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Books for raising readers: Part 1
Notes From the Reading Nook: August 29
I’m doing a little something different this week and next, dipping into my back catalog to bring you most (though not all) of the titles I think of as “books for grownups” — that is, books that help you, the adult caregiver in whatever capacity, to support your readers no matter what stage they’re at. The how-to of raising readers, if you will.
(I’m also sending these to all subscribers, including those of you on the free list, so that you not only get a little glimpse of what paid subscribers receive every week but also get the benefit of these books — that’s how highly I recommend them.)
This means I’ve published all of these reviews at one time or another already — but who cares? These books are all evergreen and ever-helpful (and given how few subscribers I had when I first wrote these, my guess is that they’ll all be new to you). I’ve edited and updated as needed, because damn, I am long-winded sometimes.
So I’m deviating from my normal Tuesday format to save space, time, energy, stardust, etc. What We’re Reading, From the Archives, and whatever nonsense is currently on my mind will return in two weeks.
Meanwhile, I hope you find some titles in Parts 1 and 2 that inspire you on your journey to raise readers and build a culture of reading in your home.
Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox (2001)
If there was one book-about-the-importance-of-reading I would give as a baby shower gift to new parents, this would be it: Fox not only makes it abundantly clear why reading aloud is so important for children, but she does so in the reassuring tone of someone who knows just how hard it is to be a parent, period, as if she is sitting you down for a cup of coffee and holding your hand as you try to figure it all out. (Insofar as that’s possible — sometimes I think I am so obsessed with the reading part of parenting because it’s clear, actionable, and mostly stays the same. Everything else is a crapshoot 🤷🏻♀️ )
I love Reading Magic for possessing a rare balance in this niche category, where the breakdown of philosophy to practical strategies is pretty equal.
She shares the deeper importance of reading aloud throughout, but she also offers just as many tips and ideas you can actually apply. In a chapter about how to read aloud, she writes about the importance of the last line, literally how to read it — before, I’d been reading the last line like every other line in the book, but Fox convinced me to read the last line v e r y s l o w l y, every word of it, and to my surprise it made the end better, and I’ve never gone back.
I am not, obviously, a person who needs any convincing whatsoever about why reading aloud matters — if you are one of those people, you will find a treasure trove of persuasive arguments and passionate sentiment here. If you have a read-aloud skeptic in your life, this is the book to gift them, I promise, as Fox not only posits again and again that reading aloud brings adults and children closer together and that books have the capacity to “take up residence in [our] hearts and stay there,” (page 134), she doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to telling you what to do:
People who tell me they haven’t got time to read aloud every day for ten minutes make me choke. We have to make time. (page 179)
This is a glorious book that can (and will) light a fire inside you for reading aloud, whether you’re just starting out or have been at it for awhile.
Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook: Eighth Edition by Cyndi Georgis (2019)
I already own two previous editions of this book, so when the most recent edition came out I was doubtful about buying the eighth: what could possibly be all that different?
A lot, it turns out. Kudos to Giorgis, who took on the monumentally daunting task of revising and updating a book already nearly perfect and totally beloved, but she did an outstanding job. Even if you have previous editions, a truly remarkable amount is different here. The booklists — the heart of the book and worth every single penny — have been drastically overhauled, updated with a special eye for fresh titles as well as inclusivity and diversity. (Can I say one more time that no one needs to be told about Goodnight Moon?)
What astonishes me every time I read a book about children’s books and reading aloud is how I continue to learn. I know a lot about these topics. A lot. And yet there is always more. (How wonderful, really.) This book offers more, in every sense.
How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell (2003)
When my husband first saw me reading this book years ago he said, “Uh, you don’t need help with that,” but I disagreed then and still disagree now: it is a foundational commitment I have made to my children to not only read and read and read to them for as long as they will let me, but to provide them with every available means that I can to support their literacy and love of reading.
I’ll be the first to admit that not only is the cover design of this particular title berserk (hey there, 2003! 👋 ) so is the sheer size of the book itself (531 pages!) It took my two years — honestly — to “read” it, because it is mostly book lists. Every kind of booklist you can think of. Kid obsessed with dinosaurs, fairy tales, private detectives? Gardening, mice, baseball, alternative stories, child authors? Monkeys, money, the weather, cooking, elephants, Medieval England, teeth? Raji Codell has a list for all those things and many more, all arranged categorically for easy browsing, with multiple indexes (by title, by author, by subject) that make it easy to find what you’re looking for. (It’s a remarkably helpful book that I have used a ton over the years.)
Raji Codell goes into very little detail about each title — for that you’ll have to rely on your own search engine skills — but the subtitle is true: this book is chock-full of “activities, ideas, and inspiration for exploring everything in the world through books,” making it a valuable resource and one worth digging into.
The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon (2019)
Long-time children’s book critic for the Wall Street Journal and, more relevantly, mother of five, Cox Gurdon read to her kids for an hour every single night, from birth for as long as they would let her. In sharing the how and why she did so, she has written a mixture of memoir and advocacy that has inspired me like none of the other “books about the importance of reading aloud” have. Already a convert to that particular camp, obviously, it’s her easy writing style peppered with copious amounts of research, science, argument, and anecdote that impressed me mightily when I first read it a few years ago, and which has held up over multiple re-readings since then.
This is the book I reach for when I need to remember why I spend so much time and energy reading to my kids — when things are going along swimmingly it’s a pat on the back and when we’re not reading as much as I’d like it’s a welcome kick in the pants. It’s both a useful, accessible manual and motivating manifesto — she explains in-depth what she did with her own kids over nearly two decades (including sharing so many beloved and recommended titles there is a list in the back that captures them all) and makes you want to figure out how the hell to find an entire hour inside every evening to read to your own kids. (If you manage it, let me know, will you? I have not yet discovered how to bend time myself.)
This excellent title is a testament to a simple yet unbelievably powerful idea (as she writes on page 89): “Surround young children with lots of lovely words, it seems, and all manner of good things happen.”
Show Me a Story: 40 Craft Projects and Activities to Spark Children's Storytelling by Emily K. Neuburger (2012)
Though I have long been a staunch proponent of process art and own nearly a whole dang shelf of titles to that end — I reviewed one of my very favorites, First Art for Toddlers and Twos: Open-Ended Art Experiences by MaryAnn F. Kohl, in issue No. 18 and banged on about other process art/making books in reviewing Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors by Rachelle Doorley in issue No. 25 — I do have a few that exist in opposition to that ethos, and Show Me a Story is definitely one of them.
Here is why this title is worth your while, though: while every craft in this project book does have a clearly defined, product-oriented outcome, the resulting activity it fosters is very much a process-based thing.
For example: in the project on the cover, “Story Stones,” the object is to create stones covered with images to use as storytelling props. In one sense, the product is clear: make stones with images. Yet in another, it’s very process-y: nowhere in the directions does it tell you what images to use, what kind of stones to make, much less how to use the stones afterward to tell a story. And this is why it passes my nitpicky process-over-product test: the ideas here are crafts, yes, there are steps to follow and many photos of examples of each, but they are deeply rooted in imagination and play, all in support of telling stories.
This is a fun book to have for rainy days, especially if you keep a wide array of art supplies (rocks, fabric, cardboard, all kinds of collage materials — ask me how much, well, trash I keep in a large plastic box in a closet accessible to my children). I’d love to see what an aunt/uncle or grandparent could do with this book and a free afternoon with the children in their lives. Beyond that, I want to press this book into the hands of teachers, preschool through upper elementary, and children’s librarians — I would lose my everloving mind (in the very best way) if my kid came home from school or storytime at the library with any of the projects/ideas in this book.
This is a good one.
Want more like this?
Books for raising readers: Part 2 will hit your inbox next week, but in the meantime:
🛍️ Check out my list on Bookshop.org, “Resource books for raising readers” — I have read them all and found them useful time and again. If you make a purchase from that list — or any of my others — I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
🗄️ Or, tap into my archives for issues that take a deep dive into the nitty-gritty details of how to raise readers:
Thanks for being here and for reading,