I remember well the nights spend huddled under my flannel sheets as a child. I’d somehow snagged a well-worn and dog-eared copy of Little House on the Prairie from my older cousins and as soon as I could put vowels and consonants together and make sense of it all, I devoured the series with a newfound fervor. Mama would turn out the lights in our room, and my younger sister would turn over and be fast asleep. Ever the night owl even to this day, I clicked on my mini flashlight and started turning the pages.
I’m certain my parents were onto my nighttime reading habit. On more than one occasion, I’d hear the steps of our old home creak as they came upstairs to check on me. Yet, I suspect that seeing their oldest child deep in the comforter with a pile of books beside the bed wasn’t enough to give them alarm. Instead, they’d just as quietly slip downstairs and sure enough, after about an hour passed, I’d turn off the light and drop out just as quickly.
As I grew up, that discovery gave way to even longer chapter novels. I read every single book in the the Babysitter’s Club, American Girl, and Goosebumps series and had the stamps on my school library card to prove it. When I went off to college, I could only think to major in one thing: literature. That girl reading until midnight turned into a headstrong college student who aced pastoral poetry exams and spent her afternoons in the college coffee shop, nose-deep in Thoreau.
When I had my daughter in 2014, one of the first places I took her, as soon as we were both ready to leave the house, was the library. She’s grown up at local Thursday morning story time, and the same sweet librarian, Miss Jessica, has seen her go from crawling in diapers across the carpeted floor to running up and hugging her as a tall and confident almost-four-year-old.
When she turned two, I signed her up for her very own library card. The staff were incredibly sweet and let her “sign” her own name on the back. I now carry around two in my pocket, one with my signature and another with her Sharpie scrawl. After our story, we disappear to the book stacks to pick out her favorites. We peruse our favorite authors and try to find new options in series that we’ve grown to love. Every week we check out 10 books, along with a movie. If we ever miss a week, everything just feels off. It’s become one of our favorite things to do together, and as her little brother grows up, I’ve loved taking him along on our adventure.
Along the way, there are a few ways I’ve discovered that I can nurture a shared love of reading in my children. While these might not be revolutionary ideas, they’ve worked for us, and as I write this, my own little night owl is curled up in her big girl bed happily “reading” a big stack of easy readers, so maybe I have created a spark somewhere.
Let them guide the selection. Sure, I’d love for her to read Beverly Cleary one day, but right now she’s more interested in what happens when you give a mouse a cookie, or a pig a pancake. She loves books about Strawberry Shortcake and little mice and cats that talk. So, we look for those titles on the shelf and I let her put them in our big library tote. It encourages independence, and I feel proud that she’s excited about something as simple as a story.
Let them see you read. I’m a big believer that children do as they see us do. It’s evident to me when my kids beg for their tablets that they’ve probably seen me on my phone or computer all day. So, I’m trying hard to reverse that habit and let them catch me reading a book instead. Truthfully, since having children, my solo time to curl up with a great book has diminished just a bit. That love of reading novels has turned into scrolling Facebook quickly while dinner cooks, or catching up on emails when I have a free minute. This year, I’m making a conscious effort to keep a stack of actual books around that I can pick up instead. I printed out this list of great classic novels and took it with me to the library, and for the first time the kids helped me pick out books too, and it was a treat for us all.
Make it fun. Reading doesn’t have to be a sit-down story time with crisscross applesauce every single time. There are plenty of ways to bring stories to life that get children engaged in the plot but also allow for a little bit of fun and imagination. For instance, we love to put on puppet shows or reenactments of our favorite tales. Or, did you know that science reveals reading to dogs can benefit both kids and their pets? We get our bichon Pablo in on the action and explain our favorite books to him! My daughter practices sounding out her words and he practices sitting for a treat, which means it’s a total win-win in my book.
Maybe my children will grow up to be New York Times bestselling authors, or maybe they’ll just appreciate curling up in bed at the end of a long day with a story they can’t put down. Right now, my daughter thinks she wants to be a twirler, a chef, and a soccer player, and my son wants to be Blaze and the Monster Machines. They’re all over the place and hands-on exploratory, with minds that race a mile a minute. But they’re nothing if not creative, and I credit a healthy love of reading for that.
So we make the trek on Thursdays, and we read “just one more” story before calling it a night. I like to think they’ll thank me one day, just like I thank my own parents. The ones who knew I should be sleeping, but let me keep flipping the pages instead, losing myself and finding myself in the stories all at once.