A 10-year-old girl comes to the checkout counter with her mother carrying a copy of one of your favorite middle grade novels. As a librarian or bookseller, what would you do? Squeal with glee? Give exuberant assurances to the girl that she’ll love it? Smile quietly to yourself, knowing that she is in for a treat?
But what if, at this point, the girl’s mother insists she put the book back on the shelf, because it isn’t on her school’s approved list for class credit? What if she rolls her eyes and scolds her daughter for wanting to read something that “doesn’t count?” What would you do then?
I can tell you what I did when I witnessed this exact scene while working at a library: I bit my tongue. And I promised myself I’d work harder at helping parents understand the supreme importance of reading for delight, and of sharing such delight with their children.
I can also tell you what I wish I had done: encouraged that mother to not just let her daughter read that book but to take the time to read it aloud with her. Not because it “counted,” and not because she’d get credit for it in class, but for the singular purpose of connecting with her child.
Those who wander into bookshops and libraries are looking for more than just books. We are all desperately searching for meaningful connections. Adults are looking for it; kids are looking for it. Parents today long to connect with their kids in a meaningful and lasting way.
I don’t doubt that the mother in this scenario desperately loved her daughter and wanted what was best for her. I just wish I had helped her understand that the book in her hands was a gateway to exactly what she wanted. I wish I had helped her understand that books are a path to true connection with those we love most—especially when shared, and especially when read aloud. Those of us who help patrons select books have the chance to also help them see that reading aloud with their kids is as important as the reading their children do on their own.
Here are a few ideas librarians and booksellers can implement to encourage busy parents to read aloud with their kids:
• Create a shelf of suggested readalouds divided up by age. Suggesting particular books for teens and tweens will help customers think about reading aloud with their older kids (something most of us don’t consider).
• If your library or bookshop offers an area with staff recommendations, add a place for readaloud favorites. Let employees choose a featured readaloud book each month.
• Choose a librarywide or storewide featured readaloud for each month. Have extra copies of the book on hand.
• Create a readaloud challenge and let families earn small prizes if they successfully read aloud a certain number of days in a month.
• Share or post simple facts, such as, “Did you know reading aloud with your kids is the #1 way to help them achieve reading success in school?” Or, “Reading aloud to your kids, even after they can read to themselves, is one of the best academic boosts you can give a child of any age.”
• Offer readaloud sessions for older kids (not just story times for younger kids). Short stories or novels in verse can be great selections for such sessions.
We aren’t just interested in getting books into the hands of our patrons, after all; we’re interested in helping them make meaningful and lasting connections. And reading aloud is a brilliant way for a parent and child to do exactly that.