so ever.

As you read this, you may think of some obvious examples of twaddle right now. As you might guess, twaddle is very easy to find.

Look for Living Books

Instead of settling for twaddle, Mason called for the importance of what she deemed “living books.”

“Children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough,” she said.

So, what is a living book?

According to the blog SimplyCharlotteMason.com, a living book has four key characteristics:

“First, it is usually written by one author who has a passion for the subject.” Compare this to a summarized version of a piece of classical literature in a textbook, for example. The original is much more valuable and compelling.

“Second, it is well-written; it presents stories well told, not short, choppy, twaddly sentences.”

“Third, it touches your emotions and fires your imagination; you can picture what the author is saying in your mind’s eye.”

“And fourth, a living book contains ideas, not just dry facts. There are ideas in it that will feed your mind and heart, shape who you are as a person, and often spark other ideas of your own.”

Resources

So, where can you find good books for your children?

A great place to start is book lists focused on living books, or from trusted sources that reflect the values you hope to instill in your children.

Blogger Amy Andrews (AmyLynnAndrews.com/Living-Books-List/) has put together an impressive list of more than 650 living books.

Jenny Phillips (JennyPhillips.com/Good-Beautiful-Book-List/), creator of the homeschool curriculum “The Good and the Beautiful,” has a comprehensive book list that aims to address parents’ concerns about “disrespect, inappropriate language and material, and low educational and literary value” in children’s books.

A Thomas Jefferson Education, another homeschooler favorite, also offers a comprehensive list of books they’ve deemed “classics,” available at TJed.org/Resources/Classics/. According to the website, “Great works inspire greatness, just as mediocre or poor works usually inspire mediocre and poor achievement. The great accomplishments of humanity are the key to quality education.”

The Epoch Times has also put together a list, “Tales That Teach Kids to Love Goodness,” with “stories [that] … help to guide children, who aspire to emulate the goodness found in the heroes and heroines in the tales they hear or read about.”

For further inspiration, consult the Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature and Project Gutenberg (Gutenberg.org) for books in the public domain.

Once you have a list of books to gather, consult your library (make use of their online and onsite resources) and used bookstores such as AbeBooks.com, in addition to the typical places where you purchase books.

Like curating a garden, watch as your children’s library grows and blooms as you make reading and loving books a joy that is celebrated in your home. The gift you’ll give over time will be invaluable, and you’ll likely benefit from it yourself.

Follow Barbara on Twitter: @barbaradanza
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