The Hazards of Raising Readers

by Alexa Van Dalsem March 03, 2013

As parents, we hear over and over again about the importance of raising readers and the, pretty much dire, importance of literacy to a student's academic and adult success. I have no doubt about literacy being absolutely essential to our modern day lives. Not that any of our readers need convincing, but to underscore the dire necessity of literacy to our kids, consider this: "Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives" (Richard Vaca, author of Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum).

More out of our love for books than the necessity of literacy, my husband and I have raised our kids with books and hoped they would develop the same love. We stock their rooms and our bookshelves with children’s books, take frequent trips to the library, and enjoy nightly reading sessions. The “plan” seems to be working. This last Christmas, our oldest, who is a self-proclaimed bookworm, asked for two things — books and a bookshelf for his book collection, which was also the subject of his school STEM fair project this year. His younger sister and brother are following in his footsteps, often opting to buy a book over candy.

For many reasons, the sight of my kids reading independently, the quiet concentration that settles over them as they turn the pages, the begging for just a few more minutes to read at night, brings me great joy. How I remember and still enjoy that excitement! But what I didn't realize as we were laying this foundation is that there are inherent hazards to raising readers.

From a young age, there is the danger of our kids damaging books. I believe reading should be a full contact activity, and my kids have had pretty much free range with our books and magazines. This leads to gnawed-on board books, torn pages and covers, and, for a select number of books, extra decorations and added commentary.

Reading seems like a relatively harmless activity, but there are real physical dangers involved in raising readers. On numerous occasions when my kids have been left to their own devices, upon checking on them, I find that our living room has been transformed into a “bookstore,” with piles and rows of books laid out on all the surfaces, including the floor. The piles threaten to topple on anyone walking by, and the new floor tiles offer perfect places for the book sellers to slip, something that has caused a few cries for bandages.

There are several occasions that I have been the victim of the little book kleptos living in our home. I started to take special measures with my books when my favorite copy of Franny and Zooey went missing at a critical time (my bedtime), to be found on the floor of one of our cars the next day, fortunately undamaged. Because all of our kids like to take books with them, even on quick trips to the store (really one of the cutest sights – a little two-year-old tucking Plato’s Meno or Pride and Prejudice under his arm with all seriousness as we walk into the grocery store), I place the most important books out of reach. I had no willpower, though, to do anything about my oldest absconding several of my Harry Potter books for his collection.

Our little readers bring special hazards when we travel. Each one wants to pack a bag (or three if I let my daughter) for entertainment during the car or plane ride, and each one would really like to bring a large, totally unmanageable stack of books. Even with paring down, the bags quickly become too heavy to carry and too bulky to fit in the required space. Often with tears, we sort out again what can and can’t be toted along.

I could easily say no to my kids in these situations, cut down on the creative activities with books, the carrying and packing of books, the eating and manhandling of books, the buying and collecting of books, but I just can’t. I want my kids to have every bit of joy and experience that books have to offer, despite the hazards. And, I truly love seeing them develop into little bibliophiles, even when my favorite books go missing.


Alexa Van Dalsem
Alexa Van Dalsem

Author

Alexa Van Dalsem, a grant writer by trade, writes short stories, poetry, a personal blog and, most recently, short movie scripts. In her free time, Alexa enjoys playing with her family and spending time in the great outdoors of her home state, Colorado. Alexa's short story "Black Leather Shoes" was featured in Ruminate's Issue 01: Chewing on Life



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