Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Don't Teach Your Kids To Read

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I have actively avoided teaching my daughter how to read. She’s an extremely independent soul to begin with, and I hate the thought of our shared reading time ending. She already holes up with a book and pores over the pictures with her door closed. I fear for the time when she pushes me out her room completely saying “I can read it myself! Sheesh.”

There is little in the world I cherish more than crawling in bed with my six year old and opening up a book (our current favorites: the Frank L Baum Oz stories, Lemony Snickett, The Velvetine Rabbit, The Five Children and It, Charlie and Chocolate Factory). It always amazes me that when you share a book, you’re simultaneously seeing the same world and one of your own creation. My daughter, small body pressed against mine, spinning the Emerald Palace of Oz into being, in all its glittering glory, and I’m doing the same. This shared experience is also an affirmation that she is growing her own imagination and that she will always have worlds beyond me.

I’ve noticed lately that there seem to be a lot of tutoring places and books promising to teach children to read by the age of 3. There are even flash cards for your baby. Talk about sucking the fun out of reading. We should be teaching children stories rather than reading. Literature rather than rote memorization. As parents, let’s cultivate the love of stories before we try to hammer reading skills into our kids.

I often hear too, that any reading is better than no reading. Look at any scholastic catalogue, and you’ll find it rife with books that use televisions stills for pictures and have basic, repetitive, and desperately dull storylines. You’ll even find what amounts to toy catalogues being shilled to our kids, all under the guise of reading. What it amounts to is giving your child a few pictures from “Two and Half Men” along with a plot summary and saying that it’s a good as Chekhov.

Many parents argue that this is what their children want to read, because they recognize the main character on the cover. As if we would only give our kids McDonalds because it’s what they recognize from advertisements. The schools too, are complicit, pushing Scholastic because it kicks back some of its profits to the school. Much like Coke machines do.

If you want your child to be a good reader, make them a great listener first. Make them a fantastic imaginer. Make them a partner in your quest to read books that are compelling, funny, heart-breaking and so good that they’ll want you to read it 30 times in a row. Think of it as nutrition, and you’re the one who sets the menu. Go to your public library where they refuse to stock Dora, Ninajago and Scooby Doo books. Find something that fires your imagination, and you’ll find that your child will be right there beside you. Creating their own worlds.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Sarah Tsiang

Sarah Tsiang is the author of A Flock of Shoes (Annick Press, 2010), Sweet Devilry (Oolichan Books, 2011), Dogs Don’t Eat Jam and Other Things Big Kids Know (Annick Press, 2011) and Warriors and Wailers: 100 Ancient Chinese Jobs You Might Have Relished or Reviled (Annick Press, 2012). Her latest picture book, Stone Hatchlings, will be released in fall, 2012.

Go to Sarah Tsiang’s Author Page