Serving Up Tips to Satisfy a Healthy Reading Appetite

  • David Hoffman

    It’s Saturday morning and I’m trying my hardest to procrastinate. This newsletter’s deadline is looming like the next weather front ready to dump another bucket of rain on western Washington. I’m struggling to put finger to laptop keyboard.  Part of my hesitancy stems from the inability to decide what to write about.  I could rave about how wonderful our school year is going as we approach the half way mark.  I could extol the virtues of our hard working and dedicated staff that comes to work each day ready to engage and challenge your children.  I could thank families for delivering children to Island Park rested and replete with positive attitudes and a readiness to learn.  I could definitely put in a plug for our terrific and supportive PTA.

    But it’s Saturday and feeling indolent and in need of some time away from all things school, I decide to snub the deadline and indulge in one of my favorite activities—visiting a bookstore to surf and spend.

    There is nothing like the toasty warmth of a bookstore on a cool, wet Saturday. Intriguing new titles and favorite authors welcome this visitor.  I soon become lost in a reading reverie of recipes. (Those who know me, know that I don’t cook.  I vicariously dine via gourmet cookbooks and The Food Network).

    My book browsing bliss is shattered when a young reader starts a loud tirade about how her parent never buys her books. I try to ignore the tiff, but the child/parent debate catches my attention when, during their lively debate, I hear this rebuke:  “You never read the books I buy you, anyway. You always start them, get half way through, and then abandon them.”

    “Oh, no,” I self reflect.  Might this parent really be directing her admonishment toward me? How does she know that I constantly start books, not always making it to the finish line? She must be reading the guilt on my face that denotes the fact that I have attempted Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude three times only to run out of gas before ever reaching page 100. (I’ve decided I don’t do well with books that include elaborate family trees and characters who share similar names.)

    I feel like I should walk up to the mom and let her know that she can be proud of my recent completion of some hefty manuscripts, challenging anthologies and work-related tomes.  I feel like she should know that one childhood summer, I read every page of every published Hardy Boys book.

    Instead, I walk away thinking, “Hey, it’s okay for kids and adults to start and not finish books.  Sometimes a story just does not suit one’s fancy. Sometimes a book’s plot is redundant (reading one more Hardy Boys book would have been like trying to digest one more hot dog after the completion of the Coney Island frankfurter eating contest).  Sometimes, one is unable to complete a book because it is simply too challenging (The Brothers Karamazov comes to mind).  

    Island Park students of all ages are treated to wonderful school and classroom libraries rich with books of different genres and text challenges. While we encourage students to re-visit favorite and familiar books—repeat reading fosters fluency, greater comprehension and a stronger reader/author relationship—we also want students to try new titles and topics with the hope that they will unearth treasures that sustain their reading attention throughout the book.

    Here are a few pointers to employ when helping your child choose a book that is “just right” for him or her (courtesy of educator/reading specialist Debbie Miller).

    Children should consider: 

    • The size of print: Is it too little?  Too big?  Just right.
    • The words and lines on a page: Are there too many?  Too few?  Just the right amount?
    • The pictures: Do they seem like they will help support comprehension?
    • Repetition: Is a predictable text warranted?
    • The words: Can the child read all of them? Most of them? None of them?  If there are more than five words on a page that the reader cannot decode, the text is probably too hard.
    • Content: Does the reader know anything about the topic or theme?
    • Motivation:  Is the reader interested in the book and will he or she work hard to read it?
    • Variety: Children should experience different genres.

    And don’t forget these great reading tips: 

    • Good readers are afforded the time to read or be read to every day
    • Good readers are afforded the opportunity to choose their own books.
    • Good readers are afforded the chance to talk about the books they’ve read in genuine ways (your child does not have to create a shoebox diorama each time he or she completes a book).
    • Good readers are taught how to tenderly take care of books.
    • Good readers understand the text they’ve read. They know it’s not about word count or multiple pages but comprehension!

    Your child’s teacher and our amazing librarian, Brigit White, are always available to suggest titles and selection strategies. With a little practice, patience and an awareness of personal preferences, the probability of finding a book that will keep a reader’s attention increases.

    Well, I guess my weekend procrastination and fascination with books proved to be more productive than I could have imagined. I ended up purchasing what looks to be a great novel and, despite my aversion to culinary sciences, cooked up what I hope is a somewhat palatable newsletter. Here’s to your child’s healthy passion for reading –Bon Reading Appetit. 

    P.S.  Next week our library will host its annual Island Park book fair. Thank you for stopping by and supporting our library’s collection and your child’s love for reading.      

    David Hoffman