Maria Russo says she wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child. Perhaps parental decisions like that led to a career like this: children’s books editor of The New York Times Book Review.
Now she’s taken her career a step further as co-author, along with fellow NYT Book Review editor Pamela Paul, of the just-released How to Raise a Reader (Workman Publishing), a valuable guide to welcoming children to a lifelong love of reading. It combines clear, practical advice with inspiration, wisdom, tips and curated reading lists.
And advice is paramount when observing how stressful parents’ minds race: Why hasn’t my child mastered the alphabet yet? Is my child reading soon enough, fast enough? Will my child get into a good college, get a good job and be economically self-sufficient? What about the future of humanity?
The parental pressures felt in those questions are pivotal obstructions, Russo said at a recent book tour stop at the Ridgefield (CT) Public Schools, hoping to get families and faculties on the (ahem) same page when nurturing children in the joys of reading.
She writes, “Sometimes when my mind starts flailing into some worry about my kids’ current or future struggles, about whether my husband and I have taken this or that right path with them, I remind myself that every book they’ve read or had read to them has left some trace, some potential memory, and that those memories build on themselves and lead to other good things.”
“If a child is prodded too soon, it can be frustrating,” Russo advised the audience. “An adult hovering, pushing a child in the background, is not helpful.”
She offered a number of interesting nuggets:
- Once children are reading on their own, do not move them away from picture books, even though that might be the tendency. “Picture books should stay in the picture throughout childhood – and beyond.”
- Go out of your way to express delight over your child’s book choices.
- Boys that don’t see their dads reading tend not to be big readers.
- The brain retains information better from reading a page rather than seeing it on a screen.
- Reading the same book over and over does not mean your child is stuck. In fact, babies and toddler benefit from hearing books read over and over. Also, older children benefit emotionally and cognitively from rereading and revisiting their comfort books.
- If your child likes audiobooks instead of physical books, don’t discount or discourage that. Audiobooks count as “reading” as well.
How to Raise a Reader is divided into four sections, from baby through teen, and offers something useful on every page, whether it’s how to develop rituals around reading or build a family library, or ways to engage a reluctant reader.
The authors debunk common myths, assuage parental fears, and deliver invaluable lessons in a positive and easy-to-act-on way.
Many of the life goals we have for our children flow naturally out of the experience of reading for pleasure when they’re young.
The authors point to research that indicates children who read at home do better academically, are better at self-regulation and executive function – “those life skills that make us happier and well adjusted: controlling impulses, paying attention, setting goals and figuring out how to achieve them.”
Yet they also raise some pertinent questions: “Is it harder for kids today to find those empty lost pockets of time, to be able to dive headlong into a book? Is reading for pleasure still the carefree pastime it once was, as much a part of the timeline of growing up as climbing a tree or learning to ride a bike?”
The book stresses that “School is where children learn that they have to read. Home is were kids learn to read because they want to. It’s where they learn to love to read.”
How to Raise a Reader, which is currently available, is ideal for expecting parents, experienced parents, grandparents, teachers or concerned caregivers.
“On days when I’ve felt as though I have nothing left to give to my kids, I’ve been able to sit next to them and open a book,” Russo writes. “We start reading, and the world looks different.”
About the Authors:
Maria Russo is the children’s books editor of The New York Times Book Review. She has been a writer and editor at the Los Angeles Times, The New York Observer, and Salon, and holds a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. She lives in
Montclair, New Jersey with her husband and three children. Photo by Earl Wilson, New York Times
Pamela Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review and oversees books coverage at The New York Times, which she joined in 2011 as the children’s books editor. She is also the host of the weekly Book Review podcast for The Times. She is the author and editor of five books. Find out more at her website.