Last week, author Walter Dean Myers was officially named as the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature at the Library of Congress.
Myers, five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award and two Newbery Honors, has written more than 100 books, including the best-seller Monster (Amistad, 2001) which follows the struggles of a teen caught in the criminal justice system.
He takes over the two-year post as a spokesman for children’s literature from Katherine Paterson, the author of the beloved Bridge to Terabithia, (HarperCollins, 1987).
I asked Myers, who is adamant about the need for children to read early and often, how parents can encourage a love for books.
Below are his suggestion for parents of pre-readers, early readers and young adults.
For the youngest kids (one month to four years)
1. Select colorful books with relatively simple pictures and involve the child in a dialogue about the story or pictures. “How do you think Mama Bear felt when she saw that someone had been sleeping in her bed?” “Why do you think the baby hippopotamus wants to be tucked in?” Most children enjoy having input into the story and, more important, the book becomes a friendlier place.
2. Turn off the television sound for 10 minutes or so and have the child tell you what the story is about. A child might be hesitant at first, but their minds will start working soon enough and they might come up with a better story than the television. I’ve tried this with kids in schools and yes, I’ve been embarrassed by kids coming up with more inventive stories than my published version!
3. A regular reading time works well. The bedtime story is a treat for any child.
4. A bookshelf in a child’s sleeping area is a great idea. Not only does the child own the book, but they eventually own the stories.
5. I took my child on weekly trips to bookstores where he could select one or two books. A weekly trip to the library works just as well. Selecting the book suggests ownership, and gives the child control over the process. Perhaps the child can make a list of the books she wants to read next.
6. Kids like to see pictures of the authors. Authors often have Web sites with their images, and sometimes objects or pets they write about.
7. Teach interactive reading to an older child, and have that child read with a younger one.
8. Poetry is a wonderful introduction to reading. And there are poems for every child — sports poems, city poems, silly poems, etc. They are short, amusing and the rhythm of the poem often helps the child as well.
For older children
1. Read with them as a family activity. I still share books with my grown children.
2. Read the same book that a child is reading in school. I enjoyed reading the fourth and fifth grade books my son brought home and the family had the extra benefit of having something to discuss that escaped the sometimes wearying parent/child relationship. Also, being able to discuss the book with a parent reduces performance anxiety.
3. Read authors’ biographies. The rationale for the author’s stories sometimes become apparent and thus ‘humanize’ the author.
Do you have any tips to add to Myers list?