Living · Picture Books · Reading

Raising Readers

Summer is birthday season when you’ve planned kids on an academic calendar. This summer my “baby” turns 15, which is a kind of weird, arbitrary-sounding milestone (for a non-Latino family), but for this literacy-minded mama, it matters. It turns out that as children learn to read, it helps their fluency and vocabulary-building to read to them aloud. The benefits last at least until they are fifteen, when their visual vocabulary catches up with their aural vocabulary.
Kids understand more of what they hear than what they read on their own until they are fifteen. (I think I first got this number from Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook, but I’m having trouble putting my finger on the reference just now.) The number, though, stuck in my head for years, and it makes sense to me that kids’ aural vocabulary (what they hear read in context, one presumes especially from a reader who reads with fluency and drama, so that the sense of new words can be gleaned from the context) is greater than their visual vocabulary (what they read by themselves) until they are fifteen years old.
So until 15, parents have a real, practical reason for continuing storytime.  I didn’t make this felicitous date with the little one, incidentally.  Regular storytime pretty much ended when she started high school and felt herself burdened with homework nearly every night.  (I’m not indulging my curiosity about how her homework load was so much more burdensome than her brother’s just two years before… with the same teachers and same assignments….  He had plenty of time for our evening reading, which means we kept going until he was 16 and she was 14.)
At any rate, now I don’t have to feel guilty any longer.  I didn’t really feel guilty. She’s ten times the reader I was at her age, and my goal was always to hook them on reading, not just hit an important date. Mission accomplished on both counts. They both read a considerable amount for pleasure, even in the age of video games, and since her eleventh birthday, my daughter has asked primarily for books for her birthday. I call that a win.
It’s her birthday coming up, so her reading journey I’m interested in tracking here.

In the picture book days, we read around an hour a day to her.  She loved Where’s My Teddy by Jez Alborough, which we had in an oversized board book format, perfect for propping on laps and reading together. It’s adorable, so I never minded reading it four times in a row. (One fear I always had was that they’d love something I hated, and I’d have to suffer through the same drivel a hundred times.  Reader, beware of this—read books before you introduce them to wee ones, who thrive on repetition.) When she learned to read (and she was well in to first grade), we scaled back to a conservative 45 minutes a night, and there we stayed, nearly without exception, until last summer.


Scholastic Book Club became my best friend. They have so many economical books, and you contribute to the teacher’s library too–everyone wins. She plowed through Daisy Meadows’s fairy books and Holub and Williams’s Goddess Girls series on her own, while we read a bit above her level at home—Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Peter and the Starcatchers. We also made a point to read things she might struggle with on her own—British books like The Wind in the Willows, The House at Pooh Corner, The Hobbit, and classics like Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and A Tale of Two Cities.  For some of these, she benefitted from having a mom who taught those books, but far more of them, we discovered together. I wouldn’t have traded this time for anything in the world.  

And as she advances through high school and in to adulthood, requesting Barnes and Noble giftcards for holiday gifts and brandishing tee shirts with the Ravenclaw crest or slogans like “The Book Was Better,” I take some consolation for the loss of storytime.