Carter taught himself how to read in kindergarten by sitting along the wall on the floor with all the other kids outside his classroom each morning, picking one "WOW!" and "Zaaaap!" out of a Calvin and Hobbes book at a time. He still can't spell onamonapia, but that's exactly what gave Carter a love for reading. He's had his nose in comic books and graphic novels ever since.
Madeleine had a very nominal interest in reading until she discovered Harry Potter. Her Aunt Katie gifted her the entire set in one fell swoop one Christmas, and Madeleine prided herself in plowing right through to the last book well before Spring Break that same year. Her reading interest waned after that until she took a cue from Carter and got into comics. Other than comics and an occasional childrens volume of mythology, both kids have had zero interest in traditional reading. Chapter books? Yawn. Novels? No thanks.
This all changed early this year when Dave ordered up a copy of a recent kids' bestseller for Carter to read on Dave's Kindle. Madeleine immediately came begging. "Mom, can you download it on your Kindle?" At first I was really surprised that Carter was burrowed down in the Kindle with this title, since just the week before I had offered to buy him the hard copy in the book store. His eyes had widened a little bit as he fingered the pages and felt the thickness of the binding. So. Many. Pages. No, thanks, he said, and I chalked it up to lack of interest.
I reminded Carter of this, but he insisted the Kindle was better. "There are fewer words per page on the Kindle," he assured me. "It's easier not to get lost."
"Are you sure you're into this book?" I asked Madeleine. She gave me the tween age look--the one that looks shockingly like "Duh, Mom!" and I decided not to argue? With one click, I ordered the book and she was reading it in seconds.
Now both kids are reading as fast as we can download the next book in the series. No danger of never turning our books back in to the library. No need to go to the bookstore (unless we want to hang out). And, get this--they are reading to each other straight off the Kindle--two kids who have next to nothing in common.
I'm still getting requests to buy comics and graphic novels and (interestingly) self-help/reference books in actual book form. But otherwise, it's the digital format that's convincing my kids that books that look intimidating in the bookstore are actually worth reading after all.
I know our family is an unusual case as early adopters of the latest and greatest technologies, but it's a hopeful sign for naysayers out there who are concerned that too much screen time is contributing to a lack of interest in education or reading. Quite the contrary in this house. A portable screen with the book of choice ready to go is becoming a pretty popular choice where in years past the Nintendo DS might have ruled the day. And I have to add, as someone who travels and works extensively in developing countries, the kids in the village are way more interested in my Kindle than any book I've brought in recent months.
What do you think? Would you be willing to invest in an e-reader if you thought a new technology would encourage your kids to read more regularly or with more gusto?
My kids are at those ages where the little kid movies aren't going to work anymore. They are reading real big kid books--the kind that get turned into long, serial movies, and so they have opinions now about well the filmmakers did at being true to the original tale.
This is funny for me because I used to be that kid--the voracious reader, the analytic critic--and now I'm reduced to whatever memoir can be read on a plane. I've almost given up reading altogether, living almost entirely on the fiction or the occasional juicy biographical articles you can read about a movie star or a political figure in The New Yorker.
So when I'm taking my kids to the movies now to see a film based on a book, I'm a pretty easy customer. Since we didn't have a television in our house for almost ten years, I've discovered I have fairly abominable taste in film. Case in point: Alvin and the Chipmunks did not trouble me one bit. I do not need my movies to have the air of literature as long as they make me laugh.
My kids, however, are not on this page. As the credits rolled for The Lightning Thief a few weeks ago, I stretched in my chair elated only to look over and see my eight and eleven year old slumped over in disbelief.
You've got to be kidding me, Madeleine said.
Nothin' like the book, Carter sighed.
We then spent the next hour listening to their frustration on the discrepancies. As long time fans of Greek mythology (upon which the characters in The Lightning Thief are loosely based), they were colossally disappointed.
The longer they talked the more I could see actual problems in the movie that my exhausted middle-aged mind didn't have the energy for a few hours earlier. The female character, while given a more aggressive role, remained one-dimensional. This happens all the time, Madeleine pointed out to me. I agreed and we talked about how girls are portrayed and what it would look like to have a real female protagonist who was supportive of her friends and capable of battle at the same time.
I don't know how long my kids will stay in this in between place where more grownup movies look boring and little kid movies are irrelevant, but I'm grateful at the moment for this trend of making reading books into movies. It's not only giving us good topics of conversation, it's helping me see little glimpses of my kids as adults. I'm looking forward to being pulled into discussions that are driven by their interests; I'm seeing all the ways my own experience can be deepened and expanded because of the ways their minds can grow.
How about you? Are your kids reading along with the movies? What's your policy on book vs. movie--do you make your kids read the book first before seeing the film?
Weigh in in the comments below.
Jen and I headed to the National Book Festival on Saturday to celebrate our shared love of books with thousands of others. We ran into a few of our PBS friends while we were there.
I was missing Ethan especially, but Sid said, "Hi Ethan! I hope to meet you one day."
I was beside myself to get a chance to talk to Tony DiTerlizzi, the author of The Spiderwick Chronicles. I was so excited I forgot to get something signed for Josiah but I think the interview was almost as cool.
Wandering the mall all day I was struck but how much excitement and buzz literature still has over people. How authors can be rockstars, kid's faces lit up connecting stories and hearing them read. You can learn more about the Raising Readers program here. It gave me all kinds of ideas to help my kids dream about offering their own ideas and art to the world.
Are you concerned about reading? Wondering when and how it should start?
Learn how kids become readers and writers here.
Look for more interviews soon too! Did you go to the festival this weekend? How's the reading going at your house these days? Are you sick of reading that same board book 1,000 times? What books are your grade schoolers devouring at the moment?
Check out more pics from the festival here.
Remember me, the mother who was waxing eloquent about the dawning of the conceptual age where children will cherish their Kindles and Zelda just as much as their books?
This diatribe was followed by this episode with Carter who cried buckets during his last bedtime reading session (something that rarely happens now since he discovered Calvin and Hobbes) because he'd unearthed a copy of Go, Dog, Go.
Go, Dog, Go would not be on my top list of books that make children love books or reading, but evidently I am mistaken.
Carter (sobbing): I just love this book so much.
Me (reading on automatic since there is no real plot or narrative arch to this book whatsoever): Buddy, are you okay?
Carter (wiping the snot from his tear-streaked face): I used to read it when I was a kid.
Me (because I can't resist asking kids ludicrous questions like this): Are you missing your childhood?
Carter (still quietly weeping): Mom, don't worry. They're just tears of happiness. Because I love this book sooooo much.
So books aren't dead after all. Who knew? What books are your kids loving at bedtime at your house these days?
I can still remember as a little girl grabbing a big pile of books and climbing into bed with Jen. She would read to me for hours. I still love to be read to. The love of books has been carried on to our kids. I often find Josiah reading Calvin and Hobbes books to Jack late into the night with a fashlight. Lucy is way into labeling every obscure animal in the ever popular animal books from D&K Publishers. Lyra likes to both eat and listen to the famous and every little person's favorite Goodnight Moon.
We all know the books that we can recite in our sleep from years of toddler requests and yet we can't even be annoyed. It's pure learning goodness. I find that books are the one thing I'm a total sucker for. If the kids ask me for a book, it's as good as done.
Did you know we have our very own blogging book experts here at PBSparents? Superpeople, meet the Booklights.
Susan, Gina, Pam and Jen are our new blogging buddies and supersisters. Welcome friends! We can't wait to see all the wonderful suggestions you will be sending our way.
So tell me the current book obsessions at your house. For all of you, your kids and you!
What is the one book being pushed around in the toy baby stroller or the one sitting on your kitchen table that you are determined to read, even in 5 page increments?