Roundtable: Formative Reading Experiences (Part I)

Karen Burnham

We’ve gotten some very good comments on the Roundtable discussion on teaching reading in high school. One issue that’s come up is the division of responsibility between parents and teachers. Everyone on this list is obviously a life-long reader, and I was wondering what your parents’ attitudes towards reading was? For those of you that are parents, how have you approached reading with your kids?

As always, this discussion is broken up into multiple pages for ease of reading. If you’d like to read it all on a single page, select ‘View All’ from the drop down menu above. If you don’t see the drop down menu, please click here.

Tim Pratt

My parents were both big readers, and our house was full of shelves heaped with cheap paperbacks, most SF, fantasy, and horror (with a smattering of true crime, historicals, and romance, none of which interested me as much). They picked up books at yard sales and the drugstore and flea markets. My great-grandmother, with whom I stayed during summer vacations, had an entire spare bedroom full of SF novels. Reading was just something we all did, all the time. I was astonished later in life to go into houses where there weren’t bookshelves — or any books at all. It’s not like my family was middle-class or particularly well-educated, either; we lived in a trailer park, my dad was a welder, my mom was a cashier, neither one went to college, etc. As a child I just thought everybody read. The fact that everyone doesn’t continues to be a disappointment to me.

The first grown-up book I read was Stephen King’s Carrie (I was 8, and nobody wanted to explain to me what “menses” were), and I never looked back. I was basically un-punishable as a child, because while my mother was certainly willing to ground me, take away my TV, etc., the only way she could have really bothered me was by taking away my books — and she could never bring herself to do that.

For my own son (who’s now 4), I’m trying to follow that example. Lots of books in the house, and making it clear that reading is just something we all do. I’ve seen some parenting studies that indicate it’s more important for kids to see their parents reading than it is for parents to read to their kids (though the latter is certainly important) — if the only time you touch a book is when you sit down to do your obligatory bedtime reading with your child, they’ll figure out that you don’t really like reading. If they see you reading often, they’ll assume it’s fun, and seek to model that behavior. My son has only just learned to write his name, so it’s too early to tell if he’ll be an avid reader on his own, but he certainly does love it when we sit and read books with him.

Rich Horton

My parents were pro-reading, and were happy to take me to the library, again and again, and praised my reading, and were happy to allow me to read what I wanted (perhaps there would have been limits but I never encountered them).

But they didn’t ever push reading. They did get a book club membership, and buy books occasionally, but they didn’t say “You need to get a book” or “You need to be reading more” or anything like that. (First book I remember owning, by the way, was Horton Hears a Who, perhaps not a surprising purchase by my paternal grandmother.)

Both my parents read a reasonable amount themselves, though not as much as me. My mother reads detective fiction, and modest social comedy of the “Miss Read” variety. My dad prefers biographies and history. The only writer they really directly introduced me to was Agatha Christie (my mother, of course).

As for my children, we read a lot to my daughter, our older child, and she became a fairly avid reader, though not to my extent. She’s a fan of Tamora Peirce and of Charles de Lint in particular. We didn’t read as much to my son — perhaps that was “second child” neglect (guilt guilt guilt) but he didn’t seem to like it as much, didn’t ask for it, didn’t play games like my daughter did to trick us into reading yet another story. Anyway, he was a slower developing reader, though he does read some these days — probably well above the national average. Last I knew he was working his way through Lemony Snicket.

Karen Lord

No censorship – if I could read it, anything on the bookshelf was fair game, and I learned to avoid books that gave me nightmares. I … don’t understand censoring for sex. Granted, I was probably too young to appreciate Portnoy’s Complaint, but I had schoolfriends reading The Colour Purple, and we all read Roots.

Books were given for Christmas, birthdays, vacation and just because.

My mother had a list of books recommended by the Caribbean Examinations Council from 1st to 6th form (ages11-18) and she bought me every single one on the list up to 5th form (here’s a link to some selections from that list).

She also gave me a monthly book allowance separate from my general allowance (and four times as much).

I suppose it helped that all this was like leading a duck to water.

N. K. Jemisin

She also gave me a monthly book allowance separate from my general allowance (and four times as much).

That’s a brilliant idea.  I’m totally mooching it for my hypothetical future kids, and current niece/nephew.

Stacie Hanes

That’s two of us…

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4 thoughts on “Roundtable: Formative Reading Experiences (Part I)

  • November 8, 2011 at 8:19 am

    My parents, wisely, wanted to know what I was reading fell in certain parameters. I don’t have issues with them not wanting me exposed to a lot of sex or foul language at a certain age, because I know I wasn’t ready to handle that stuff like most kids and I think parents have a responsibility as do teachers and others. I would certainly handle it the same way with my kids. What we write and what people read has influence and impact on behavior. It’s undeniable not just based on studies, but based on my own experience. Books influenced me extensively in how I viewed the world, things I said, how I acted, my desires, etc., so now, as an author myself, I take seriously my responsibility to write with care. I don’t believe in gratuitous uses of things but that they really must serve the story. Shock value isn’t enough to me. Nor is rage at the gatekeepers. That’s my own approach, I realize not everyone agrees. I self-censor even now what I expose myself too. Things that are too salacious turn me off. So I think it’s only responsible parenting to do that for kids. What I find a bit disappointing is that every August-September and January you go to bookstores and see the same 15 books labelled classics prominently displayed because kids are being asked to read those same books that I read. Ok, there are some great, not to be missed books on that list but who’s to say a lot of great, more contemporary authors whom kids might more readily relate to can’t serve the same purpose? With reading going down in popularity, particularly amongst boys, I think it’s ridiculous to not make an effort to get kids excited about reading by encouraging it however we can. More effort needs to be made to find books people are excited about and get them to read them. Even if they aren’t for credit. For example, I’ve heard of schools giving 5 minutes a day to read whatever you want. That’s a great start. I personally think 15-30 min would be better, but hey, school days are limited with curriculum demands, I get that. But certainly a mix of assigned and freely chosen for fun books would help encourage reading for many students as well. Lots of possibilities. Teachers should be created and be able to do so.

  • November 8, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    I grew up with my mother reading to me until I was old enough to read for myself. I was precocious so I was reading adult adventure books from the age of seven onwards, e.g. Sax Rohmer, Dornford Yates, Sapper, and so on. Early in the 1950s I discovered SF, fantasy and horror, and never looked back. It’s been a life happily misspent and, of course, I blame my mother.

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