How to raise a bookworm in Chicago

My family currently has 43 items checked out from the local library. Two of those items are DVDs (“Despicable Me” and “Ratatouille”), three of them are novels for me (Bridget Jones is BACK! And boy is she getting old.) and the other 38 are picture books for the kids. This may seem like a lot of books for one week in the life of a 3-year-old and a 21-month-old, but I find that it’s not nearly enough. We are readers. I am a bookworm. And it’s my God-given mission to raise my two kids to become bookworms, too. Well, it’s one of my many God-given missions. I’m also interested in overcoming my fear of roasting a full chicken.

When I was a child, I read constantly. I read throughout the day and then by the glow of my nightlight after bedtime. Now, as an adult, I still average one book per week, which I think is pretty good considering how jam-packed my days are. I can’t find time to paint my nails, but I’m still powering through novels like a word chomping machine. Yes, I am a huge nerd, and I truly believe that reading has enriched my life in an endless number of ways.

As a kid, I loved Roald Dahl’s “Matilda,” all of the “Ramona” books, “Harriet the Spy,” and “Sideways Stories from Wayside School.” I also wrote many of my own books, too, yet found the process of getting an agent and publisher much too daunting for a grade schooler living in the pre-Google days. Plus, every time my family and I took a trip or tried to find the nearest RadioShack, just mapping out the route alone consumed hours upon hours. How DID we survive back then?

Now, here in our super techno future, I take the boys to the library every week. My younger son is in the stroller but only because the net at the bottom of the stroller is so good at holding the nearly 50 books we toss in there. The stroller is increasingly less about transporting the child as it is about carting around our books. I worry about the day that Alex outgrows the stroller and I’m stuck having to limit us to the amount of books we can carry. I guess we’ll be stuck with mostly paperbacks at that point, unless I get the three of us going on some sort of arm-strengthening exercise program.

My almost 4-year-old loves books as much as I do, and when I heard of the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten Program, I issued a smug guffaw. Andy and I have read about 5,000 books by this point in his life; those thin little stories add up fast.

The benefits of reading are clear. I can see that Andy has a growing understanding of cause and effect, problem solving and the basics of plot structure. He is able to memorize stories, retell them to himself by thumbing through the pages and relate to characters and situations. Andy is starting to pre-read and recognize words by sight and even surprised me yesterday by telling me, correctly, that two words rhymed. Stories are making him laugh, think, smile and empathize; his world is full of beauty and intrigue due to our adventures in paper.

My younger son did not start out as interested in books as Andy did. Andy loved books even in infancy; Alex is much too interested in finding objects such as buckets or bowls, to wear on his head. Nonetheless, I have persisted. I keep on reading to that little buckethead even if he wanders off in the middle of a story. I keep turning pages and saying words. I get books with flaps and textures for him to explore and I keep his library books out for him to peruse at his leisure. And if we find a book that he does love, I am willing to read it a dozen times in a row if necessary. Lately, it seems that I have begun to capture Alex’s interest; he is much more willing to sit and listen to a short story. And so I read him the brightest, briefest, most engaging books I am able to find. And then I offer to read him another.

I know that my boys are benefiting from all the reading we do, and I know that if we keep up with it, they will become bright, thoughtful, and curious children. Obviously, as a lifelong reader, I knew even before becoming a mother how important it would be to read to my kids. One thing I didn’t realize, though, was how much I would benefit from this activity, how meaningful reading to THEM would become to ME.

For example, I now know the correct label for every type of truck, train car and dinosaur.

I learned that Iron Man is really just some guy named Tony in a suit.

I have truly enjoyed humorous picture books such as “Mustache Baby” by Bridget Heos and “Falling For Rapunzel” by Leah Wilcox.

I have given myself countless hours of extra snuggle time with my two little boys, a big cozy blanket and a stack of good books.

I have gained new worlds in which to explore with my kids — from trying to figure out where Max and Ruby’s mother is to discussing why Llama Llama has so much drama.

And I get to be entertained by my kids’ reactions to stories that feature robots(!) or rockets(!) or cupcakes(!). And then we get to make cupcakes!

Also, after reading so many children’s books in the past three and a half years, I think I may finally be ready to write my own. Perhaps it will be a tale of two little boys who . . . hmm. I guess first I need a good idea. Also an illustrator, agent and publisher. In this age of Google, though, how hard can it be to find them?

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