TO READ OR NOT TO READ, by ELLIN CURLEY

I recently read an article in the New York Times about the efficacy of ‘bribing’ children to get them to read. The article was “The Right Way To Bribe Kids To Read”, by KJ Dell’Antonia and ran on Sunday, July 24, 2016. The article cited a study that showed that bribery does work. However it also showed that the kind of bribe determined the longevity of the positive result.

The study found that monetary or other material bribes worked only as long as the rewards continued. Once the money stopped rolling in, so did the reading. So parents have to find another kind of bribe to foster enthusiasm about reading in order to form lasting reading habits. The most effective form of bribe used in the study was the promise of one on one time with a parent. This time could be spent reading together or just talking about what the child had read.

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This reminded me of one of my finest parenting moments, which I would like to share with you. When my daughter was 13, she was obsessed with reading a series of books below her reading level, called “The Babysitters’ Club.” Neither I nor the teachers at her school felt this was a serious problem. She was reading and loving it and that was enough for the school and for me.

However, her father (my ex-husband) was adamant that we “make” her read more adult books. He favored the classics, like Dickens and Jane Austen. I had hated these books when I was 13 so I did not agree that this was the way to go with our daughter. He also favored the banning of TV and other ‘punishments’ as the means of ‘motivation’. I obviously was against this approach as well.

books james lee burke

My solution to this sticky family problem was brilliant, if I do say so myself! I conceded to my ex the goal of getting our daughter to read age appropriate books. BUT, I would be the one to determine the method used to accomplish this goal.

My daughter loved movies. So I proposed that she find books that had been made into movies. She would both read the book and watch the movie. We would then talk about how the two versions differed, which was more ‘successful’ and why. And how well the book translated to the screen. The first book she choose was Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes” – a movie she had already seen and loved. She loved the book too. Without parental prompting, immediately read every book Fannie Flagg wrote. She took her library of Flagg’s books to sleepover camp with her and traded them with her camp friends for other books. She was off and running as a life-long, voracious reader.

netflix for books

My daughter is 31 now and is still an avid reader. She reads all kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction, covering a wide range of subjects. She particularly loves history and historical fiction. I feel that my creative solution to her reading ‘problem’ years ago allowed her intellectual curiosity to develop freely. I firmly believe that we could have destroyed that curiosity and squashed her love of reading had we mishandled that situation when she was 13.

I guess the moral of this story is that you have to nurture and encourage your children’s interest in reading. Making reading a chore or something to do for Mom and Dad is apparently not the right approach. You have to make reading something exciting that they can share with you and with their friends. You can always ‘make’ your child read. The trick is to create an adult who loves reading and learning and passes this love down to their kids.



Categories: Books, Childhood, Education, Ellin Curley, Humor, Literature

Tags: , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. Ellin’s Daughter posting here… I believe that was the same summer I ready “Circle of Friends” by Mauve Binchy, which had been turned into a movie with Minnie Driver. Both books were better than the movies. I think my father would have had a bit more success had he broadened his definition of ‘classic.’ To this day I still hate Austen, Dickens and anyone with the last name Bronte, but Twain or Fitzgerald are right in my wheelhouse. So far this year, I’ve read 18 books ranging from self help to humor to chick lit and yes a few ‘young adult’ novels, but both my parents should be proud of the last book I read, “The Lady in Gold,” the story of Gustav Klimt’s beautiful gold portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer and her family’s legal battle to get it back from Austria post WWII. I read the book after seeing the movie.

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  2. Wow! I like the post. I am also an avid reader of any material I can reach and it has worked well for me theivyblog.wordpress.com

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  3. Great post, Ellen. Sharing on Twitter & FB. Thanks! 🙂

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  4. You are so right! Parents who read and talk to their kids about what they read probably have the best chance of stimulating kids to read. My father was a real renaissance man and read about an incredibly wide range of topics. It was always fascinating to talk to him. I would often ask him to read to me from the books he was reading, even if I wouldn’t read the whole book myself. Reading is about educating yourself and entertaining yourself – so it is a maeans to an end, not an end in itself.

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  5. Also, forcing her to read only the “classics” forces her to skip over a necessary part of her reading growth. These are step by step processes and to be taken in a natural way. I agree with your habit of discussing things that she read as it shows that you also read them and were interested in what she thought. This is the way we become adults.., through the respect and consideration of our thoughts and opinions from the adults around us. It nurtures “thinking” necessary for survival in the adult world.

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  6. I agree and disagree. It’s great when it works. It’s frustrating to say the least when it doesn’t. My daughter went for it, but my son loves everything electronic. To punish is to take the electronic of any kind away and ask him to read, even for a half hour, even with an activity, and so on. But, now that my daughter has a cell phone and instagram, well, she’s beginning to act like my son.

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    • Are there books your son might be interested in that involve electronics? Stories that revolve around gadgets or the people who love them?There is a lot of computer geek material out there, if that is up his alley. If not, he’s lucky that he has a real passion, even if it doesn’t involve reading.

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      • You’re right. I’ve been thinking about it all day. I’m going to look for some books like that on Amazon or at least look for sites where he can read up on tech info. I’ll keep plugging away at it.

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  7. I agree, totally. I was a very early reader, and read whatever I could reach, age appropriate be damned. My mother never noticeably monitored my reading, but quietly removed the Mickey Spillaine and the Decameron from sight. what you don’t see, doesnt exist. There were no other rules, and if it was on the bookshelves and I could wade through it, it was fair game.
    Friends of hers were shocked that she allowed me to read comic books. The Mark of Depravity, was the implication. She said, it’s reading. So what?

    A lot has to do with inclination. My husband, who is a bright man, does not read novels. ev-er. But he reads technical manuals, newspapers, books on how to do this or that. Put him in front of Gone With the Wind and his eyes would start to cross.

    And I agree with you about her early reading choices. She would have gotten bored soon enough, anyway. We don’t all read above our reading level, or even up to it. I read all the Harry Potter books in my 50s. definitely not age appropriate! =)

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    • I read much more complex and adult books when I was 14 than I do these days. In my dotage years, I’m not looking for the gritty truth in life. I’m looking for a happy escape from it. I’m amazed that I waded through Dostoevsky before I was 15 and I’m pretty sure no amount of bribery could get me to read it now. It’s also possible that because I read so much “serious” literature very young, I don’t feel I have anything to prove to anyone, including myself. If all I want to read is urban fantasy, that’s one of a very few perks of aging.

      My mother never censored my reading, though she did monitor my movie viewing (I had nightmares, so monster movies were OUT) and she once nearly throttled a librarian who wouldn’t let me pick books from the adult section of the local library. She wasn’t very motherly, but she was a fierce protector of the intellectual rights of children. HER children, at least.

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    • The adults I know who are omnivore readers all started out reading comics, magazines, classics, popular fiction and everything in between. The smartest thing to do to encourage kids to read is to let them read whatever they want! The goal is to foster a love of reading, not to read specific books. My parents never questioned what I was reading – and I went on odd reading binges, like reading books about disasters like the Titanic, plane crash survivors, people who became quadroplegics or suffered from rare diseases and disabilities. What my parents did do was always talk to me about what they were reading, which eventually stimulated my interest in more substantive material as I got older.

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      • Owen was (still is, I think) fascinated by ship wrecks. I think he has read every book about the Titanic … survivor accounts, fiction, everything. And built the models to go with it. I wonder if all kids are “binge” readers? I know I was … and to a degree, still am.

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      • Wonderful and timely piece, Ellin!!
        Last night (Monday), Congressman John Lewis, the Civil Rights icon, guested on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”. Long story short, Lewis pushing a new book on non violent protest, revealed his new tome is a graphic tome. Lewis is in his 80’s but is savvy enough to know how to grab the attention of young people he wants to nurture with reading.
        We’re from that generation that grew up with books. We’re very lucky!

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