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How to Raise Readers (or the importance of a veggie plate)

Updated: Apr 24

I told my friend that my son wants to use his First Communion money to buy the entire I SURVIVED set, a historical fiction series published by Scholastic. She looked shocked: “How do you make him read like that? My kids hate books. You’re SO lucky.” Maybe, but I think my boys – 6 and 8 – love books thanks to a veggie plate.

One time, when they were much younger, I cut cukes and peppers, zucchini and mushrooms. After I arranged everything on a plate, I said, “Don’t touch this. It’s for Daddy.” The next thing I knew, the entire plate was clean. They scarfed down more veggies than they’d eaten in their entire lives. So I grabbed a bag of books I had checked out from the library. I dropped it on the couch and said, “Don’t touch this. It’s for Mommy.” They’ve been book lovers ever since. . .

A couple more things we do around here that might be worth sharing:

  1. We give and get books as gifts.

  2. My boys get at least one book for every birthday and holiday.

  3. Each of my boys usually selects at least one book to give as a gift when he is invited to a friend’s birthday party.

  4. We read together, aka ‘Book Party’. (Just because they can read does not mean I have stopped reading to them and with them. And we still LOVE picture books and ‘baby’ board books.)

  5. Each of my boys gets to choose at least three books a night. We all snuggle into one bed and I read to them. (We go upstairs ½ hour earlier so they still get to sleep on time.)

  6. We use different voices and accents for different characters.

  7. We laugh and get all wound up.

  8. They read alone.

  9. I have a sticker chart on the fridge for each one of my boys. When I catch one of them reading during his free time, I put a sticker on his chart.

  10. They see me read.

  11. They ask about the pile of books next to my bed (and the one on my desk and the one in the family room and the one in the car). I show them the covers and read them the backs (if they’re age-appropriate). Sometimes I even read the first pages to them. “How old do I have to be to read that?” “Can you tell us tomorrow if they get out of the jungle?”

  12. I share favorite books from when I was their ages. (CURIOUS GEORGE. I mean, come on!)

  13. We go to our local library together. And we make trips to the ‘fancy’ library in the city on special occasions.

  14. Each one of my boys is allowed to select as many books as he can carry.

  15. I encourage my boys to talk to the librarians. These warm, smart people are always enthusiastic and often introduce new books and even different sections of the library.

  16. Each one of my boys checks out his own pile using the computer.

  17. Each one of my boys is responsible for keeping track of his books and returning them to the slot the next time we go back.

  18. I volunteer in my boys’ school library where I have the opportunity to read to their classes and form a relationship with their librarian.

  19. We go to the bookstore together.

  20. We listen to books.  (Judy Schachner’s SKIPPYJON JONES series is perfection on CD!) *

  21. We watch books on DVD. (Scholastic Storybook Treasures are adaptations of children’s books. The words and artwork of the original stories are preserved using animation, camera movement, and sometimes live action to bring the words on the page to life on the screen.) *

*We find audio books and books on DVD at the library and in the book orders that come home from school.

  1. When one of my boys brings a book to me and asks me to read it, I stop what I’m doing and share it with him.**

  2. When one of my boys asks to read a book to me, I stop what I’m doing and listen.**

**Of course it’s not always possible to totally stop – dinner has to be made, laundry has to be done, wine has to be poured – but I make every effort to turn off and turn away from any extra noise including television, computers, and phones.

  1. When one of my boys asks a question based on something we are reading, we look for answers. For example, my younger son asked who shot Abraham Lincoln after reading I AM ABRAHAM LINCOLN by Brad Meltzer. We googled it and read about John Wilkes Booth then visited the Lincoln Memorial and Ford’s Theater the next time we were in Washington, D.C.

  2. We visit author and publisher websites.

  3. We read about the author. (My youngest son jumped with excitement when I showed him a picture of Mo Willems: “Writers can be boys?! I never knew that!”)

  4. We print coloring pages and activities to extend the experience with the books.

  5. The boys click links to play games based on the characters from the books.

  6. My boys write real letters to favorite authors.

  7. They have received personal responses from some incredibly successful talents. (We love you, Tedd Arnold!)

  8. My older son just wrote a letter pitching a series idea to a major publishing house and the publisher wrote back!

  9. My boys write stories.

  10. They enter the PBS KIDS Writers Contest: http://pbskids.org/writerscontest/

  11. They complete free weekly creative pages from the illustrator, Ryan Sias: http://siasstudios.com/

I asked my boys why they love books and reading so much. “We have really good teachers.” True. Absolutely true! I prodded, hoping they might mention something I bragged about for this article. “Oh, and our school is good.” Okay. Nothing about Mom. Never mind, then.

Go back to your books.


I’ll go make a veggie plate.


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