What parent doesn’t want their child to love books? Sarah McKenzie, author of The Read-Aloud Family, believes children are born with a love for reading. But it isn’t long before reading lists and grade school tests can drive all the fun out of books. That’s why Sarah’s on a mission to help families everywhere recapture a love of reading—particularly through reading out loud to your kids. Not sure how to begin? In this excerpt from her new book, Sarah shares how creating a “book club culture” is a fun and easy way to reignite the love of reading in your children.
Creating a “Book Club Culture” in Your Home
Try something for me. Bake a pan of brownies. As the scent drives everyone in your home toward the kitchen in hopeful curiosity, place some small plates and napkins on the table, and pour a pitcher of milk. Set those brownies—luscious, gooey, piping hot—in the center of the table, and open a book. It can be anything: a picture book, middle-grade fiction, a poem. It doesn’t really matter which book it is; just start reading it aloud. I can nearly guarantee you will have a table full of people listening in, and they will remember—even well into the future— that you read it with brownies. They will very likely look back on that book with fondness.
I have never been to a grown-up book club meeting that didn’t include food, and yet I so often make my kids’ book-reading sessions feel more like a classroom than a book club.
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Book Clubs Are All about Food, Fun and Stories – Why Not Make Reading the Same in Your Home?
Why no treats? Why no snacks? Why not throw a big picnic blanket on the grass in the backyard and let everyone dig into a ginormous bowl of popcorn and sip Capri Suns? Why not set the table with china and pass around tea and scones? Why not pull out a package of store-bought cookies and paper plates and gather everyone at the table for a few moments of rest and reading?
I don’t always give my kids snacks while I’m reading aloud, but I do try to manage it on occasion, especially if I’m having trouble wooing anyone into read-aloud time, or if our relationships and interactions have been particularly fraught. Food is comfort, and comfort is a wonderful thing to associate with read-aloud time.
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Make Lasting Memories by Connecting Over the Table
My husband speaks fondly of his own family’s game nights when he was growing up. They played Monopoly, Risk, and other classic board games. But when he tells me stories of his family’s game nights, the games themselves play a minor role in his memory. He mostly remembers the tea, the little bowl of sugar, the gravy boat filled with milk, and the soft, light, sweet coffee cake his mother served.
Tea and coffee cake became a symbol for game night. When my husband drinks tea from a fancy cup, stirs in a swirl of milk, and drops in a pinch of sugar, he thinks of game night. He remembers family time, warm and comforting.
We can do the same with stories. You don’t need to make coffee cake every time you read aloud, of course, but it wouldn’t hurt. Popcorn is my own go-to. It’s quick and easy and everyone likes it, so I often make a giant bowl and put it in the middle of the table while I read.
It can be simple—a box of crackers, store-bought cookies, sliced fruit, a bowl of grapes. Sharing food and gathering around the table means community, friendship, love, laughter, and warmth. That’s what we’re going for, right?
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Stop Making Your Kids Only Read Books that “Count”
Do we have the courage to admit that the main purpose of reading may in fact be for joy, for the sake of itself? Affection is of great importance when it comes to making connections with our kids through books. When we demonstrate interest in the things that our kids are interested in—and that includes the stories they like—we are communicating love to them.
What I wish I could say to that mom at the library, the one who told her ten-year-old daughter to put The Penderwicks aside in favor of something that would “count” for school, is this: Go get a copy yourself. Read it with her, just for fun. Not because it “counts,” not because she gets credit for it in class, and not even because it will make her a better human being for having read it (though it might).
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Wasting Time Reading May Be the Best Use of Our Time After All
Read it to waste time with her. Read it for the single purpose of getting lost in a good story alongside your child. Read it to connect. The memories she’ll store from the time you spent that didn’t count for anything other than the joy of connecting—those are the memories she’ll carry with her long into the future. Read with your daughter at whim.
When we create a book club culture at home, we send a crucial message to our children. We communicate that their reading life matters and that it ought to be a source of joy and delight to them. We allow them the freedom and ability to engage with ideas in the place we want them to love most of all: home. Perhaps best of all, we give them a fighting chance of falling madly in love with the reading life.
Sarah Mackenzie is an author, speaker and podcast host. On the immensely popular Read-Aloud Revival podcast, she helps parents all over the world make meaningful connections with their kids through books. She lives in the Northwest with her husband, Andrew, homeschools their six kids, and loves making sure her family is well-stocked in the best books she can find.
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Originally published Wednesday, 11 April 2018.