The Rights of a Reader

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I'm not sure when my daughter, age 5, will begin to read. It's almost beside the point. We read together as much as we can. I pick books I like. She usually picks books about her favorite television show and, in full disclosure, there are lots of books about Disney princesses. Occasionally she asks me to read something I adore — something that is about nature or our world, something that is lyrically brilliant, or (gasp) something that demonstrates a theme or idea like empathy or stories about children from places that are different from where we live. I try to hide my enthusiasm and be chill, inside I'm all like, yesssss. She works fastidiously at her studio desk, asking which letters comprise Hamburger or Skeleton. She "writes" lists — pictures and symbols stand-in for words on shopping lists, daily appointment books, and weekly calendars. She is into reading without being a reader. Her ability to read on her own is almost beside the point because it will happen. It's just a matter of when. But what I won't do is this: stifle her love of story time and books because I am hyper-focused on whether or not she can sound out the letters to read "I sat on the mat."

Daniel Pennac's Rights of the Reader is one of my favorite books of the year. It changed the way I think about reading with my kids:

“Our children start out as good readers and will remain so if the adults around them nourish their enthusiasm instead of trying to prove themselves. If we stimulate their desire to learn before making them recite out loud; if we support them in their efforts instead of trying to catch them out; if we give up whole evenings instead of trying to save time; if we make the present come alive without threatening them with the future; if we refuse to turn a pleasure into a chore but nurture it instead. If we do all this, we ourselves will rediscover the pleasure of giving freely — because all cultural apprenticeship is free.

For those of you who loathe parenting books, I dare you to give this one a try. It's short. It's not complicated or ridiculously out of reach. It's common sense. (And do let me know what you think.)

Originally posted on October, 31 2017.