What we talk about when we talk about reading

Why is it so hard for folks to talk to children about reading? I don’t mean the  standard “So whatcha reading?” or the lectures about reading more. I mean really talking about reading – just as we talk to other adults.

Is it because so few adults read middle grade books? It’s easy to talk about books you’ve read – which opens up much of the YA kid lit world to conversation these days. But plenty of folks talk about books they haven’t read with other grownups, whether because of reviews or marketing or “a friend of mine says”.

So why is it so hard to talk to kids? I ask all my library students to talk to me about what they’re reading. I ask what the last book they liked was, and what the last book they hated was. Of course, both those questions are usually followed by a “Why?”  Not only does this help me understand what I can recommend to them, but it also gets them excited. Everybody loves having and sharing their opinion – especially negative ones. 😉

But all too often, a student will mutter “Nothing” or “I don’t know” and then we’re a little stuck. I can usually talk about what I’m enjoying and why, and if it’s not a kids’ book, how it might relate to what they read. (A lot of YA isn’t at my elementary students’ level.) For instance, even though I read a lot of grownup fantasy, I can relate it to the fantasies they like to read.

Sometimes we can relate through experiences. I have yet to have a kid not giggle when I tell them I’ve always wanted to spend the night in the Met like the children in From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – especially when I tell them exactly where I’d like to stay! (Sorry, it’s a secret. 😉  )

Or I’ll tell them about the beach at Sanibel if they’re looking at Junonia. Or I’ll talk about what it was like to be a kindergartener with glasses if a child is looking at one of the many books about having glasses. You get the picture.

Children also love it when they get to be the experts. Students love to tell me all about their many interests of which I have no clue. (Minecraft, anyone?) Or if they’ve loved a book I didn’t like. I always tell them if other kids like a book I’m recommending and that I didm;t (if that’s true). They love telling me why I’m wrong!

It’s not just important that children read these days. It’s important for them to be able to formulate and express their opinions and to back those up with details and reasoning. (Common Core, don’t cha know?) And it’s a lot more fun learning this important skill while telling a grownup exactly why she should have liked Wildwood instead of poring over practice tests.

So have “The Talk.” Ask a child in your life about what they’re reading and why. Or why not. Get them all fired up and let them give you an earful!

 

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5 thoughts on “What we talk about when we talk about reading

  1. I agree, we need to really talk to kids about what they’re reading. I often find when I ask kids at the schools I speak at what do they like to read or why they only give one word answers. It can be hard to get them to give up the info. Sometimes it’s wording the question just right, like “what was your favorite scene” or “When did you decide you liked the main character.”

  2. Leslie, I think it’s very similar and typical of a kid’s response. But you’re helping them focus by bringing up the details. That’s how you get them to think and talk 🙂

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