Congratulations, that’s pretty amazing. They’ve learned to de-code all those random marks on the page and they can grapple at their own speed with the world inside a book.
You might think your work is over – but I’ve got news for you.
You’ve done half the job.
My son was an early decoder. He chomped through picture books and rampaged through early readers. He sucked every drop of life from Roald Dahl and quickly leapt to The Hobbit and Mortal Engines. However he had a sister, three years younger – who didn’t read, who didn’t want to read, but who loved stories. So at first my husband would read to one, and I the other. We took it in turns. But the children gatecrashed each other’s stories, and it all became very long and exhausting. So then we began to find books that they could both enjoy.
Those books were of course, Middle Grade. Sometimes the story would be a little tough for my daughter, or perhaps it might be a little young for my son. But this way we read 101 Dalmations, Peter Pan in Scarlet, The Bed and Breakfast Kid, The Mouse and His Child, Inkheart, Skellig, some of the Harry Potters (we balked at The Order of the Phoenix and borrowed the tapes) Larklight, Black Hearts in Battersea, Pippi Longstocking and many many more. We raced through them, book after book – a minimum of three chapters required nightly. They corrected us about accents, (it turns out that Moominmama wasn’t Irish), and authors, and pictures, and choices. They asked questions and we all wept and laughed together. They brought up issues, they discussed friends at school with similar problems. The reading itself took half the time, the discussions, the other half.
They loved it, we loved it. And frankly, we’d have kept it up if life hadn’t interrupted – but I think one was 10 and the other 13 when we finally stopped.
Now, for all this, my daughter has still never read a book (she’s nearly 14). So it didn’t make her want to read. But she watches movies with us every night, and hates watching them alone. She sees a movie as a moving story – so the theory that reading to your children makes them readers doesn’t work in every case but it does in most. There’s stacks of research out there to show that it makes readers of children – most of them.
But it doesn’t matter that she didn’t go on to embrace books. The other positive effects on our family have been enormous. Ignoring the fact that I went on to become a middle grade writer. My husband, a middle grade reader, we got to share so much.
We spent so much more time engaged with each other.
And most importantly, we accessed their world at a time of change and it left a lasting imprint on us as adults. It means that now, as they careen through teenage, we have a means of simple communication. A place of safety that we all understand. Stories.