Kids and Reading

You know, there are some out there who believe that parents should control what their kids read. I respect that. I’m not sure it’s realistic, but I respect that. And I agree that parents should at least know what their kids are reading, whether they’ve read it cover-to-cover themselves or not.

I say that because I was the kid who read everything. And no, I’m not being facetious. I read books so fast it was hard to keep me in new ones. I read books from Mom and Dad’s pile. I read my own books. I even read my brother’s comic books. When I started earning a little money of my own, I didn’t spend it on clothes or shoes or frippery…I bought books. I read the newspaper. I read the Bible from cover to cover when I was twelve. I read magazines. I read the directions for the silly games on the back of the Cheerios box while I ate breakfast.

I’ve joked that I would read anything that wasn’t nailed down…and sometimes I read that, too.

And it wasn’t just what I read, but where I read.

I read in the car while Mom was running errands.

I read while I ran the vacuum cleaner. I once got in trouble because Mom had told me to vacuum and I didn’t want to stop reading, so I went upstairs and turned on the vacuum for the noise while I sat down on her bed and read my book. (By the way, kids, if you try that one, make sure to MOVE the vacuum around every once in a while, and watch the clock. If the vacuum’s been running for 45 minutes in the same room, and hasn’t at least sounded like it’s been moved around, you’re going to get busted.)

Once I got my driver’s license, my car became another place to stash books (NO I did not read while I drove and I don’t recommend it); some kids hid things in their cars that they didn’t want parents to see…I minimized my book buying habit by stashing books in the car. I’m sure that my parents thought I was hiding things in my car. I’m just not sure they realized it was books.

I still sometimes have books in the car. Not to read while driving down the street, but if you’re in a bank drive-through, or a fast food drive through, or a construction related traffic delay, you might catch a few minutes of reading while you’re waiting. And that means less frustration at the delay.

Mom was a teacher, but I think even she was bewildered at the amount I was reading. In fact, a lot of adults didn’t really believe me when I told them how fast I was finishing books.

When I was in the fourth grade, Pizza Hut began sponsoring the BookIt program (which is still going on, by the way…it’s changed, but still, pretty cool). I was ecstatic. I’d get to EARN something for my reading. When I was a kid, you earned rewards based on the number of books you read.

It was ON.

I really applied myself.

Needless to say, I was reporting so many books finished that my teachers didn’t really believe I was reading that much. They said something to my mother, who asked me to show her which books I had read. I handed her the stack. She picked one, read it, and quizzed me on it.

You guessed it: I answered every question she posed. And I got them right. She reported that back to the teachers, with the statement… “Yes, she really is reading that much, that fast. And yes, she understands it.”

I’m not sure my folks really had a lot of control over what I read, because I read everything.

Oh, sure. We lived out in the country. It wasn’t like I could walk to a store. I didn’t get an allowance as a kid, so until I started working part time at age 15, I didn’t have a lot of my own money to get books.

But both my parents read. They took us to public libraries. They did buy us books. There was the school library. And birthdays and Christmas. And cousins and aunts and uncles and friends to borrow, swap, or inherit books from.

There was no way they could keep up with it…they worked full time jobs, had two other kids, and other things competing for their time.

I, on the other hand, was the eighth grader who read NORTH AND SOUTH by John Jakes on the drive from Ohio to Colorado for vacation. I read ROOTS by Alex Haley on the way back. They didn’t really have to worry about me misbehaving in the back of the car if I had a book. I didn’t get motion sickness from reading in the car. It wasn’t like I could help with the driving…I wasn’t quite thirteen yet.

I’m not saying I was smarter than other kids. I got good grades but I wasn’t the smartest in the class. Because I read so much, I really had the reading thing down. The more I read, the more I liked it and the better I got at reading comprehension and the faster I got.

Because once I was beyond picture books, my parents had a choice…slow me down by making me wait until they had time to screen everything, or just keep me talking about what I was reading. If they saw a book in my hands that they had a question about, they asked about it. We talked about whatever it was that was a concern.

They gave me a gift…they trusted me enough to ask questions and let me explore and learn.

Oh, and now they borrow books from me.

Obviously this won’t work for every kid out there. Thank goodness my parents recognized what worked for a word-nerd, reading-freak, day-dreaming little geek like me.

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