I owe JK Rowling a thank you note. My youngest son is staying up too late these days, devouring the fourth Harry Potter book on his own. He’s joined the legions of children worldwide, who tackle the over 900-page book with an insatiable desire to reach its end. In our family, he’s the fourth to break his teeth over Harry Potter books, becoming an avid reader in order to finish the whole series on his own.

I actually googled how to email the legend herself, in spite of knowing that anything I might email is not likely to be read. In lieu of sending a note into Internet abyss, I’m posting my gratitude here instead.

We have four voracious readers in the house, who spend much of Shabbat and any free time with their noses in books (Full disclosure–on weekdays this is usually after I insist they put away the iPads). They are readers by design. I fell into an informal method of turning our oldest into a reader and then intentionally did the same for our other three. It worked every time. I’m fairly confident this has less to do with our kids’ intelligence and more to do with the way we made reading a priority.

Reading makes us wiser, more empathetic, curious, confident and open to new ideas. It makes us better writers and better listeners. It helps kids perform better in school and on  the dreaded standardized tests. I could fill the page listing the benefits of reading, but if you’re still paying attention, it’s because you know this already.

Here’s our formula for raising readers

  1. Visit the library every week. I go to the Evanston Public Library every Friday and take out close to 50 books. I don’t even bother taking the kids because that would make it harder to find the time. Locally, I recommend the suburban libraries simply because they have more books in one location.
  2. Start on chapter books early. There’s only so long that you can read picture books. I started reading chapter books to the kids around age 3. If the book is good enough, you and your child will want to keep reading. We loved Boxcar Children, Magic Treehouse, Clementine, Beverly Cleary, Wonder, Peter and the Starcatchers, Sisters Grimm–just to name a few.
  3. Don’t push independent reading. Every kid learns to read at a different pace, but the process is hard and even annoying until it clicks. Most likely, your child is already doing this tedious work in school, so leave it there. Reading with you should be pure pleasure so that you can cultivate a hobby your child will love.
  4. Read Harry Potter together. Harry Potter is the capstone of our informal curriculum, which is why I owe JK Rowling my thanks. I wait to start until my kids are independent readers, but they’re still clinging to chapter books with drawings–like Captain Underpants (ugh!). This happened around first or second grade for each of my kids. Then, we snuggle for weeks, reading the 1-3 Harry Potter books. And that’s it. At that point, they’re hooked on Harry Potter, and since I won’t read any more, they’re left to have to read the books themselves. And they do.



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