Inspiring Children to Read

I come from a crazy reading family. My grandmother was a librarian at UCLA. My father plows through piles of books every month. Reading together in the same room was considered a “family” activity. And my father’s reading aloud renditions of the “Little House” books, while not accurate, were so funny that my mother would come into the room just for a good laugh (reading them myself later on was sort of a let down. I kept wondering, ‘Why isn’t Pa cracking that joke?’).

So, when my daughter Anna was born 10 years ago, I figured she’d be a reader. It just seemed inevitable. My grandmother’s birth present to Anna was a starter library, stocked with gorgeous picture books. There were framed illustrations from children’s books hanging on the walls of her room. And, of course, I read to her constantly, whether she liked it or not.

But the pleasures of reading came slower to her than I expected. While she was enrolled in a very challenging Montessori preschool and learned to read at an early age (she was probably reading well around four), she wasn’t necessarily inclined to do it often. No, Anna seemed a girl of action. Sitting still and reading in her room wasn’t part of her agenda at all.

So there I was, reading to her every night, hoping that the magic of books would catch fire in her. It took until she was about seven. I was reading “A Wrinkle in Time” aloud to her, and I had to stop at a particularly riveting moment. Anna looked irritated. The next morning, though, she told me she’d stayed up and finished the book herself.

“Mom, I had no idea books like this existed,” she said.

The reading flame had caught.

From then on, she was rarely without a book. She seemed to devour them in a voracious way uncannily similar to my reading habits. She wanted to read through meals. She read every night before bed. She read while on the bench at her softball games (adults would often stop and make rather idiotic comments regarding this, like “That’s such a big book for such a little girl.” Please).

Now she’s starting to display another reading habit very common in my family: re-reading. Everyone in my family loves to re-read. I think of it as visiting old friends. If Anna loves a book, she might re-read it two or three times. She told me she gets more out of the book every time she reads it. Not all readers re-read; I think it might be genetic.

Anna is now almost ten. I give her books I enjoyed at her age, like the Madeleine L’Engle Austin Family series, and watch her enjoy them just as much as I did. But the kid is an equal opportunity reader as well, devouring silly books and mysteries with the same appetite as the more challenging choices. I honestly think she not only enjoys the books, but the actual process of reading. And I can completely relate.

Most often now I find Anna sprawled on her bed, nose buried in her latest book, lost to the world. The constant reading might be a product of environment, it might be partially genetic, but it probably doesn’t matter why she loves it so. The books are her entertainment, her friends, and her teachers, and she’ll have them for life.


Jenny Heitz is a Los Angeles based writer. She writes about gift ideas on her blog, Find A Toad, and guest posts often for the blogs Beyond the Brochure, Mamapedia, The Sane Mom and Divine Caroline. Her work has also been published in The Los Angeles Daily News op-ed section.