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Second Time Around

September 5, 2012
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​Too often, I fear, our children’s reading is being treated as some sort of a race. How many sight words do you have? Have you started chapter books? Are you past Magic Treehouse? Have you read Harry Potter yet? While benchmarks may be helpful in a broad sense, and while diagnostics are important in the classroom, I wonder if we are imposing a false metric on reading and I wonder what the effects will be. Who decided that Harry Potter was the standard of reading accomplishment? Who decided that laying aside picture books for the Boxcar Children is a badge of honor?

​I know parents who encourage their children to “read” the audiobooks of advanced books so they can say they’ve read the book. I know other parents who proudly escort their equally proud grade-schoolers into the young adult section even though they are not emotionally ready to read The Hunger Games. There’s nothing wrong with audiobooks–they are a great way to enjoy books as a family, for entertainment on a trip, or to fall in love with a story in a different way. And there is nothing wrong with letting your children read books from time to time that are a stretch for them. But treating reading as something linear with different milestones to check off undermines the broader goal of building strong readers who understand the material and who love reading.

​ Of course all children read books they don’t understand fully–either because they aren’t ready for them or because they simply miss things. We all do it. Who hasn’t gone back to a book read in high school or college and found new dimensions (Jane Eyre, I’m talking to you)? Or who hasn’t gone back to an old favorite, on the shelf for years, and fallen back in love?

​Maybe we should encourage our children to reread books they’ve read and enjoyed. They might see things they didn’t understand or catch the first time around. They might better understand the foreshadowing or the way the story unfolds once they know how it ends. Their comprehension may be different once they have already mastered the characters and plot.

​There is also much to be said for encouraging your child to check out “easier” books from time to time. Missed Mercy Watson or The A to Z Mysteries? Your child might enjoy tearing through them and might find some wonderful stories along the way. Maybe reading should be more about fun and not so much about which reading list you’re on. Otherwise, we’ll have 10 year olds who read Dostoyevsky but who somehow missed Ramona.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 5, 2012 9:35 AM

    My nearly 12 year old daughter is a precocious reader, but she has certain comfort books that she rereads, especially during stressful times. Most are around 100-125 pages, but some evenings she’ll pull out a stack of picture books.

    I love that she rereads (although I admit sometimes I fear she’s missing chances to read new books since she only has so much time available for reading! But that’s my bias). I’m sure that she experiences these books in new ways as she gets older, but she’s also gaining more than just reading skill by returning to these old friends.

    Reading ought to be fun – and sometimes that means reading something that isn’t challenging, just for the enjoyment of it.

  2. September 5, 2012 11:10 AM

    Great article. I’m an author/reader and recently reread Jane Eyre and enjoyed it. It read it as a teen. I love that many of the classics can be downloaded to Kindle or any device for free. I also love listening to books on CD. I’m a huge fan of revisiting all kinds of books, Thanks for sharing, and Enjoy the Journey, MG.

  3. September 18, 2012 9:48 AM

    This is so spot-on! The other day our 8-year-old exclaimed, “I loooove picture books!” and I was so glad to hear her say that–just because she’s reading way past that level doesn’t mean they’ve lost their importance or entertainment value. It’s funny: Each time I get ready to return a stack of our 4-year-old’s library books, I check in with the 8-year-old–“Hey, want to read any of these before they go back?”–and inevitably she says, “Oh, I already did.” She’s grabbing and racing through them without our noticing, and I hope that lasts a long time.

    I re-read like crazy as a kid, and got so much more from the book each time. When you’re too young to bring context and life experience to a nuanced text (say, “Harriet the Spy,” “A Wrinkle in Time”), you need to do that to wring more from the text and feel the story more fully.

    Also: I’m getting SO much pleasure from re-reading things like the Little House series as an adult. Oh my gosh, the whole story of the courting between Laura and ‘Manzo! There’s no way I could have felt that fully as a 7-year-old kid, the way I can now as a married woman and mother.

    – Lea

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