TOKYO, January 1, 2012 - Way back when Maia was still in the early years of elementary school, I remember my mother-in-law commenting on how Maia was always studying. By this, she meant that Maia was always reading. She was puzzled that a child would chose to read instead of watch television. She didn’t understand why Maia read all the time – even during the summer when school was out, and there wasn’t homework. It didn’t matter if Maia was reading the award-winning Number the Stars, Lois Lowry’s novel set in Nazi Germany, or the trashy, never-ending, always-the-same-plot series The Babysitter’s Club by Ann Martin. To my mother-in-law, whenever Maia had a book in her hand, she was studying.
Maia is a voracious reader. She has a love of reading that started when she was a tiny tot. She’s basically addicted to reading, and I take full credit – I was the one who planted the seed of addiction, and wholeheartedly encouraged its growth.
Did I start reading to her while she was still in the womb? No, I was too busy reading my own books about parenting. Did I read to her while she was a baby? No, I can’t read and cook at the same time, so I talked to her instead. Incessantly. Did she learn her ABC’s before kindergarten? No, but I bought her those ubiquitous alphabet blocks, and we used them to build castles and skyscrapers.
Maia learned how to read in kindergarten with Ms. Whitelaw at the
But even before kindergarten, Maia knew what reading was all about. After all, Daddy spent a large portion of his weekends in
I started reading to Maia at Ms. Whitelaw’s behest. This calm, soft-spoken Scottish woman had a way of making her suggestions seem like orders – which I knew I had to follow at all costs. When I asked for ways to help Maia with her reading, she gave me a list of recommended picture books.
Unlike most parents, I didn’t read to Maia at bedtime. She was too busy brushing her teeth, and going to the bathroom, and cuddling and chatting with Mommy. Instead, I read to her picture books we borrowed from the library, when she came home from school, after she had eaten her snack, and we were comfortably sitting together in the living room couch.
I read to her at the nearby Barnes and Noble bookstore when the weather was too cold, or too hot to go to the playground. And to ensure that our favorite hangout would be able to stay in business (back before ebooks and the Kindle), I always let Maia choose a book to take home.
I knew that it was good for children to read every day, but unlike my parents, I didn’t have the will to force anything on Maia. Instead of dictating the number of minutes she had to sit and read, I decided on a strategy of “surround and conquer”.
Whenever we had to spend time waiting, at the dentist’s, at the doctor’s, in airports, on planes and trains, I never failed to bring a magazine for myself, and a book for Maia. Books were my babysitters when I had to take Maia with me on my daily errands to the bank or the post office, or when I had to get my hair cut.
I physically surrounded Maia with books I thought she would like. Before the long summer vacations, I would borrow as many books as I could from several libraries, and I would put the books in Maia’s room, by her bed, in the living room, by the couch, even in the bathroom, on a small table by the toilet bowl.
As a child, I was also a voracious reader, and I shared my passion for books with Maia by giving her my faded paperback copy of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. She was very excited to read a book that Mommy had read when she was little. I was careful, though, not to impose my childhood favorites on her.
While I read every book in the Nancy Drew series twice, Maia stopped with the first book. She claimed it was boring, and reading it again after more than two decades, I have to say – I agree.
Maia did not receive a real allowance until she was in middle school, but as soon as she could read, I gave her a “book allowance” of one book a week. In addition, Christmas and birthday presents never failed to include books, from a guide to a forthcoming trip to Disney World, to an autographed copy of A Pizza The Size Of The Sun by the children’s poet Jack Prelutsky.
It didn’t matter to me what Maia was reading. As long as she was reading, was my thinking. She went through a period of reading nothing but books from The Babysitter’s Club series. Two to three books a day during the weekends.
We once came home from a school used book sale with several bags full of Babysitter paperbacks that Maia chose. I suggested other titles but she had no interest. I said nothing, convinced that at some point, she would feel like she had too much candy. Sure enough, halfway through her stash, she commented on how the plots never changed. The same paperbacks were donated to the next book sale.
All of Maia’s teachers encouraged her to read a different variety of books, and her third-grade teacher at the
In Ms. Crane’s class, all the students made their very own “Reading Wheel,” which was divided into sections representing the different book genres they read, such as “biography” and “science”. The children earned a colorful sticker for every book they read, and by counting the number of stickers they earned in each section, they were able to tell if they were reading a wide variety of books.
Until Maia began reading at an all-too-voracious pace – she devoured all the Harry Potter books in a day each – I read every book she read. It was my way of bonding with her. By reading the same books, I kept the communication between us flowing. We never ran out of things to talk about, and she developed the habit of sharing information with me. When Maia read the second Harry Potter installment in a matter of hours, I realized I couldn’t keep up, and settled for periodic literary summaries and reviews.
With Maia spending huge chunks of her summer vacation reading, I knew without a doubt that she had acquired the excellent habit of reading for pleasure. The next step was to ensure that she also knew how to read to acquire information, and I took every opportunity to help her sharpen that skill.
I was never one to cook with my instincts, adding a dash of pepper and a pinch of salt here and there. I never eyeballed – I strictly followed recipes using my measuring cups and spoons at all times. When Maia joined me in the kitchen, I would ask her to read out the ingredients, and tell me what to do next.
When she asked me for the time and channel of her favorite cartoon shows, I taught her how to use the monthly TV Guide. When we wanted to watch a movie, I gave her the Movie Section of the newspaper, and she found where the movie was being shown and checked the time. When we made out-of-town trips, I gave her the guidebooks, and asked her to decide on a few attractions she would like to visit.
Maia still loves reading, and that is what has made her into a lifelong learner. In hindsight, my mother-in-law was right – when Maia had a book in her hand, she was studying. She was learning, acquiring information, and stretching the limits of her imagination.
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